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Women’s professional hockey league hopes to raise its profile with rebranding as PHF and streaming deal with ESPN

When the league was called the NWHL, Boston Pride players raised the Isobel Cup after defeating the Minnesota Whitecaps in the championship game in March. With a new name and an influx of private ownership, the Premier Hockey Federation prepares to open its seventh season this weekend, and first with a full slate of games in two years.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

The Premier Hockey Federation — formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League — will usher in a new era Saturday when the puck drops on the 2021-22 season.

After an offseason highlighted by rebranding, a streaming deal with ESPN, and the inclusion of private owners for all six franchises, commissioner Tyler Tumminia hopes the league’s seventh season is its biggest yet.

“The excitement is wild,” said Tumminia. “The fans are eager to get back. We see it online, we see it socially, we see it through chat. At the federation level we are very excited, too.”

Tumminia said the league wanted to change the name from the NWHL to the PHF before exposure level increased. The ESPN deal aligned perfectly with the league’s plans as they try and grow professional women’s hockey in North America.

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“Any kind of brand change is going to take some time but I think a lot of us now are feeling quite comfortable with it,” said Tumminia. “There’s more eyes and ears and everything on our brand now with the backing of ESPN.”

The deal with ESPN was agreed to shortly after the conclusion of last season, when the Boston Pride captured the franchise’s second Isobel Cup. ESPN will serve as the league’s exclusive domestic broadcaster for all 66 regular season and postseason games, streaming on the company’s ESPN+ channel.

NWHL games were previously streamed on Twitch, which will air an additional 30 games internationally this season.

“We felt we’d bring that passion over and ESPN would be the platform to really take us to the next level on brand equity, interest, and awareness.” said Tumminia.

The game on the ice will also look different this season. Wins in regulation will be worth 3 points, up from 2 last season, and wins in overtime or shootouts will be worth 2 points. The losing team in overtime and shootouts will be awarded 1 point.

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For overtime, the PHF has adopted the NHL’s format with 3 vs. 3 play for five minutes.

“It should result in more exciting scoring opportunities and gives us the best opportunity for a game decided without a shootout,” said PHF’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Lisa Haley.

“I think everybody gets excited when they see an NHL game go into overtime.”

As the seventh year begins, Tumminia noted how six years of a professional sports league is like six minutes of real time. The PHF understands it still has a long way to go to grow the brand in the United States.

But the league believes all its changes will help with exposure, both in the short and long term.

“I felt like it was really important that since we’re literally brand new inside, our exterior perception was a reflection of all our changes on the inside,” said Tumminia.