NWHL Announces Expansion to Toronto

The NWHL announced on April 22 that they will be adding a sixth team for their upcoming sixth season, placing a team in Toronto. The team name, colors, uniforms, and their home rink will be announced at a later date, but fans can submit their votes for the above options (not including the rink) on the league’s website.

This is the second time that the NWHL has expanded, following the remarkable success of adding the Minnesota Whitecaps prior to season four. The league has had their eyes on expanding north of the border as far back as the conclusion of season one and Wednesday’s announcement finally closes that chapter.

Dani Rylan
NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan at Nasdaq. (Photo courtesy of Nasdaq)

“Launching our first team in Canada is a pivotal and proud moment for the NWHL. Everyone in the Toronto hockey community can be sure that this first-class team of professionals will make bold strides for the women’s game,” said league commissioner and founder Dani Rylan.

Toronto Trifecta

Along with the announcement of the new franchise, the league also announced a member of the team’s ownership group, the team’s Chairman, and team President. 

The ownership team is led by Johanna Neilson Boynton who is the CEO and co-Founder of Boynton Brennan Builders. “We aspire to build a perennial Isobel Cup contender for Toronto. This will be an organization with strong fan, community and corporate support, outstanding coaching, training, and player development, and a club dedicated to promoting hockey as a game for everyone,” said Boynton in the press release.

Shiann Darkangelo, Taylor Woods
Shiann Darkangelo and Taylor Woods are the first forwards signed by the NWHL expansion team in Toronto. (Photo credit: NWHL)

“Although this pandemic is challenging everyone in profound ways today, and we are very mindful of that, our outlook for women’s sports remains positive. We are launching this team now because we believe in the future.”

The club’s Chairman will be Tyer Tumminia, who was recently named as one of the Top 25 Female Executives by Bleacher Report and received the Game Changer award from the Sports Business Journal. “Toronto is a vibrant city with an unmatched tradition in the sport, and we will give the fans a team of which they can truly be proud,” said Tumminia in the press release.

Kristen Barbara, Emma Greco, Elaine Chuli
Kristen Barbara and Emma Greco are the first defenders signed by the NWHL expansion team in Toronto and Elaine Chuli is the team’s first goaltender. (Photo credit: NWHL)

“I’m looking forward to working with Johanna, Digit, and a team filled with like-minded professionals driven by the collective goal of making Toronto’s NWHL team a success that sets new standards and paves the way for more expansion in Toronto.”

The team President will be Digit Murphy, who has more than three decades of experience leading teams at Brown University and the CWHL. She will be in charge of hiring the GM and Head Coach. “Today is just the start. We have plenty of work ahead,” said Murphy in the press release.

“Our team in Toronto is led by women, and we are providing opportunities and jobs in the GTA for hockey players, coaches, and staff. This team will proudly represent Toronto and compete for the NWHL championship, and will also be dedicated to empowering younger female athletes through community engagement and education,” added Murphy. “We welcome everyone who wants to be a part of a challenging and rewarding venture.”

First Five 

As if all of that information wasn’t enough, it was also announced that five players signed contracts to play for Toronto, becoming the latest trailblazers in a league full of them. Two of the players have played in the NWHL previously, and all five of them played in the CWHL at some point.

Shiann Darkangelo
Shiann Darkangelo with the Buffalo Beauts at the 2017 Isobel Cup Final. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay)

Perhaps the biggest of the five names is Shiann Darkangelo. The 26-year-old from Michigan played two seasons in the NWHL – in season one with the Connecticut Whale and in season two with the Buffalo Beauts where she won the Isobel Cup. In 29 regular-season games, the forward has 25 points (17g-8a) and also has three assists in five playoff games. Darkangelo also played for Toronto and Kunlun (54 games combined) in the CWHL.

Defender Emma Greco played one season for the Whale (six games, three assists) before the Ontario-native played for the Toronto Furies (23 games) in the final season of the CWHL. Another defender, Kristen Barbara, joins the team with three seasons (58 games) of CWHL experience under her belt, culminating with a Clarkson Cup with the Markham Thunder in the league’s final season.

Jordan Juron, Emma Greco
Jordan Juron of the Buffalo Beauts tries to carry the puck past Emma Greco of the Connecticut Whale. (Photo Credit: Matthew Raney)

Taylor Woods joins the newest NWHL team after playing for Brampton/Markham (74 games) from 2016-19 and the 25-year-old forward also played four years at Cornell University prior to that. Another 25-year-old, Elaine Chuli, is the team’s first goaltender signed. After four years starting for the University of Connecticut, she played for Toronto and Vanke in the CWHL.

“We welcome Kristen, Elaine, Shiann, Emma, and Taylor – five talented and highly driven players who will help our team contend for the Isobel Cup while advancing women’s professional hockey in the inclusive and incredible city of Toronto,” said Murphy. “I’m very proud that these five outstanding leaders, who are all connected to the Toronto community, have joined our roster.”

Looking Forward 

Last season with five teams each NWHL team played 24 games, but during the upcoming season, each of the six teams will play 20 games. That leads us to believe that each team will play four games (likely two at home, two on the road) against each of their five opponents. The league’s sixth season is expected to start in mid-November and end in March, with the 2021 Isobel Cup Playoffs starting in mid-March and finishing before the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship takes place in Nova Scotia.

Kaleigh Fratkin Boston Pride
Following a season that saw her earn the NWHL’s Defender of the Year award, Canadian Kaleigh Fratkin will get to play a game in her home country in season 6. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay).

Could we see the return of three game-series rather than single-elimination playoff games? Hopefully because, who doesn’t want to see more hockey. Will all six teams qualify for the playoffs? Unsure, but at this point, we have to assume all options are on the table.

Plenty of current players in the league have roots in Canada and after the league’s announcement of a Toronto team, many of them took to Twitter to express their excitement about being able to return home during the upcoming season.

“Pivotal for our league and the growth of women’s hockey. Looking forward to having the ability to play a few games in front of my family,” wrote Christina Putigna who recently re-signed with the Boston Pride.

“Kinda feel like I have two home crowds now?!,” wrote Shannon Doyle who recently re-signed with the Connecticut Whale for her sixth season with the league/team.

“Anybody else smelling a Buffalo/Toronto rivalry in the making? Welcome to the NWHL family!,” the Buffalo Beauts, the closest team geographically to Toronto, wrote.

Taylor Accursi Buffalo Beauts
Buffalo Beauts forward Taylor Accursi will be able to play games in her home province of Ontario during the next NWHL season. (Photo Credit: Mike Hetzel).

Clearly there is a lot of excitement around the league and we still have a whole off-season to figure out the rest of the rosters, the new schedule, new potential sponsorships, and things of that ilk. 

We also still have to figure out who is the champion of Season 5, as we wait for the postponed Isobel Cup Final between the Minnesota Whitecaps and Boston Pride to be rescheduled.

But for now, it’s Toronto’s time to shine and the league’s time to shine. They started with the Founding Four back in 2015 and now in 2020, they are up to six teams. That’s progress. That’s growth. That’s the promising sign that things are trending in the right direction for the sport. The future is bright and the players can’t wait to get back on the ice to showcase their talents.