by Paul Krotz

Five rookies, 10 re-signings, three free agents, plus three re-negotiated deals

Premier Hockey Federation teams were busy roster building during the second week of May with announcements regarding 21 different players. The offseason activity consisted of 18 signings that included five rookies and 13 returning players now under contract. 10 of the returnees are re-signings, plus three free agent acquisitions. In addition, three players announced re-negotiated terms for the second year of their two-year agreements.

The Boston Pride made their first two moves by signing Northeastern University graduates Alina Müller and Chloé Aurard. The Metropolitan Riveters re-signed members of their leadership group including captain Madison Packer and alternates Amanda Pelkey and Minttu Tuominen. The Minnesota Whitecaps return goaltenders Amanda Leveille and Chantal Burke, and also added Minnesota State University graduates Brooke Bryant and Claire Butorac. The Montreal Force increased their roster by eight with captain Ann-Sophie Bettez returning alongside alternates Catherine Daoust and Sarah Lefort plus forward Alexandra Labelle, free agents Élizabeth Giguère and Corinne Schroeder from Boston, and Emma Keenan from Connecticut, plus rookie Theresa Schafzahl from the University of Vermont. The Toronto Six re-signed captain Shiann Darkangelo, and the Whale announced new deals for Kennedy Marchment, Taylor Girard, and Allie Munroe.

The pipeline of top NCAA and international talent to the PHF was simultaneously strengthened with a trio of rookies who will make their North American professional debuts in 2023-24. Müller, a 25-year-old from Lengnau, Switzerland, graduates as the Huskies all-time leader with 254 points in 159 career games played. The five-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist is also a three-time Olympian who won a bronze medal in 2014 and was named Best Forward of the tournament in 2018. Her NCAA teammate, Aurard, is also a five-time Hockey East All-Star and graduates Northeastern with 204 points over 167 career games. The 24-year-old from Villard-de-Lans, France, has developed years of experience in international competition for her country including the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship which was her second appearance in the tournament’s top division. Both new members of the Pride have signed one-year contracts.

“Alina is one of the most talented hockey players in the world and, not only that, but she is also a phenomenal leader and person. It is incredible to add a player of her stature to the Boston Pride roster,” said Paul Mara, Pride Head Coach. “Chloe is one of the most talented all-around hockey players we have watched play in the NCAA. Her skating ability and vision for the game is incredible. She has the ability to play in every situation and in all three zones during a game at an extremely high level.”

Schafzahl is no stranger to Boston’s new Northeastern duo as a five-year member of nearby Vermont in the same Hockey East conference. The former Catamounts captain graduates as the top scorer in team history with 145 points in 148 career games and joins Montreal with international pedigree of her own. A native of Weiz, Austria, the 23-year-old has been a part of her national team program since 2014 and has won three World Championship medals in D1A competition. Her contract with the Force is a two-year agreement.

“Theresa was the go-to NCAA player we were aiming for,” said Kevin Raphaël, Force President. “She is an exceptional player. Her shot is blistering and her leadership is impressive for her age. She has the size, strength, and abilities to impact the game in much the same way as Jade Downie-Landry. She has the potential to be rookie of the year.”

The Force also made a splash in free agency, acquiring two of the most accomplished members of the PHF’s 2022-23 rookie class in Giguère and Schroeder. Giguère returns to her home province after making her professional debut in Boston where the 26-year-old Quebec native recorded 22 points and finished second behind Downie-Landry in rookie scoring. The 2020 Patty Kazmaier Award winner also made her debut with Canada’s National Women’s Team competing in all seven games of the Rivalry Series against the United States. Meanwhile Schroeder backstopped the Pride to a first place finish in the overall standings while setting single season records with 19 wins, seven shutouts, and 761 total saves. The 23-year-old from Elm Creek, Manitoba also led all goalies with a goals-against-average of 1.67 and save percentage of .955 earning Rookie of the Year and Goaltender of the Year honors. Keenan, a 25-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, returns for a third PHF season and first with a Canadian club after patrolling the blue line for Connecticut and Buffalo where she’s recorded 15 points in 44 total games. All three free agents signed one-year deals.

“To say I’m excited to be back playing in Canada is an understatement,” Giguère said. “La Force is such a great organization and I have no doubt we will make an impact in the league this year. I am looking forward to starting this season while playing close to home in front of all my friends and family again.”

Bettez led the Force with 11 goals and finished second in points with 22 in 23 games. The first captain in franchise history also scored the team’s first ever goal in their PHF debut Nov. 5 in Buffalo. The 35-year-old from Sept-Îles is undeniably the team’s leader on and off the ice and is widely admired for her passion, dedication, perseverance, and resilience throughout her professional career that included 10 seasons between the CWHL and PWHPA before joining the expansion PHF team. Labelle, a 27-year-old from Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, Quebec, finished third on the team in scoring with 13 points including six goals in 24 games and was the best on faceoffs with a .548 winning percentage. Lefort, a 29-year-old from Ormstown, Quebec was fifth on the Force with 10 points in 17 games. Daoust, a 28-year-old from Ile-Bizard, Quebec was an All-Star defender in her first PHF season, leading the team in average ice time. Daoust, Labelle, and Lefort have all signed two-year agreements, while Bettez has signed a one-year contract.

“Very excited to be back with the team,” Bettez said. “Looking forward to what this year will have in store for us.”

Speaking of Canadian team captains, Darkangelo signed a two-year deal to stay in Toronto where she recently led the Six to the country’s first Isobel Cup title. The 29-year-old from Brighton, MI produced the best offensive numbers of her PHF career in 2022-23 with 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 24 games and is now the team’s all-time leader with 48 points, including 20 goals and 28 assists in 50 regular season games played as a member of T6. She was also the team’s Foundation Award recipient and notoriously one of the league’s best on faceoffs, winning a league-high 338 last season.

“The league is growing and I’ve been committed to the Six since the beginning of the franchise,” Darkangelo said. “Just being a part of the PHF and this ownership group, I want to continue to do what I can here in Toronto. I love our set-up (at Canlan Sports – York) and the direction we’re going. Winning an Isobel Cup this year, it just feels right to continue to stay here and try to build for a back-to-back (championship). I definitely wanted to be here in Toronto to do that.”

Packer is another franchise cornerstone that is returning on a two-year deal, inking a contract with the Riveters that carries an average annual value of $92,500. The 31-year-old from Detroit, MI recorded 21 points in 24 games last season, bringing her eight-year total to 129 points which ranks second all-time in 131 career regular season games. Both Pelkey and Tuominen are All-Stars and Olympians whose leadership will continue building the team’s culture. The 29-year-old Pelkey is a native of Montpelier, VT who notched 19 points in 24 games last season. She won Olympic gold with Team USA in 2018, and also has two World Championship gold medals to her credit. The 32-year-old Tuominen is from Helsinki, Finland and a three-time Olympic bronze medalist and five-time World Championship medalist. Last season she produced 14 points with nine goals which included a record six scored on the power play.

“I am so incredibly proud and humbled to continue to be part of an organization that has meant so much to myself and my family over the years,” said Packer. “I never imagined back when I signed a contract in 2015 to play in Brooklyn I would be playing for that same team in American Dream 10 years later. This team and league have been my life over the last eight years, and I am so grateful to have two more years of building and growing a sustainable league where years from now my daughter will be playing and making what she's worth.”

Leveille is staying in the State of Hockey for another season as the 28-year-old goaltender has signed a one-year contract with the Whitecaps where she’ll earn $62,500 in 2023-24. The Kingston, Ontario native posted a .923 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against-average last season, ranking second in both categories. The two-time Goaltender of the Year is the league’s all-time leader with 95 games, 61 wins, and eight shutouts between-the-pipes. Burke is also returning to the Whitecaps crease on a one-year deal. The 24-year-old from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan initially joined the team as a practice player and signed ahead of the roster freeze while Leveille missed time due to injury. She spent four years at Penn State University then transferred to Minnesota State University for her final year of eligibility in 2021-22 and posted a 1.79 GAA and .943 SV% in five games.

“My decision to re-sign with the Whitecaps for the sixth time was an easy one,” Leveille said. “I believe in this team (and) its future and I wanted to be a part of it. Being a Whitecap is and has always been an honor. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to put on the jersey and play another season.”

Bryant and Butorac are both Minnesota State grads who will turn pro with the Whitecaps on two-year contracts. They will reunite with fellow Mavericks Burke and returning forward Brittyn Fleming who signed a two-year contract with the club a week ago. The 22-year-old Bryant hails from Linden, CA and recorded 20 points in 36 games in her final collegiate season. Butorac is a 23-year-old native of Andover, MN who captained the NCAA squad last season where she produced 23 points in 36 games. Both players got a taste of the PHF last month competing in the second annual of Battle of the Rig exhibition in Tulsa, OK.

“Brooke has really great chemistry with Brittyn Fleming, and I anticipate the pair to put up points this season,” said Chi-Yin Tse, Whitecaps General Manager. “She brings high energy and will be a shooting threat all over the ice. I really liked what I saw in her college career and felt as if she could be another impact player. I am excited to see what Claire can do at the next level. She had a great college career in Mankato and I really like the little details she has when she plays. Butorac will push the limits and be a huge asset to the Whitecaps.”

In light of the PHF’s landmark salary cap increase from $750,000 to $1.5 million per team, a trio of Whale players have come to new terms for the 2023-24 season. Marchment, a 26-year-old from Marmora, Ontario will receive a salary of $130,000 after finishing second in PHF scoring last season with 35 points powered by a record 18-game point-streak. Girard, a 24-year-old from Macomb, MI, has new contract terms that includes a salary of $110,000 following the 2022-23 campaign where she produced 28 points including four power play goals and a record four shorthanded. Munroe, a 26-year-old from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia will earn $105,000 next season after recording 16 points including 15 assists which led all defenders.