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Sports

Big changes coming to professional women's hockey

The Buffalo Beauts All-Stars
Buffalo Beauts
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Eight Buffalo Beauts will be playing the in Premier Hockey Federation 2022 All-Star Showcase Jan. 29 at the Northtown Center in Amherst.

Big news coming from the Premier Hockey Federation, which includes the Buffalo Beauts.

Women's professional hockey is more than doubling the salary cap for each of its six teams to $750,000, adding two expansion franchises next season, increasing the season to 28 games and — the icing on the cake — shifting the league's 2022 All-Star Showcase from Toronto to Buffalo on Jan. 29.

WBFO talked with hockey analyst Melissa Burgess from The Victory Press for perspective.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly talks with Hockey Analyst Melissa Burgess of The Victory Press
The Victory Press Hockey Analyst Melissa Burgess, wearing a gray sweater and white earbuds.

Marian Hetherly: So the league's been struggling since it began in the 2015-16 season. But more money, more teams, more season. I mean, talk about game-changing. How did this all come about?

Melissa Burgess: I think this has been a trend that we've seen over the recent years. The league has picked up more steam. You know, they got the national TV deals, they've got the ESPN+ broadcast deal for this season. They just recently announced a partnership with Upper Deck to produce actual hockey cards with the players and a partnership with Warrior that will give the players much needed equipment. So I think we've kind of been building toward this. And it's nice to see that buy-in from the league's Board of Governors, who clearly see these lucrative deals and see the investment in women's hockey as worth it.

MH: So overall, this is a one-time $25 million investment in the athletes. The question is, is it sustainable?

MB: Right. So I think there's a lot of questions with this investment. And my colleagues and I at the Victory Press have just put in those questions and we're waiting to hear some answers. But right now, it is a $7 million investment for the upcoming season and a commitment to invest a total of $25 million over the next three seasons. So I think that it is sustainable, based on what the teams and the league does in the next two to three years. But the fact that it's coming from the Board of Governors, that means that they hopefully have the money to put it where their mouth is.

MH: In Western New York, it's an added bonus when the league's All Star Showcase comes to the Northown Center in Amherst on Jan. 29 That begins at 5:30 p.m.

MB: So this year's All-Star Showcase is actually completely different than years past. We didn't have an All-Star game, you know, last year with COVID and everything. This year, there's three separate teams and they're going to play three single-period games with 10 minutes of five on five, followed by five minutes of three on three and a shootout. And all the goals that they score will count toward their final score. There is no skills competition as far as we know this year, but it will be really exciting to see all these powerhouse stars here in Buffalo.

MH: Yeah, eight Buffalo Beauts are scheduled to play plus top talent from the other PHF teams. The Beauts are currently at the bottom of the standings. Which all stars are catching your eye?

MB: Obviously the ones to watch are Mikyla Grant-Mentis. She actually played for the Beauts a couple years ago. She now plays for the Toronto Six. She is an absolute offensive powerhouse. She leads the league in goals, assists, points, everything and anytime she steps on the ice, it is dangerous. Other ones to watch: Elaine Chuli is a goaltender for Toronto. She's played in nearly every game this season and she has a great record. And then it'll be fun to see some of the Beauts who have never been in an All-Star game, like goaltender Carly Jackson who is currently on the "quote unquote" roster. I guess you would say as a backup goalie. But I'm sure they're gonna find a way to work her into the game.

MH: Fans are being allowed in the stands and the event will stream live in the U.S. and Canada. Melissa Burgess from The Victory Press. Thank you very much.