Home Sports Local PWHL players say they have a lot to celebrate as women’s pro hockey league launches

Local PWHL players say they have a lot to celebrate as women’s pro hockey league launches

Local PWHL players say they have a lot to celebrate as women’s pro hockey league launches

London, Ont.-area players on the newly launched Professional Women’s Hockey League are revelling in the success of the first games and what it will mean for future athletes.

The highly anticipated league is made up of 150 players on three Canadian and three American teams. The first goal in the inaugural game on New Year’s Day was scored by Ella Shelton of Ingersoll, Ont, who is playing for New York.

Brittany Howard from St. Thomas was also on the ice for that game playing as a forward for the opposing PWHL Toronto team. Both Howard and Shelton are former London Devilette players.  

The experience was “surreal,” Howard said Tuesday, both for the historic nature of the game itself, and for its location: the former Maple Leaf Gardens building, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs for nearly 70 years that’s now called the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

“Packed barn at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. You couldn’t have a better venue,” said Howard. “The crowd was super loud the entire time. You could feel the excitement throughout the entire game.”

The first game sold out, to 2,537 people, and there was an even larger viewing audience at home.

Among those in attendance were family members who have spent years helping their daughters achieve their goal of playing professionally. 

“She stayed focused and was really set on being a team member,” said Cathy Shelton, who will travel Friday to the United States to see Ella play again against Toronto. “This league is huge, for all of us, to finally see an opportunity for women to play this sport.

“A lot of people have put in countless hours to make this happen,” Shelton said, noting how many young girls she saw at the inaugural game who may now be inspired to work toward playing professionally.

Howard recalls her early days playing hockey, some 20 years ago in Port Stanley, alongside her twin brother. He and seven other members of the Howard family were at the first PWHL game to mark the historic milestone in her hockey career

“They definitely see the growth and investment of the game,” Howard said. “We’ve been wanting this as players for so long, and I think you could feel that energy and emotion as we stepped onto the ice.”

Hockey player Ella Shelton describes history-making PWHL goal

After scoring the first-ever goal in the Professional Women’s Hockey League, New York defender Ella Shelton says her younger self, growing up in rural Ontario, would scream for joy if she knew what she’d grow up to accomplish.

Another St. Thomas native, Lexie Adzija, plays for PWHL Ottawa, which took on Montreal on Tuesday in the capital city. The game set a North American attendance record for professional women’s hockey with  8,318 fans at TD Place.

Howard is optimistic as the Toronto team gets set to hit the road for Friday’s game in Bridgeport, Conn., against New York.

“We definitely want to bounce back,” she said. “We want to take the good things that we had the last game, clean up some of the things that we need to work on, and just grow as a team, each game throughout the season.”

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