PHF commissioner Carey hopes to work with PWHPA for 'greater good' of women's hockey

Premier Hockey Federation commissioner Reagan Carey, seen above in 2018, told CBC Sports she's been 'consistent' in her outreach to the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association. (Ker Robertson/Getty Images - image credit)
Premier Hockey Federation commissioner Reagan Carey, seen above in 2018, told CBC Sports she's been 'consistent' in her outreach to the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association. (Ker Robertson/Getty Images - image credit)

As women's hockey settles back into a normal schedule, its two biggest factions remain separate.

The Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association, a union made up of most North American national-team players, played its first showcase of the year last month. It returns Friday for a series of six games through the weekend in Truro, N.S., with live coverage available across CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

Meanwhile, the Premier Hockey Federation, a professional league featuring seven teams (including one each in Montreal and Toronto), begins its season on Saturday.

PHF commissioner Reagan Carey, the architect of U.S. senior women's teams from 2010 through 2018, told CBC Sports she hopes the two sides can establish a friendly rivalry along the lines of Canada-U.S. in international play.

"I think it's the right thing to do as leaders to find ways to grow the game, not just for our personal missions with our different objectives, jobs and responsibilities, but for the greater good," Carey said.

WATCH | Carey on her vision for the PHF:

Carey, 44, succeeded Tyler Tumminia as commissioner in April. She said her first communication was with the PHF's players, followed by the league's staff and the sport's alumni.

Her next conversation was with the PWHPA, which is headed by Canada's Jayna Hefford, "just to continue to demonstrate my interest and our league's interest in being good teammates and communicating wherever we can to collaborate to grow the game."

Weeks before Carey took over, the PWHPA board reportedly voted to break off talks with the PHF. Facilitated by the NHL, the intention had been for the sides to find some way to work together.

Carey, an Atlanta native, said she has been "consistent in that outreach" ever since.

"I think we might be a little bit more eager to engage, but I can't speak for them," she said. "I know they're working on a lot of things and they have a lot of focus on the objectives that they envision. So it might not be as much of a priority for them at the moment, but I have had consistent conversations and will continue that. That's my commitment for the game."

Hefford affirmed the launch of a truly professional league for the best women players in the world remains a long-term goal for the PWHPA.

"Our athletes have been united in advocating for a top tier, professional league that matches the skill of our players and the excitement that currently exists for our PWHPA members," Hefford told CBC Sports.

"We're continuing to do the work to lay the foundation for a sustainable future for the women's game. It takes time to do it right, but we're making great progress and excited for what's to come."

Establishing professionalism

Following a 14-month stretch that featured two world championships and the Beijing Olympics, the focus in women's hockey is now shifting back on efforts to create a professional league featuring the world's top players.

Brianne Jenner, a three-time Canadian Olympian who plays in the PWHPA, recently told CBC Sports a suitable outfit does not yet exist.

"We still don't feel that there is that professional league out there that has everything that we feel makes a league professional," she said. "Not just in salary but in the way that players are supported — the facilities, healthcare, all avenues of that."

Two high-profile former PWHPA members have jumped ship to the PHF since the Beijing Olympics.

Three-time U.S. Olympian Kacey Bellamy was named a player scout in May, while fellow American Brianna Decker, also a three-time Olympian who was injured in China, joined the league in a player advisory role in August.

Decker said she was drawn by Carey's vision and the people she's placed around her, such as former Team Canada head coach Mel Davidson.

"Right now what we have set in stone and the things that we have laid out and what players are going to have access to right away are kind of what I was looking for and what I feel like I can help with along with the other people who are involved with the PHF," Decker told CBC Sports.

Carey said Decker is a shining example for the next generation.

"To have somebody with the drive, the passion, the credibility and the respect that Brianna Decker brings is a no-brainer and demonstrates the future of our league," Carey said.

Decker's role is to further professionalize a league that is technically already professional — a record $750,000 US salary cap is in place for the season, including a $562,500 floor.

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'New era' of PHF

The 31-year-old graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said her intention is for the PHF to feel like college in terms of structured practices and player development.

"As far as the standard of having the best product on the ice, we're asking ourselves how can we do that even if we don't have some of these national team players?" Decker said.

"And we're going to do that by making sure that these players are held accountable and the structure of our league is going to feel professional and the players are going to feel like they're treated like professionals."

Decker, of Dousman, Wis., is currently undergoing a "slow" rehab process for the broken left fibula and several torn ankle ligaments she suffered in Beijing. She's unsure whether she'll hit the PHF ice herself next season, though Carey is hopeful.

But Decker and Bellamy, who retired last September, may not be the last national-team players to join the PHF.

"We obviously in a short amount of time have a good track record of having great leaders join the PHF. So I don't anticipate us slowing down in that area," Carey said when asked whether she's in conversation with other American national team members.

The drive fits Carey's vision for the "new era" of the PHF, in which she isn't just happy to sit back and revel in the record salary cap or Buffalo Beauts forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis' milestone $80,000 contract.

Carey compared her new role to her old job, saying that in both cases the key is honest self-assessment.

"That's where we are with the league is taking a look at our strengths and then being very transparent about the areas we need to improve and communicating, getting insight from people and getting to work to close those gaps faster and more effectively than anyone has done before," she said.