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PWHL begins with gay goalscorers, and Billie Jean King dropping the league’s ceremonial first puck

Alex Carpenter and Jill Saulnier were on target as New York won, 4-0, at Toronto in the first game of the Professional Women’s Hockey League.

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New York v Toronto
Billie Jean King and Jayna Hefford take part in the ceremonial puck drop with Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull of Toronto and New York counterpart Micah Zandee-Hart.
Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

A new era in women’s hockey officially began in Toronto on New Year’s Day, with several LGBTQ people playing key roles on the ice.

The ceremonial puck drop for the inaugural match of the Professional Women’s Hockey League was performed by the great Billie Jean King, who alongside her wife Ilana Kloss topped last year’s Outsports Power 100 List.

Both are PWHL board members. As King was presented to a sellout crowd of over 2,500 fans at the Mattamy Athletic Center, her career achievements in tennis were read out over the PA system, including a reference to how “she emerged as a prominent voice in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and broader social justice causes.”

Alongside King was former Canada international and four-time Olympic gold medalist Jayna Hefford, whose partner is Kathleen Kauth, a member of the USA team that won bronze at Torino 2006. Hefford is the PWHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations.

In the match, New York recorded a 4-0 victory over Toronto. After Ella Shelton scored the first goal in PWHL history in the opening period, three more goals followed for the visitors in the third.

They were scored by USA’s Alex Carpenter and Canada’s Jill Saulnier — both of whom were on Outsports’ list of out LGBTQ athletes who competed at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics — and Kayla Vespa.

Madison Packer, who is on her way back from injury, watched on with wife Anya Battaglino and their adorable two children, Waylon and Harlan.

New York captain Micah Zandee-Hart posed for the puck drop photo but also missed the game with an unspecified injury; the 26-year-old won gold alongside Saulnier in the Chinese capital two years ago, also boosting Team LGBT’s medal tally in the process.

For Toronto, goaltender Carly Jackson — who shared her story with Outsports on National Coming Out Day last year — did not feature in the season opener.

The league was created after King’s BJK Enterprises and the Mark Walter Group bought the Premier Hockey Federation, which had been in operation since 2015.

Leading players mobilized to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and struck an agreement with Walter, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Last year, PWHL players spoke out against the NHL’s disastrous banning of Pride Tape, which set back the league’s LGBTQ inclusion efforts.

The opening round of fixtures continues on Tuesday as Montreal travel to take on Ottawa, who have out LGBTQ players Brianne Jenner and Emily Clark in their squad.

Around 8,000 fans are expected at TD Place Arena, which will set a North American professional women’s hockey record for attendance.

On Wednesday, Boston hosts Minnesota at Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass. Out players in the home squad include captain Hilary Knight of the USA, who last year told The Athletic’s Meg Linehan in an interview that she identifies as queer, and another of Canada’s Olympic champions, Jamie Lee Rattray.