The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) will add a sixth team for the 2020-21 season, as the league announced an expansion team in Toronto on Wednesday.

NWHL Toronto expansion team
A Toronto expansion team will join the NWHL for the 2020-21 season, bringing the league to six teams. (Image: Michelle Jay)

Former Harvard women’s hockey captain Johanna Neilson Boynton leads the Toronto ownership group. The team is only the second privately-owned franchise in the league for the 2020-21 season.

NWHL Adding First Canadian Franchise

Boynton also has an ownership stake in the Boston Pride, another NWHL franchise.

The Toronto team will become the first professional women’s hockey team in Canada since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) folded in March 2019.

The team will be led by team president Digit Murphy, the former coach of the Brown Bears women’s hockey team. Toronto has already signed five players: Kristen Barbara, Elaine Chuli, Shiann Darkangelo, Emma Greco, and Taylor Woods, all of whom formerly played in the CWHL.

Boynton told ESPN that she decided to help launch the Toronto franchise after talking to numerous people in the world of women’s hockey over the past few months.

“For me, it was about the big picture of providing an awesome opportunity for young women in ice hockey to continue to play and develop and enjoy it so much,” Boynton said, via ESPN. “It’s about being part of a professional league that we expect will continue to grow and strengthen. And they’ll be part of that story, which is going to be a great one.”

The NWHL schedule will change significantly with the addition of a sixth team. The regular season will shorten from 24 to 20 games per team, though the total number of games across the league – 60 – will remain unchanged.

2020 Isobel Cup Postponed Due to COVID-19

The 2020-21 schedule starts in mid-November, with the playoffs beginning in March and wrapping up before the 2021 World Championships. The NWHL has yet to announce a playoff format for next season. For the 2019-20 season, the bottom two teams contested a play-in game, after which, the four remaining teams battled in a single-elimination tournament for the Isobel Cup.

The Isobel Cup Final would have seen the Boston Pride (23-1) take on the Minnesota Whitecaps (17-5-2). However, the NWHL postponed the game – planned for March 13 – due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The game is expected to be played later this year.

The uncertainty over the coronavirus could have scared investors off from an expansion team, but Boynton said that she remains enthusiastic about the Toronto NWHL franchise.

“A lot has changed in the last couple weeks,” Boynton told ESPN. “But it seemed so logical, for all of us who have been involved, that there is a ton of interest, talent, and energy about the idea of a franchise in Toronto, and all of them are super positive and optimistic.”