It’s been a busy two weeks for the PWHPA. Following their announcement regarding the new regional training hub format on May 12th, the organization has been announcing its player base via Twitter. The PWHPA has continued to create excitement since their announcement two weeks ago, and they plan on keeping the momentum going during these uncertain times.
Jayna Hefford, PWHPA Operations Consultant, recently agreed to discuss the upcoming 2020-21 season with us here at The Women’s Hockey Tribune. Hefford discussed what led to the regional training hub format, what the latest is on the sponsorship situation and the excitement behind some of the top college players choosing the PWHPA route.
Alex Thomas: Thanks for doing this Jayna, we really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions! First off, congratulations on the announcement of the new regional training hub format. What led you to those decisions for the 2020-21 season?
Jayna Hefford: As we are a player’s association, the feedback of our players is the most important thing. Through a year-end survey, we were able to better understand how we could improve the overall experiences of our athletes. We were provided some really great feedback, and there was a great deal of consistency in responses across the group.
AT: You’ve mentioned before how the player membership base has been involved in these changes. That’s not usually how you see a sports organization make changes, but it’s a pretty refreshing thing. Why did the PWHPA’s management team feel that was the right way to go?
JH: As stated above, we are a player’s association and not a league. There is a distinct difference. Our motivation is always to create a better experience and more optimal conditions that will allow our athletes to perform and succeed.
AT: What can fans expect to be different from last season on the ice? What about off the ice in terms of potential camps, autograph opportunities and things of the like?
JH: There is a lot to be determined still, as we are facing challenges that we have never seen before and there is no playbook to navigate them. We expect that when we can showcase our talent, it will be better than ever with more professional environments for players to train and develop under. Additionally, with the increased level of structure and commitment from our players, we will reach more optimal performances.
AT: I know last season CBC was streaming the events online, and eventually ESPN+ got into the mix late in the season. Where will fans be able to watch games during the 2020-21 season?
JH: We hope to build on all of these partnerships and explore additional ways for women’s hockey fans to see the PWHPA members compete.
AT: I can’t ask questions about the 2020-21 season without asking about COVID-19. How has the PWHPA been preparing for next season with so much uncertainty? Are their alternatives being discussed in case travel remains difficult and fans cannot attend events?
JH: The landscape is difficult to plan for, we have to proceed as if things were normal, but we understand there will need to be a great deal of flexibility in our ideas. Adaptation will be key as things seem to be changing daily.
AT: Last week, the PWHPA’s Twitter began announcing players for next season. Will that be how all players trying out for regional hubs be announced?
JH: We believe it’s important to recognize all the players that have made a commitment to stand with the PWHPA (new and returning). We have been clear from the outset, that all players are still required to try out for a roster, so the announcements do not imply rosters are set, just that these players have decided to register with us.
AT: Hilary Knight was part of the initial group announced, how important is that star power to the PWHPA?
JH: We represent the top talent in the game, Hilary is obviously one of those. But more importantly, we represent players that want to be a part of the #ForTheGame movement and ensure that we leave the sport in a better place. The strength of our group is in our depth of players who are standing up for a better future.
AT: Abby Roque and Sarah Potomak were also in that initial group, two of the better NCAA players a season ago. How big is it for the PWHPA to be attracting those star players from the college level?
JH: As we represent the best talent in the game, it is important for us to attract the top players coming out of college and university. But again, more importantly it’s humbling to see that these top young players want to participate in something bigger than themselves and help move the sport forward.
AT: On the business side of things, you recently said in ‘The Athletic’ that you are hopeful to be adding a few sponsors to last season’s list. Has there been any movement on that front? Do you anticipate your strong relationship with the NHLPA to continue?
JH: At this point we don’t have any sponsorship announcements for this season, but we believe in the strength of our relationships and the commitment level of our partners. I hope we can continue to build on existing partnerships and create new relationships with people that want to support the top female players in the game and the better future we are trying to create for our sport.
AT: Last season, players were not paid for participating in events, but you said expenses were covered. Can players expect that same treatment this season? Will there be any changes in that regard?
JH: Yes, we expect to provide our players with the same support they saw last season. Our goal is always to create more professional environments for our players, and to build on how we can support them. We want to grow and continue to evolve, so we will see where we land come the 2020-21 season.
AT: Lastly, I have to ask about TSN’s All-Time Team Canada Women’s Roster. You were named to that team last Tuesday morning. How exciting was that for you, and how dangerous do you think the line TSN put you on, with Caroline Ouellette and Marie-Philip Poulin, would be?
JH: This was definitely a huge honour. I spent many years playing with Caroline and I finished my career playing with Marie-Philip. The three of us did have the opportunity to line up together more than a few times, and it was certainly a time I enjoyed. I have so much respect for both of them and how they play the game. I would be happy to be a ‘grinder’ on that line!