May 27th, 2024

Ottawa’s inaugural PWHL season deemed a success despite playoff miss

By Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press on May 7, 2024.

They may have fallen short of their goal but there’s no denying Ottawa’s first season in the Professional Women’s Hockey League was a success. Fans look on before the start of a PWHL game between Ottawa and Montreal in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – They may have fallen short of their goal but there’s no denying Ottawa’s first season in the Professional Women’s Hockey League was a success.

Ewe fell a little short there on the final stretch, so you’ll reflect on that too,” said coach Carla MacLeod. “But there’s also a lot of excitement that comes with that and recognizing the learning opportunities and opportunities to grow.”

“We fell a little short there on the final stretch, so you’ll reflect on that,” said coach Carla MacLeod. “But there’s also a lot of excitement that comes with that and recognizing the learning opportunities and opportunities to grow.”

Ottawa had the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a regulation win against Toronto but lost 5-2, ending its season. Not surprisingly, the initial feeling was disappointment, but general manager Mike Hershfeld says he can now look at the bigger picture.

“I think we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve built,” Hershfeld said. “And again, the footprint we’ve made in this community. The way that our players have been received, the way our players have been out in the community, become a part of the community. I’m really proud of that.”

Ottawa played out of TD Place, home of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, and had near-capacity crowds for all 12 of its home games.

In a short time, players won over fans of all ages and created a safe space for those looking to support women’s hockey. Beyond the wins and losses most agree the opportunity to be part of this league and to see it grow and be so widely welcomed has been overwhelming.

“It was worth the wait,” admitted forward Emily Clark.

Clark spoke of the changing landscape in women’s hockey, the various leagues that came before and how rewarding the past year’s success has been for players.

“It hasn’t always been easy,” she said. “I think the fans have seen it, we’ve all experienced it and you guys even in your field have experienced how amazing this league has been and it’s only going to get better. I just think every step in women’s hockey has led us here.”

With just nine players under contract for next season, Hershfeld and his team have a fair amount of work ahead of them.

Hershfeld said there are plans to try to re-sign some current players. However, with the No. 2 overall draft pick, the team will also focus on bolstering the roster through the draft and free agency.

“It’s not like we have one hole to fill,” admitted Hershfeld. “We need to get better up front, we need to score more goals, we need to get better defensively “¦ and we need to help (goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer) out.”

It’s a long to-do list but Hershfeld may be able to fill some holes internally.

While Brianne Jenner, who led the team in points (9G, 11A), has two more years remaining on her contract, Hershfeld will likely want to get discussions underway with Katerina Mrazova and Darryl Watts who finished second and third in scoring respectively.

Watts worked her way up the lineup and got glowing reviews from Jenner, who said she hopes to see her return.

Watts, who suited up for the Toronto Six of the now-defunct Premier Hockey Federation last season, said she would be open to exploring the free-agent market.

“I consider myself an elite goal scorer,” said Watts. “In my NCAA career I was an elite goal scorer and where I was drafted (in the PWHL) didn’t represent where my career statistics put me.”

Ottawa was 1-9 in extra time this season and in hindsight winning a few more of those games would have likely seen them playing in the post-season.

“I think going through (this) season will be, you know, could be a strength of ours next year,” said Jenner. “Getting that close and being able to taste that playoff opportunity and falling short. I think that’s going to be a real big motivator for everybody.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

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