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Saturday, March 2, 2024

PWHL Snap Shots: Spooner rolling as Toronto starts to find success

A world record will be set this week, sports fans, and it’s a busy schedule as the PWHL resumes action following time off for IIHF national team play. 

Record Battle on Bay Street 

Of the seven games on the schedule this week, the biggie is Friday night in Toronto at Scotiabank Arena, where a world record will be set for the most fans in attendance at a women’s pro hockey game. Toronto takes on Montreal at 7pm ET in front of a sellout of some 18,500 fans, a game the league is dubbing the Battle on Bay Street. 

Maybe you were among the lucky and quick fans to jump on a ticket, but odds weren’t in your favour, since tickets sold out in about two hours, and demand far outweighed supply. Just ask Toronto goalie, Kristen Campbell, who received more than a few ticket requests herself. 

“I got a lot of messages, actually, from people wanting tickets,” Campbell says. “And some people I know paid $800 for tickets to come, for a couple [tickets]. So it’s pretty cool to see that type of response and shows the passion of the fans here and just the demand for women’s hockey in general right now.” 

The crowd of 18,500 or so will mark the third time this season the PWHL has set this record. Ottawa did first, when 8,318 fans packed into TD Place for the team’s home opener, and then Minnesota eclipsed that mark five days later when 13,316 people turned up at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  

Toronto is the only team in the league to sell out every game this season, in large part because their regular home isn’t all that big — Mattamy Athletic Centre has capacity for just over 2,500 fans. 

“They’re really dedicated to coming out and they’re showing up,” Campbell says, of her team’s fanbase. “That’s gonna be incredible, playing at Scotiabank.” 

The game is headlined by Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who’s on a point-per-game pace with nine in nine, and Toronto’s Natalie Spooner, who has a league-leading seven goals.

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Spooner and Toronto are cookin’

Speaking of Spooner, the forward is rolling. She had three points in Canada’s 6-1 win over the U.S. on Sunday in the Rivalry Series finale (Canada won the series 4-3) and she’ll resume PWHL action on Wednesday against Boston, where she’ll try to keep her goal streak alive. 

The 33-year-old has four goals in Toronto’s last two games. She scored both in a 2-0 win over New York, and another two in a 4-1 win over Minnesota just before the break. 

It’s worth mentioning here that Spooner had her son, Rory, just over a year ago, and she’s already tearing up the PWHL. Talk about a stellar comeback — it’s the hardest and most under-appreciated in sport

And Spooner isn’t the only Toronto player heating up. It seems the whole team is finding its stride. After going a disappointing 1-4 to open the season, Toronto is now 4-5 (one of those wins came in OT). Campbell posted her first shutout two games ago, over New York. 

“I think every game, honestly, I’ve just gotten better and better and I’m focused on getting better each and every game,” she says. “I feel good about my game right now and I’m just looking to continue to help our team win in any way that I can. We’re going in the right direction.” 

There’s lots of room to grow, if you ask Toronto forward Rebecca Leslie, who trails only Spooner on the roster in points, with six. “I think we’ve always been a confident team — I think we’ve known that we haven’t played our best hockey yet and I still don’t think we have, but we’re gonna get there the next few games,” she says. “We’re feeling really good heading into the second half of the season.” 

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Trade alert! 

Boston and Minnesota were busy during the PWHL’s nine-day-long break, orchestrating the first trade in PWHL history with some key talent swapping teams. 

Minnesota picked up defender Sophie Jaques, and sent forwards Susan Tapani and defender Abby Cook to Boston. 

Jaques is the biggest get here — she was Boston’s 10th overall pick and the 23-year-old from Toronto won the 2023 Patty Kazmaier as the top player in the NCAA, with Ohio State. Jaques is on a three-year deal. 

Boston gets a defender in return in Cook, and some added production up front with Tapani. The forward has five points in nine games, and during the break she helped Finland win the latest edition of the Euro Hockey Tour (also featuring Czechia, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany), with 10 points in four games.    

Golden Gophers home to play host

The PWHL announced a Feb. 27 tilt between Toronto and Minnesota will take place at the University of Minnesota’s 3M Arena at Mariucci. 

The home rink to the Golden Gophers seats more than 10,000, and is one of the NCAA’s best hockey arenas.

It’ll feel like home to more than a few Minnesota players — seven in all played for the University of Minnesota, including No. 1 overall pick Taylor Heise. Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz starred in more than a few games there in her playing days, too. Toronto’s Olivia Knowles also played for the Gophers. 

UP NEXT (all times ET)

Wed. Feb. 14: Minnesota hosts Ottawa at 6pm; Toronto visits Boston at 7 p.m. 

Fri. Feb 16: Toronto hosts Montreal at Scotiabank Arena at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb 17: Minnesota visits Ottawa at 2pm on Sportsnet; New York hosts Boston at 4 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 18: Montreal hosts Minnesota at 1 p.m. on Sportsnet

Monday, Feb. 19: Ottawa visits Boston at 4:30 p.m.

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