5 PWHL trends to watch before 2024 WW
by Lucas AYKROYD|01 MAR 2024
Switzerland's Alina Muller (left) is tied for the PWHL lead in assists, which could portend good things for her nation at the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
The patterns, clues, and question marks are building up.
We’re two months into the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) season and one month away from the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship (3 to 14 April). Naturally, women’s hockey fans worldwide are excited to see how action in the new elite league could foreshadow who garners the medals in Utica, New York as the host Americans aim to defend their 2023 title.
Let’s take a closer look.

1) Goalies are making big statements

Overall, the PWHL has showcased elite goaltending. Out of the 12 netminders who have appeared between the pipes so far, five boast a save percentage of 92.0 or higher. That includes Canada’s 2022 Olympic gold-medal starter (Montreal’s Ann-Renee Desbiens) and the U.S.’s 2023 Women’s Worlds gold-medal starter (Boston’s Aerin Frankel).
So goals might be even tougher to come by than usual in a Canada-U.S. showdown.
An intriguing battle for the American net is underway. Nicole Hensley, 29, has dazzled for Minnesota this season. She’d love to backstop the U.S. to gold as the starter, which she has only done once (2017 Women’s Worlds in Plymouth, Michigan). However, Frankel, 24, is neck-and-neck with Hensley statistically and outdueled her with a 41-save shutout in Boston’s 2-0 road win over Minnesota on 25 February.
Thus, American coach John Wroblewski might lean toward the 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner from Northeastern. The acrobatic Frankel posted a stellar 93.2 save percentage and 1.48 GAA in six games at last year’s Women’s Worlds in Brampton, Ontario.
Meanwhile, New York’s Corinne Schroeder is eager to prove that her 2023 Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) Goaltender of the Year award with the Boston Pride was no fluke. The tall 24-year-old Canadian leads the way among PWHL goalies who have played eight or more games with a 94.9 save percentage. Whether it’s this year or down the road, Schroeder is laying the groundwork for her first appearance ever in IIHF competition.

2) Tight team defence is in vogue

Goaltending is a big piece of the puzzle, but team defence – the proverbial “200-foot-game” with buy-in from all five skaters – is also a PWHL staple two months in.
Through February, a whopping 18 out of 49 PWHL games have finished either 2-1 or 3-2.
Could this tight-checking approach lead to hard-fought Women’s Worlds games as well? (Flashback to last year’s quarter-finals in Brampton, where the Czechs edged Finland 2-1 and Canada nipped Sweden 3-2 in overtime.)
Toronto is certainly setting the template. This team has come alive with six straight wins after a mediocre start. And the mindset of Gina Kingsbury and Troy Ryan, who double as Toronto’s and Canada’s GM and coach respectively, has always been that defence wins championships. Toronto’s Canadian national team core should be well-prepared to carry over solid systems play into their Women’s Worlds matchups.

3) Stars from outside North America step up

While close to 90 percent of PWHL players are Canadian or American, the league’s ability to help develop and showcase non-North American talent was also touted pre-launch. That promise is materializing.
At age 19, Alina Muller led the 2018 Olympics with seven goals and was named Best Forward. Today with Boston, the Swiss sniper shines as a playmaker. With eight assists, she’s tied with Czech star Tereza Vanisova (Montreal) and U.S. aces Alex Carpenter (New York) and Kelly Pannek (Minnesota) for the league lead.
Both the Swiss and Czechs will need those kinds of puck-movers in Group A in Utica as they vie with Finland for the bronze – or maybe even something bigger.
Meanwhile, Austria’s Theresa Schafzahl won’t be at the 2024 Women’s Worlds. Her national team has never qualified for the elite division. Nonetheless, the University of Vermont’s all-time leading scorer has offered glimpses of what she can bring when that day finally comes.
Schafzahl, 24, is tied for second place among Boston goal-scorers with three goals. That ties the Weiz native with newly acquired Finnish teammate Susanna Tapani and puts her ahead of elite names like Muller and the U.S.’s Hilary Knight, the all-time Women’s Worlds goal-scoring leader (61 goals).

4) Parity is the name of the game

Even though Ottawa has faced adversity with just four regulation-time wins, it showed its mettle with a 5-2 romp over New York on 28 February to claw back into the playoff picture. The reality is that every PWHL team has been competitive so far.
Through 12 to 14 games played, all six clubs are right around 30 goals in both the goals-for and goals-against category.
The widest margin of victory has been four goals, and that’s occurred just twice. New York blanked Toronto 4-0 on New Year’s Day and Ottawa downed Toronto 5-1 on 13 January.
In Utica, it’s reasonable to expect that the stacked U.S. and Canadian teams will outgun some unfortunate opponents. Yet overall, we’re looking forward to more parity – and suspense – than ever before at these Women’s Worlds.

5) Excitement around women’s hockey is surging

The proof is in the numbers.
The PWHL has already set a new single-game attendance record for women’s hockey. On 16 February, 19,285 fans packed a sold-out Scotiabank Arena to watch host Toronto defeat Montreal 3-0.
Previously, a new U.S. attendance record for pro women’s hockey was established on 6 January. With 13,316 on hand at Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota earned a 3-0 shutout over Montreal.
Organizers at the 2024 Women’s Worlds has reason for optimism about fan support. The host Americans are the defending champs. Utica’s Adirondack Bank Center is just a four- or five-hour drive from every PWHL city except Minneapolis. And an upbeat, festival-style atmosphere awaits in upstate New York.
All these factors should help the Women’s Worlds to capitalize on the PWHL’s undeniable momentum.