Goodbye, NWHL. Hello, Premier Hockey Federation.

There’s a new name in women’s hockey.

On Tuesday, the National Women’s Hockey League announced that it is rebranding ahead of its 2021-22 season. The six-team circuit will now be known as the Premier Hockey Federation.

“We felt it’s time for our players to be defined by their talent and skill,” commissioner Tyler Tumminia told the Associated Press. “It’s not like they’re female phenomenal. You’re just phenomenal.”

With the new slogan “No Labels, No Limits,” the league said in a press release that the PHF name is “inspired by empowerment, gender equity, and inclusivity with respect to differences in the gender identity of current athletes, prospective players, and league stakeholders.”

Not all current players in the NWHL identify as female.

The rebrand also comes at a time where the league has been changing the way it does business.

Founded in 2015, it was the first women’s hockey league to pay players a salary. But some early hiccups, including a sudden 50% pay cut for players early in the league’s second season, caused many of the game’s top players to sour on NWHL participation. Even after the rival Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded at the end of the 2018-19 season, more than 200 players elected to band together as the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, with the goal of establishing a sustainable professional league, rather than suit up with the NWHL.

Undaunted, the NWHL forged ahead. In the 2019-20 season, the league grew to six teams and expanded into Canada for the first time when the Toronto Six debuted. But the coronavirus pandemic prevented the 2020 Isobel Cup from being awarded.

In October of 2020, the league announced a major change of direction. Tumminia, with a primary background as a minor-league baseball executive, took over as interim commissioner, replacing founder Dani Rylan Kearney. The league also announced a new corporate governance model, moving away from its centralized approach where the league owned four of its six franchises. Mimicking major sports leagues such as the NHL, NFL and MLB, the league adopted an unincorporated association structure, with each team represented on a board of governors, and began a shift toward independent ownership of each franchise.

Nevertheless, there were highs and lows. With Covid-19 still an issue, the league chose to mount an abbreviated 2020-21 season in a bubble in Lake Placid, New York. Tumminia secured a broadcast deal with NBC Sports Network and a major sponsorship with Discover that was lauded as the largest in the league’s history, reportedly in the $1 million range.

The 14-day tournament began on Jan. 23, but Covid-19 concerns eventually caused the Metropolitan Riveters and the Connecticut Whale to choose to drop out.

One day before playoffs were scheduled to begin, the season was suspended. Nearly two months later, it was re-started at Warrior Arena in Boston. On March 27, the Boston Pride lifted the Isobel Cup.

In August, Tumminia was named the NWHL’s permanent commissioner.

The 2021-22 PHF season is set to get underway on Nov. 6, with all six teams back in their home arenas in front of fans for a 20-game, 19-week schedule.

As for the new name and branding, “This disassociates us from any negativity or negative perception that may have been there,” Riveters captain Madison Packer, who has been with the NWHL since its inaugural season, told the Associated Press. “As these changes continue to occur and we re-establish ourselves, a lot of the players are the same, a lot of the structure looks the same, but it’s different. It’s a new improved model of what we had before.”

“This rebrand strategy speaks volumes about what women in sports and women, in general, are trying to do,” said Boston Pride sophomore forward Sammy Davis, the first overall pick in the 2020 NWHL Draft. “We’re trying to be seen for more than just being women. It’s important to be pioneers, to be first. Set the foundation and show people that it’s okay to be different and it’s okay to want change.”

Last week, Canada won gold over the United States at the 2021 Women’s World Championship in Calgary — a tournament that came after the cancellation of both the 2020 edition and the original 2021 dates, which had been set for last May. From here, most of the game’s top players will be centralized with their national teams for the better part of the next six months, preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

In early August, the PWHPA announced details for its 2021-22 Dream Gap Tour. Once again, players will train in five hubs across Canada and the United States and participate in showcase events with prize pots and bragging rights on the line. While the Olympians may not be able to be as involved in on-ice activities, many are expected to remain involved with the association as supporting members.

The first Dream Gap Tour showcase of the season is set for Nov. 12-14 in Truro, Nova Scotia.

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