PHF head: `Time is now’ for women’s hockey groups to unite

Tyler Tumminia placed the onus on the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to resolve its differences with her Premier Hockey Federation in hopes of finally establishing a single women’s pro league in North America.

And the commissioner of the rebranded U.S.-based federation on Friday said time is running short on reaching a deal if the two sides want to take advantage of the quadrennial boost of attention the women’s game generates from the Winter Games being played in Beijing in February.

“I think the window is starting to close, so I think they need to make a couple of decisions whether that’s through leadership or their players to determine whether or not they want to grow the game together,” Tumminia said during a Zoom call with reporters.

“We’re at the point where you have to come to the table now if you really want to grow it,” she added. “So I anticipate growing it together. I want that. We all want that. I think that’s what’s good for the sport. … And it’s up to them. They have to make the decision now.”

PWHPA head Jayna Hefford did not respond to messages seeking comment.

On the eve of preparing to open its seventh season under a new name, with the backing of new owners, a new broadcast deal and set to play its first games in Canada, the previously named National Women’s Hockey League continues to deal with the familiar issue of unity.

Tumminia’s comments were but the latest she’s made over the past year in a bid for the PHF — North America’s first and only league to pay women’s hockey players a salary — and the PWHPA to come together.

The PWHPA was formed 2 1/2 years ago following the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and has consistently balked at joining what’s now called the PHF. The PWHPA is made up of a majority of United States and Canada’s national team members, who want to start over in establishing a single long-term economically sustainable league in which players are paid fair wages and receive benefits.

Tumminia said the PHF has made strides to meet many the association’s demands over the past year. The federation enters this season with each of its six teams backed by private ownership, is offering benefits and has doubled each team’s salary cap to $300,000.

In April, Hefford credited the federation for doubling its cap by calling it “a positive step,” while adding, “that is the direction this game and its players — now and future — deserve.”

Otherwise, the PWHPA is launching its third season of barnstorming stops as part of its “Dream Gap Tour,” which opens in Truro, Nova Scotia, on Nov. 12-14. The association features five teams, which are based in Boston, Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, Alberta.

The federation has six teams, which are based in Boston; Amherst, New York; Monmouth, New Jersey; St. Paul, Minnesota; Danbury, Connecticut; and Toronto.

The Toronto Six were established last year, but have yet to play in Toronto after the league was limited to playing a two-week schedule in Lake Placid, New York, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A COVID-19 outbreak eventually led to the playoffs being delayed by nearly two months and relocated to Brighton, Massachusetts, where the Boston Pride won the Isobel Cup.

The Six open their 20-game season at the Buffalo Beauts on Saturday, and are scheduled to make their debut in Toronto hosting the Connecticut Whale on Nov. 20.

“We’re going to actually get some more normalcy here this season, so definitely looking forward to that aspect,” Six defender Lindsay Eastwood said.

The PHF is expanding its audience by reaching an agreement to have 60 regular-season games and playoffs broadcast on ESPN-Plus. The deal requires the federation to increase its production capacity from previously having one camera to as many as five televising each game.

The federation will have another 30 games broadcast on Twitch.

The PHF lost one of its top sponsors in Dunkin’, which had backed the league since it was established in 2015. Tumminia, however, is confident the federation is on solid financial footing with the increased visibility on ESPN-Plus, the addition of other sponsors and with the return of fans, after games were played before empty stands last season due to COVID-19.

The regular season runs through mid-March, followed by the playoffs.

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