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BEYOND LOCAL: PWHL camp invites prepare to battle for women's pro hockey jobs

Rosters must be whittled down to 27 by Nov. 29 before the first waiver window
Toronto Six goaltender Carly Jackson shows off the custom detailing on her game day suit, before playing the Connecticut Whale during a home game at Canlan Sports at York University in Toronto, on Saturday, January 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Carly Jackson trained all summer like she had hockey job, even though she didn't.

The goalie had just signed a one-year, US$60,000 extension with the Toronto Six in June when it was announced that the Premier Hockey League had been bought out to make way for the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL).

"That was pretty shocking because it became a 'I know exactly what I'm doing" and then a big "I have no idea what I'm doing and we don't know what this is going to look like,'" Jackson said.

But the 26-year-old from Amherst, N.S., hired the former Six's strength trainer and hit the gym. She skated with a group of male players in Atlantic Canada before getting on the ice with the Amherst Ramblers junior A men's team.

"I was preparing for a season and that didn't change, even though it was a bit more unknown to me at that point," Jackson said.

After the PWHL's free-agency window in early September and the Sept. 18 draft, Jackson received a training-camp invitation from Gina Kingsbury, the general manager of Toronto's PWHL club.

"I was pretty stoked when I got a call from Toronto after the draft,' Jackson said.

PWHL training camps open Wednesday, bringing a total of 184 players plus coaches and support staff together in each of the league's six cities for the first time.

The PWHL announced the locations of its training camps in a release Monday.

Toronto will train at the Ford Performance Centre in the city's west end. The centre is the practice facility of the NHL's Maple Leafs and American Hockey League's Marlies.

Ottawa will hold its camp at TD Place Arena, home of the Ontario Hockey League's 67's.

Montreal will train at Centre 21.02 at the Verdun Auditorium. It serves as the lone recognized high-performance hockey centre for women players in Canada.

The yet-unnamed teams in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston, New York and Minneapolis-St.-Paul will carry a minimum 28 and a maximum 35 players on camp rosters.

After camps, the PWHL will hold a pre-season evaluation camp Dec. 3-7 in Utica, New York, that will feature eight scrimmage games.

The final rosters on Dec. 11 will be capped at 23, plus two reserve players.

Salaries range from a minimum US$35,000 to a maximum $80,000. The PWHL's 24-game regular season is slated to open in early January.

The PWHL's training camp rosters are a mixture of the initial 18 free-agency signings, 88 draft picks and 78 camp invites. Seventy-six players in total have been signed to contracts.

Mikyla Grant-Mentis was a PHF MVP and scoring leader, as well as one of the league's highest paid when she signed an $80,000 contract in 2022 to play for the Buffalo Beauts.

Similar to Jackson, the 25-year-old forward from Toronto trained and skated throughout this past summer without a clear picture of her hockey future.

Her name wasn't called in the PWHL draft. Grant-Mentis says she received multiple training-camp invitations and chose Ottawa, in part because her childhood friend Daryl Watts was drafted and signed by the club.

"I was a little disappointed to not be drafted but at the same time I think it definitely worked in my favour because now I was able to choose basically where I wanted to go," Grant-Mentis said.

"A lot of times in my career I've had to prove myself. My off-season was a really good one and I'm excited to compete in camp and show what I can bring to the team and what I can do for Ottawa."

Training camp rosters are a mishmash of former Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA) members — including several national-team players from Canada and the United States — former PHF players and some college and university grads.

Alex Poznikoff spent the past three seasons with the PWHPA after a university career with her hometown Edmonton Pandas. She also received more than one camp invitation and chose Montreal.

"I would love to have been drafted, but I had my heart set on trying to get a camp," Poznikoff said. "I'm going to go in with the same mentality I always do.

"Work hard and if they think I'm a good addition to the team, hopefully that's what happens."

The Albertan is among a number of women on the move away from their home bases to pursue jobs at training camps.

"Nothing's guaranteed. Not a lot of us have contracts," Poznikoff said. "So you're kind of going and hoping for the best and if you make it, you're like, 'OK, well I'm here now.'

"It's really hard to plan anything to be honest, but I had to come to terms with that."

The first two games of the Rivalry Series between Canada and the United States featured 36 players currently on PWHL rosters.

One of the Canadian women's team goalies, Kristen Campbell, is No. 1 on Toronto's goalie depth chart heading into camp by virtue of being the only draft pick among the four and having signed a three-year contract. 

Jackson will compete with Campbell and two other camp invitees for Toronto's two jobs. 

"I haven't been in a specific situation like this where it's you show up and you can kind of be released or be added on the team at any time," Jackson said. "It's been probably since before college where it's been that stark.

"No matter who you are, no matter what your resume looks like, I think you have to show up every day and be a good person and work your butt off. There's this quote, 'success isn't given. It's earned and the rent is due every day.'"

Rosters must be whittled down to 27 by Nov. 29 before the first waiver window. In the second waiver window Dec. 8-10, teams will give PWHL head office a list of their final releases for circulation to all clubs.

Waiver eligible players can be contacted by teams and offered contracts ahead of Dec. 11. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press