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Future of Whale uncertain in new women’s hockey league

Forward Taylor Girard brings the puck up in a win over Montreal in Simsbury in January.

A new professional women’s hockey league will launch in January 2024 and the status of the Simsbury-based Connecticut Whale is uncertain.

A new league, which is currently unnamed, was announced on Friday by Mark and Kimbra Walter, sports icon Billie Jean King and the Premier Hockey Federation. Mark Walter is the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and owns a significant portion of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.

According to a news release, the league will be supported financially by Walters and led by board members, including King, sports executive Ilana Koss and Dodgers president Stan Kasten.

The new league has acquired the assets of the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), which has seven teams, including Connecticut.

The new league has spent months negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). A majority of players from the Canadian and American national teams play with the PWHPA that has four teams and competes over five weekends in various cities across North America.

Various published reports are speculating that there will be six teams in the league but no decisions have been made on where the teams will be located or the number of teams, according to PHF spokesman Paul Krotz.

All PHF player contracts have been voided along with contracts signed by the PHF clubs, Krotz said.

In April, the Whale and the International Skating Center of Connecticut announced a three-year deal for Connecticut to play their home games and practice at the Simsbury facility. That deal was also cancelled on Thursday.

Connecticut had announced the signing of 11 players for the upcoming 2023-24 season, which was due to begin this fall. Four were due to make more than $100,000 led by former Olympian Kacey Bellamy, who grew up in nearby Westfield, Mass., and was set to earn $122,000. Kennedy Marchment, the PHF’s MVP in 2022, forward Taylor Girard and defender Allie Munroe were also set to return.

No decision has been announced on how the teams in the new league will be formed. “The new league will build rosters with players from the ranks of the PHF and PWHPA,” Krotz said.

“I have always believed that professional sports should bring the highest levels of performance and organization, and this new league will have the backing and resources it needs to represent the very best of women’s hockey,” Walter said.

Kelle Becconsall, the owner and general manager of the International Skating Center of Connecticut (ISCC), said that Simsbury would be interested in hosting a team in the new league.

Friday was a tough day for the players of the PHF. They learned about the new league and their acquisition of PHF teams on Thursday night, according to Becconsall.

Players signed contracts in preparation for the PHF’s ninth season this fall. Several Connecticut players have already moved to the area to prepare for the 2023-24 season.

“There are two (Whale) players on the ice right now running a clinic (at the ISCC),” Becconsall said Friday afternoon.

Other Whale players have been training and practicing at the ISCC in preparation for the upcoming season. Some were giving small group lessons at the ISCC.

“They are like family already. We want to support them,” Becconsall said. “For us, we’re all about the Connecticut Whale and we’ll support the athletes in whatever way we can.”

The PHF had teams in Boston, New York, Buffalo, Connecticut, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto last winter. Toronto beat the Whale in the PHF semifinals before beating Minnesota to win the PHF championship and Isobel Cup.

“I don’t know what the future holds for the Connecticut Whale as a team,” Becconsall said.

“Our doors (at the ISCC) are still open and we would love to see the Connecticut Whale skate out of here and call this (arena) home but there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” she said.

Connecticut was a charter member of the National Women’s Hockey League in 2015. Before coming to Simsbury last year, the Whale played three years in Stamford in two different arenas, one year in North Branford, two years in Danbury at the Ice Arena and one month in Lake Placid when the league tried to hold a tournament in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021-22, the league changed their name to the PHF or Premier Hockey Federation.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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