Two undefeated teams go toe-to-toe in Minnesota’s home opener

SAINT PAUL, MN (January 6, 2024) – Opening week of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) season wraps up on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET inside Xcel Energy Center, where Minnesota plays its first home game of the season against Montréal. 


Fans in the United States can tune-in live on Bally Sports North, the Bally Sports app on mobile and tablet devices, when fans authenticate using their pay-TV credentials, and Bally Sports+. The game is also available to viewers on Sportsnet Pittsburgh, and streamed on the league’s YouTube channel. Canadian viewers can watch live on CBC and streamed on CBC Gem,,and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. Clay Matvick is on today’s call with analyst Alexis Pearson. French coverage can be seen live on RDS2 with host Andrée-Anne Barbeau, desk analyst Karell Émard, Claudine Douville on play-by-play, and Isabelle Leclaire providing colour commentary. 


Today’s crowd projects to be the largest ever for a women’s professional ice hockey game, surpassing the record set by the PWHL on Tuesday night when 8,318 fans sold-out The Arena at TD Place to watch Ottawa take on Montréal. The previous record was 7,765 for the championship game of the 2021-22 SDHL season between Brynäs and Luleå. Montréal teams were also part of the previous two highest attended professional women’s hockey regular-season games played in North America. This includes December 10, 2016 in the CWHL when Les Canadiennes hosted the Calgary Inferno at Bell Centre with a crowd of 5,938, and November 11, 2017 against visiting KRS before 5,187 fans.


Minnesota and Montréal are the only two PWHL teams without a loss as opening week action draws to a close. The winner will take sole possession of first place in the overall standings. Three teams are currently tied for first place with three points each including Minnesota (1-0-0), New York (1-1-0), and Toronto (1-1-0). Montréal (1-0-0) has two points by virtue of their overtime win against Ottawa (0-0-1) who picked up one point in defeat. Boston (0-1-0) sits in sixth place with zero points to date. A Minnesota victory would make them the first team in PWHL history to win on home ice, while a Montréal win would give them the unique distinction of beating two teams in their home openers.


Two former University of Minnesota captains scored their first pro goals in their first pro games on Wednesday. First overall pick Taylor Heise sniped Minnesota’s historic first goal and third round pick Grace Zumwinkle tallied the game-winner. Sophia Kunin also scored her first PWHL goal. Montréal also scored three goals in their opening game on Tuesday, led by Yale University graduate Claire Dalton, who scored the first goal in team history in her first pro game. Laura Stacey scored the team’s second goal, and Ann-Sophie Bettez tallied the first overtime marker in PWHL history. Eight players picked up assists including Jillian Dempsey, Kennedy Marchment, Kristin O’Neill, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kati Tabin, and Tereza Vanišová for Montréal, plus Minnesota’s Mellissa Channell and Brittyn Fleming. Between-the-pipes, Nicole Hensley earned Minnesota’s first victory with 33 saves, and Ann-Renée Desbiens stopped 26 shots in Montréal’s triumph.


There is history between these two teams dating back to December 7, 2023, the final day of the league’s pre-season evaluation camp in Utica, New York. Minnesota defeated Montréal by a 4-3 score, powered by a two-goal performance from Kelly Pannek. Brittyn Fleming and Sophia Kunin added two assists each, and Liz Schepers sniped the game-winner. Captain Marie-Philip Poulin led the Montréal offense with a goal and an assist. Brigitte Laganière and Tereza Vanišová also scored. Amanda Leveille stopped 30 shots in goal for Minnesota’s win, opposite Marlène Boissonnault who made 31 saves.


Minnesota is affectionately known as the ‘State of Hockey’ for producing top talent in the United States, in addition to having passionate fans who support them. One look at Minnesota’s PWHL roster and it’s clear to see the team embraces its local stars, with 12 of its 27 players representing their home state. The list includes Claire Butorac (Andover), Maggie Flaherty (Lakeville), Taylor Heise (Lake City), Sophia Kunin (Wayzata), Kelly Pannek (Plymouth), Maddie Rooney (Andover), Liz Schepers (Mound), Lee Stecklein (Roseville), and Grace Zumwinkle (Excelsior), plus reserves Lauren Bench (Eagan) and Nikki Nightengale (Bloomington), and Sydney Brodt (North Oaks) on injured reserve. The team has nine more American players counting Brooke Bryant (Linden, CA), Natalie Buchbinder (Fairport, NY), Mellissa Channell (Plymouth, MI), Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, IL), Clair DeGeorge (Anchorage, AK), Brittyn Fleming (Oregon, WI), Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, CO), Dominique Kremer (Napoleonville, LA), and reserve player Abby Boreen (Somerset, WI).  


There are many strong connections to Minnesota schools in today’s game with sixteen players having played collegiately in the State of Hockey. The University of Minnesota is well-represented with seven former Gophers on PWHL Minnesota, including four — Lee Stecklein, Kelly Pannek, Grace Zumwinkle, and Taylor Heise—who served as team captains. Stecklein and goaltender Amanda Leveille took home three NCAA Championships with the school, and Pannek was part of two championship-winning teams. Reserve players Lauren Bench and Abigail Boreen are also former Gophers. The University of Minnesota-Duluth is well-represented, as five former Bulldogs draw into today’s combined rosters. PWHL Minnesota forward Sydney Brodt served as team captain from her sophomore year until graduation, and PWHL Montréal defender Catherine Daoust was an alternate captain as a senior. Maddie Rooney, Maggie Flaherty and Michela Cava, all with PWHL Minnesota, also played their college hockey at the school. Three Minnesota State University alumni will hit the ice—Brooke Bryant, Claire Butorac, and Brittyn Flemming, with the latter two serving as alternate captains for the Mavericks. Reserve player Nikki Nightengale spent her NCAA career in at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.


Montréal’s Madison Bizal of nearby Elk River, MN will make her professional debut this afternoon. The 23-year-old defender is one of four American players who will be in Saturday’s lineup for the visiting squad, along with Jillian Dempsey (Winthrop, MA), Mariah Keopple (Menomonie, WI), and Maureen Murphy (Buffalo, NY). Bizal was selected in the eighth round of the PWHL Draft following a five-year NCAA stretch at Ohio State University that included a 2022 National Championship. Her first pro game is also the first she’ll play since ringing the cancer-free bell in September, after being diagnosed with Nodular Lymphocyte Predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma in November 2020.


Today marks the first PWHL game to be played in a NHL arena with Xcel Energy Center home of the Minnesota Wild…This is the first professional women’s hockey game in Minnesota since March 12, 2023, when the PHF’s Connecticut Whale defeated the Minnesota Whitecaps 3-1 at Richfield Ice Arena to close out the regular-season…Minnesota’s Liz Schepers scored in that game and Montréal’s Kennedy Marchment picked up an assist…Both Minnesota (0/1) and Montréal (0/2) are looking for their first power play goals of the season…Both Minnesota (3/4) and Montréal (5/6) allowed a power play goal in their opening games… Montréal’s Kati Tabin (+3) is tied for first in the plus-minus category followed by Minnesota’s Natalie Buchbinder, Mellissa Channell, and Susanna Tapani, who all have plus-2 ratings…Minnesota’s Lee Stecklein leads the league with 6 PIM followed by Tereza Vanišová with 4 PIM… Montréal’s Marie-Philip Poulin leads the team with 16 face-off wins on 25 draws, followed by Kristin O’Neill (9/15) and Sarah Bujold (7/8)…Minnesota’s Liz Schepers (7/14) and Kelly Pannek (7/16) were the team’s top performers at the dot in their opening game.



Křížová | Heise | Coyne Schofield
Tapani | Pannek | Zumwinkle
Fleming | Schepers | Kunin
Butorac | Bryant | DeGeorge |

Stecklein | Flaherty
Channell | Buchbinder
Greco | Cook



Vanišová | Poulin | Stacey
Bujold | O’Neill | Murphy
Lefort | David | Dalton
Lum | Dempsey | Marchment

Tabin | Ambrose
Laganière | Lásková
Keopple | Daoust



Referees: Melissa Doyle (White Bear Lake, MN) and Amy Martin (Winnipeg, MB)
Linespersons: Sarah Buckner (Plymouth, MN) and Greg Offerman (Madison, WI)


Follow the league on all social media platforms @thepwhlofficial plus team accounts @pwhl_minnesota and @pwhl_montreal.