Hit enter after type your search item
Home / Toronto / News / A standing ovation for the Toronto PWHL team after heartbreaking first round exit

A standing ovation for the Toronto PWHL team after heartbreaking first round exit


Toronto’s inaugural PWHL (Provincial Women’s Hockey League) team, in its debut season, have been eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of Minnesota, losing the fifth and deciding game, 4-1 at home. Despite falling behind 2- 0 in the series, marked by the absence of Toronto’s key player due to injury, Natalie Spooner (the league’s scoring leader) Minnesota managed to stage a comeback and clinch a 3-2 series victory, securing a spot in the finals of the Walter Cup against Boston.

While the season did not culminate in the championship anticipation that Torontonians harboured for their women’s team, the squad performed commendably throughout the regular season. Their efforts provided hockey fans with captivating entertainment and inspired the next generation of young girls to embrace the sport.

As the season concludes, it’s an opportune moment to reflect on their inaugural year and the strides they’ve made in advancing women’s hockey. Ironically Minnesota is set to face Boston in the finals and the Leafs top player Matthews was also injured in the Leafs short playoff run.

Game 5, Minnesota vs Toronto

Taylor Heise scored the game winner on the power play 8:30 into the third period — her first goal of the playoffs. While Maddie Rooney continued her hot streak with 27 saves on 28 shots.

It’s a massive win for Minnesota after limping into the playoffs on a five-game losing streak and dropping the first two games of the semifinals. And a shock for Toronto, which entered the playoffs as the No. 1 team in the league and got to choose its semifinal opponent — No. 4 Minnesota.

A Disappointing End

We didn’t end the season where we wanted to and I think we were the ones that they thought were an easy target heading into this playoff,” said forward Grace Zumwinkle after the game. “I think it’s just a huge testament to the depth of our team, from first line to fourth line, and everyone that’s on our roster. I think everyone can contribute on any given night.”

How it played out

Toronto won the first two games of the series, shutting out Minnesota in both games. But Toronto was shut out in both attempts to win the series in Games 3 and 4 by Maddie Rooney, which set up the decisive Game 5.

We didn’t come here just to play a Game 5,” Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said before the game. “We’re here to win a Game 5.”

Minnesota’s Power Play Comes Alive

Minnesota’s power play, which had languished at a mere 8.2 percent efficiency heading into the semifinals, suddenly ignited when it mattered most.

Throughout the series, both Toronto and Minnesota struggled on the power play, going a collective 0 for 22, until Denisa Křížová finally broke the deadlock with a crucial power play goal in the second period. Later, Taylor Heise sealed the deal with another power-play goal in the third period.

Toronto Faced Power Outage

Despite its lackluster performance all season, Minnesota’s power play delivered in the clutch moments. In contrast, Toronto failed to capitalize on any of its ten power-play opportunities throughout the series.

Toronto, renowned for its formidable penalty kill during the regular season (91.8 percent success rate), found it uncharacteristic to concede two crucial power-play goals in such a pivotal game. Defender Renata Fast expressed disappointment, acknowledging, “It’s tough to concede two power-play goals; it’s not our usual style. But tonight just wasn’t our night.”

Coach Ryan

Coach Ryan commended rookie Heise for her exceptional performance on the power play, praising her decisive goal as a testament to her skill. Heise’s confidence received a significant boost when she netted a second goal — an empty-netter to secure a 4-1 victory.

Feeling The Loss of Spooner

Toronto felt the absence of Natalie Spooner keenly, as the star forward missed her second consecutive game due to a season-ending knee injury sustained during Game 3 of the series on Monday night, following a collision along the boards in the third period.

Spooner tops the PWHL in assists & goals

Losing Spooner dealt a significant blow to Toronto, particularly at this crucial juncture of the season. The 33-year-old had been a dominant force in the PWHL, leading in both goals (20) and points (27) throughout the season and emerging as a frontrunner for the league’s inaugural MVP award. Spooner’s impact was profound, as she accounted for 29 percent of Toronto’s goals and factored into 39 percent during the regular season. Notably, in the first three games of the semifinals, Spooner, alongside Blayre Turnbull and Hannah Miller, contributed to four of Toronto’s six goals.

In Game 5 on Friday, Toronto seemed to adjust well in Spooner’s absence, reshuffling their lines to feature Turnbull, Emma Maltais, and Jesse Compher on the top line, and Sarah Nurse, Miller, and Maggie Connors on the second line. Despite a strong start, outshooting Minnesota 13-7 in the initial period, Toronto’s top-six failed to capitalize when it mattered most. In the decisive third period, Minnesota dominated, outshooting Toronto 14-2.

Stars Didn’t Align

While Toronto boasted stars like Nurse, Turnbull, and Maltais in their lineup, and relied on the exceptional performance of goaltender Kristen Campbell, Minnesota effectively stifled Toronto’s offensive efforts, maintaining a strong defensive presence and disrupting their transition game.

Toronto’s depth appeared insufficient compared to Minnesota’s, as evidenced by their inability to capitalize on three opportunities to clinch the series and advance to the Finals, ultimately managing to score only one goal in those crucial moments.

Toronto head coach Troy Ryan acknowledged the challenge of losing a top scorer like Spooner but emphasized that it wasn’t the sole reason for their loss. Despite the collective effort of the team, they struggled to find the back of the net in pivotal moments, ultimately falling short in their bid for victory.

Looking Back at the Season

If one were to examine the bookends of PWHL Toronto’s season, the journey might seem less indicative of a team that surged through a dominant 11-game winning streak midway and secured a playoff berth well ahead of their PWHL counterparts. Toronto weathered a challenging start and concluded with a tough stretch, culminating in three consecutive losses to PWHL Minnesota after initially taking a 2-0 series lead, marking an early exit from the PWHL playoffs.

Expressing his sentiments after the game, Toronto head coach Troy Ryan reflected, “It’s tough right now. We just had a brief chat as a group, and I think there’s so much to be proud of. I think, in reflection, we’re going to look back on this year and be very proud of what this group in Toronto accomplished, but even probably more proud about what the PWHL has accomplished.”

Coach Ryan commended the team’s effort, noting, “I said it to the group, I think they laid it all out on the ice tonight. They laid it on the line. Everybody competed and battled and gave us a chance to win that hockey game. So, I think, even tonight in a loss, there’s plenty to be proud of as well.”

Captain Turnball

In the midst of disappointment, Toronto found solace in reflecting on the season’s highs and the unwavering support of their fans. Captain Blayre Turnbull encapsulated the team’s gratitude, stating, “I think it was unbelievable all season, regardless of what rink we played in, our fans showed up and cheered us on; even in the dark days early on, they supported us and they stuck with us and trusted that we would come out on top. To hear them support us throughout the duration of that game, and especially at the end when it wasn’t looking good, it meant a lot to us.”

The Draft

Next up for Toronto is selecting 6th overall at the PWHL Draft, followed by the opening of free agency on June 21, where Toronto will look to solidify their roster for next season.

In the Genesis

Toronto’s inclusion as one of the PWHL’s inaugural six franchises was announced on August 29, 2023. Shortly after, on September 1, the league revealed Gina Kingsbury, former vice president of hockey operations at Hockey Canada and general manager of the Canadian women’s national team, as the team’s general manager. Troy Ryan, head coach of the Canadian women’s national team, was later announced as Toronto’s head coach on September 15.

The Team

The initial trio of players—Sarah Nurse, Renata Fast, and Blayre Turnbull, all members of the Canadian national team—signed three-year deals on September 5, 2023. The team made its selections at the inaugural PWHL draft on September 18, with veteran Canadian national team member Jocelyne Larocque being their first pick, chosen second overall. Turnbull was appointed team captain ahead of the inaugural 2024 season, with Fast and Larocque named assistant captains.

The Colours

In November 2023, the team’s colors were revealed to be blue, black, and white. The Mattamy Athletic Centre, located in the historic Maple Leaf Gardens, was designated as Toronto’s home venue. On January 1, 2024, Toronto hosted its inaugural PWHL game at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, falling 4-0 to visiting New York. However, redemption came swiftly on January 5, with Toronto securing its first victory, a 3-2 win, with Natalie Spooner scoring the team’s inaugural goal in the second period.

Scotiabank Debut

On February 16, 2024, Toronto made its debut at the iconic Scotiabank Arena in a highly anticipated matchup against Montreal, aptly named “The Battle on Bay Street” by the league. This game set a new attendance record for both the league and women’s hockey, with a sellout crowd of 19,285, surpassing the previous mark set at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship. Two months later, on April 20, Montreal hosted Toronto at the Bell Centre, selling out the arena and setting yet another attendance record with 21,105 fans in attendance, in what was dubbed “The Duel at the Top.”


As the curtains draw to a close on Toronto’s hockey season, both the men’s and women’s teams find themselves eliminated without claiming the ultimate prize. While the women’s team faced a disappointing collapse against Minnesota, it’s crucial to acknowledge that this setback marks their inaugural year. In contrast, the men’s team boasts a rich history spanning decades.

Though disappointment lingers for players like Marner, Matthews, Nylander, and Tavares, the PWHL as a whole experienced a successful debut season, marked by rising attendance and captivating television broadcasts. As the league matures, it’s poised to generate more revenue for players and witness a surge in popularity across North America.

Looking ahead, there’s hope that the passion ignited by these women’s teams will inspire future generations, perhaps even paving the way for young girls to don the iconic blue and white for the Leafs.

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar