I Went to a Professional Women’s Hockey Game and It Was So Beautiful, I Cried

Of course, there are female hockey fans everywhere but the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) is in its inaugural season and the games are hockey heaven.

I Went to a Professional Women’s Hockey Game and It Was So Beautiful, I Cried
Alexandra Labelle (13) of PWHL New York and Emma Maltais (27) of PWHL Toronto during a Professional Women’s Hockey League game in Toronto on February 23. Photo: Shutterstock

I’ve been to dozens of these events before but tonight, something’s different. The familiar smells are here: hot dog meat, spilled beer, and popcorn, all wafting up my nostrils as I stride through an equally familiar wide corridor to get to my seat. I recognize the thruways but they’re less crowded than usual, affording me a rare opportunity to pause and admire the memorabilia on the walls—and to note just how clean and fresh everything feels in this basically brand-new, brick-laden space that can fit 18,500 people. I finally hear the sound of a body slamming against the boards and the roar of the crowd reacting to the hit. This is hockey. I know it well.

But this is not my father’s hockey. This is so much better than that. This is a Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) match between New York and Montreal at the UBS Arena in Elmont, New York (home to my mortal enemies, the Islanders). Walking alongside me to my seat are women and young girls—more women and young girls than I’ve ever seen at the 20 or so other hockey games I’ve been to in my life. Some of them are wearing National Hockey League (NHL) jerseys like myself (let’s go Rangers), but many are in the teal-and-navy-blue sweaters of the PWHL’s New York squad.


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There are girls here who are still learning their times tables, the sleeves of their jerseys dragging on the ground. Popcorn spills from tubs shakily held in tiny little hands, and the twinkling sound of girlhood laughter echoes through the halls. Standing in line to get a $19 can of Stella Artois, I feel the sharp burn of tears forming in my eyes. As the daughter of a man who never had a son, I slotted into that gap and became the kind of jock kid endlessly spewing sports facts that most fathers dream of having. I’m more than comfortable at hockey games—but there’s an unapologetic, strong femininity at this PWHL game that I’ve never felt before.

When I get my overpriced beer (and my shit together) and walk down to my seat, I transition to a state of complete awe: Not only am I sitting closer than I could ever afford to sit at an NHL game, but there are even more women here. Young, old, visibly queer, ethnically diverse, mothers, daughters, lovers, best friends, all sitting in the bleachers, eyes fixed on that bright, white ice, mouths moving in unison, chanting for their team. I feel like I’ve died and gone to hockey heaven.

Of course, there are female hockey fans everywhere, and my time at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup proved that women’s sports can draw impressive crowds. But women’s hockey has never been on display quite like this, and that’s mostly thanks to the conditions under which the PWHL was created. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League collapsed in 2019 and from its ashes rose the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which boycotted all the other existing leagues in an attempt to create a unified pro league across the U.S. and Canada. The PWHPA worked with businessman and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and investment firm Billie Jean King Enterprises (yes that Billie Jean King) to establish the Professional Women’s Hockey League last year, composed of six teams: PWHL Montreal, PWHL Ottawa PWHL Toronto, PWHL Boston, PWHL Minnesota, and PWHL New York. The season kicked off in January and I went to my first game on February 21.

The PWHL teams are made up of Olympians, of women like New York’s Alex Carpenter, who has been outspoken about the importance of inclusivity on the ice while also ripping absolute snipes to the upper 90. On Montreal, there’s Marie-Philip Poulin, the captain of Canada’s Olympic team, who scored her 100th goal for the country in 2023. The league’s current leading goal scorer is Toronto’s Natalie Spooner, the first woman to play on Canada’s under-18, under-22, and senior-level national teams. The same woman who’s scored 10 goals in 10 games in this brand-new league. The PWHL, in short, is full of legends.

The energy on display at this game would have had an immeasurable impact on me as a young girl—seeing so many people who look like me in the bathroom, sitting in my row, trudging through the parking lot to get back to their cars after the final buzzer sounds would have fundamentally changed me. Maybe I would have felt less pressure to perform masculinity, to be consistently and persistently tough. Maybe I would have softened earlier, rather than life events and aging and loss eventually sanding down my rough edges until I became the hard exterior/soft center woman I am today. Maybe, I’d even be out on that ice right now.


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Just before the end of the first period, a new smell wafts over me. It’s the stench of stale hockey pads. I’ve never been close enough to smell them before but it’s an unmistakable odor, not unlike my high school soccer shin guards. I look over to my left, towards the tunnel where the Zamboni usually drives out, and see a small army of young girls standing there in full hockey gear, shifting their weight between their skates as they wait to come onto the ice and play a bit in between periods.

I decide to engage in a tried-and-true hockey tradition: chirping the players. “You girls stink! Wash those pads!” I shout. One of them flips me off, her gloved hand struggling to isolate its middle finger. Even in the chirps, there’s joy. There’s also a lightness in the arena that feels antithetical to NHL games and their rampant masculinity (something I’ve experienced firsthand after being caught in the middle of a tussle or two at a Rangers/Isles game). You won’t hear homophobic slurs here.

The game goes into overtime then a shootout, and the crowd’s roars and moans are the soundtrack to every pad save, every missed shot. When it’s Carpenter’s turn, she streaks up the left side of the ice, and floats effortlessly across the goal mouth, slowing enough that it looks like she’s manipulating time, handling the puck with a softness usually reserved for holding babies or a carton of eggs. Back and forth, back and forth the puck goes, the goalie drops to her knees thinking the shot is coming in low, and with a flick of the wrist, Carpenter flips the puck up and over her and into the net. New York wins. The crowd goes wild.

PWHL tickets are incredibly affordable. Go to a game. Support women’s hockey.

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