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Past pro women’s hockey leagues lacked financial support. Boston’s newest signees think the PWHL will buck that trend.

Hilary Knight has long been a champion for women's hockey, and now she's a founding member of the new Professional Women's Hockey League.Petr David Josek/Associated Press

In Hilary Knight’s first year of professional hockey, her “locker” was two milk crates stacked on top of each other in the bathroom of a public rink.

But now, more than a decade later, Knight is one of the founding members of a bona fide professional women’s hockey league with an established collective bargaining agreement and deep-pocketed financial backers.

Games haven’t even started — they won’t until January — but the contrast from her first professional experience is stark already.

“This is completely different than anything we’ve ever had before,” Knight said Thursday. “And I think that’s what’s so exciting. For so many years we’ve been scratching the surface of what could be, and now we’re here.”


Knight, Megan Keller, and Aerin Frankel were the first three players to sign with the Boston franchise of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), the team announced Thursday. All three players have competed in Boston before: Frankel with Northeastern, Keller with Boston College, and Knight with the CWHL’s Boston Blades and the PHF’s Boston Pride.

The trio signed three-year contracts with the yet-to-be-named team, but the team did not disclose salary agreements, per the PWHL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Though she doesn’t yet know where her team’s home rink will be, Knight is optimistic that a brand new league will provide its players with unprecedented opportunities.

“Having a CBA done before we even have a puck drop, I think that’s instrumental to protecting the players and also setting up a structure of success to make sure that this thing is sustainable and we’re navigating the future in an appropriate way,” Knight said.

The PWHL is made up of six teams across the US and Canada, including Boston, New York, Minnesota, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Unlike the PWHPA, one of the league’s predecessors, the model allows for a more stable training environment for its players.


“Last year, it was a little bit difficult to string together skates every week, and we definitely made do, … but it wasn’t like full team practices,” said Frankel, who played her rookie season in the PWHPA last year. “So I think the structure that is being built is one that’s going to be amazing this year.”

The new league, Knight said, also gives fans a glimpse at something they’ve never seen before.

“I’m giddy about it just from a fan’s perspective because you’ve never seen the hockey minds meet from different countries on the women’s side,” Knight said. “We see it day in and day out on the NHL side and the men’s side, but we’re just scratching the surface here of where we can take the game and in terms of development and whatnot.”

The PWHL’s initial free agency period runs through Sunday, during which time each of the six teams can sign three players. The league’s draft is scheduled for Sept. 18, and Boston holds the third overall pick.

Danielle Marmer, the general manager of PWHL Boston, said she is optimistic about the league’s success, and that her first three signings as general manager are indicative of the sport’s progress over the last decade.

“The excitement for women’s hockey, the fact that everybody has agents, it just shows where this sport has grown,” Marmer said. “What we’re trying to accomplish here — the goal is attainable.”


Emma Healy can be reached at Follow her @_EmmaHealy_.