PHF to receive largest one-time investment in women’s pro hockey

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The Premier Hockey Federation is more than doubling each teams’ salary cap to $750,000 and adding two expansion franchises next season in a bid to capitalize on the wave of attention women’s hockey traditionally enjoys following the Winter Olympics.

The PHF’s announcement on Tuesday of its board of governors’ commitment to invest more than $25 million over the next three years is also considered a major step in attempting to thaw its relationship with United States and Canadian national team players, who have balked at joining North America’s lone professional women’s hockey league.

“It’s an amazing investment by the ownership, and it really reaffirms the strength of their commitment to being a difference-maker in women’s hockey,” PHF Commissioner Ty Tumminia told The Associated Press.

“It’s important for us to advance to our next season and be crystal clear about the direction we’re headed, and what framework will be so that all athletes can make an informed decision about their careers,” Tumminia added, noting the timing of the announcement comes two weeks before the Winter Games open in Beijing.

The six-team PHF is moving forward with plans to establish a team in Montreal and, without disclosing where, adding another expansion franchise in the United States.

READ MORE ABOUT THE NEW PHF INVESTMENT: How will a $25 million investment impact women’s professional hockey?

The boost in the cap from $300,000 this season will lead to an average salary of $37,500 based on a 20-player minimum roster or $30,000 for a league-maximum 25-player roster. There will be no limits placed on a player’s salary as long as the team’s overall payroll remains under the cap.

The cash influx will also lead to the PHF providing full health-care benefits to its players, improving facilities and increasing the number of practices. Players will also gain a 10% equity in their respective team and have control over their likeness for marketing opportunities.

“This is the time to double-down,” PHF board of governors chairman John Boynton said. “We think this is a giant step forward of making it possible for the best women’s hockey players to earn a living playing the game they love.”

The league doubled its salary cap already from $150,000 a year ago, while also adding an expansion team in Toronto.

The PHF has made numerous sponsorship and broadcasting inroads over the past year, including having games aired on ESPN-Plus in the U.S. and Canada’s TSN.

Tumminia noted the league was able to generate those agreements based on this being an Olympic year.

“This is a very pivotal time in women’s hockey. There’s no denying the impact the Olympics have on the interest in the women’s game and how the the landscape can change after Beijing,” she said.

The PHF currently has teams based in Boston, Toronto, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, St. Paul, Minnesota, Danbury, Connecticut, and Buffalo, New York.

The fast-tracked approach follows two years in which the PHF overhauled its business and ownership model, and underwent a rebranding by changing its name from the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) last summer.

PHF teams are now privately owned, though some ownership groups control more than one franchise.

Upon being founded as a start-up four-team venture in 2015 by Dani Rylan Kearny, the league previously controlled all its franchises and relied on outside investors to make up the revenue gap from ticket and merchandise sales to pay for salary, travel and administrative costs.

The instability of the business model led to the NWHL slashing players salaries by more than half in its second season. The move led to a distrust among players, some of whom bolted to play for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which folded in May 2019.

The CWHL’s demise led to the world’s top players forming the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association in a united bid to establish a single North American professional league — ideally backed by the NHL — with a long-term sustainable economic model.

The PWHPA has spent the past two years holding a series of barnstorming weekend events called the “Dream Gap Tour” across North America.

Tumminia believes the PHF’s latest investment, and the inclusion of health-care benefits, meets the PWHPA’s vision.

“We can’t speak for them, but our position has always been that a single professional women’s hockey league in North America provides the best opportunities for growth and sustainability of the game,” she said. “This investment supports everything we all want to see, and that’s enhance opportunities for athletes and take the sport to the next level.”

Boynton said the PHF’s growth is sustainable based on the resources at hand, and hinted there’s more to come.

“I think we’re moving as fast as we possibly can, and it’s never fast enough,” Boynton said. “Our top priority is to increase compensation as quickly as we possibly can. So are we moving it up quickly? Yes. Are we finished moving it up? No.”

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”