Now in its ninth season of operation, the Junior Womens Hockey League (JWHL) has established itself as one of the premier girls hockey leagues in North America, with franchises located in both the United States and Canada.
The JWHL was the first “junior” style league in North America for girls hockey, founded by Washington Pride director Kush Sidhu and Bill Driscoll of the North American Hockey Academy, both of whom have teams in the league. It was formed to serve as stage to allow elite teams to unite and compete at the highest level for girls.
This season, the JWHL is comprised of 11 teams, six in the North Division and five in the South Division. Seven of the league’s 11 clubs are in Canada and JWHL teams are a mixture of Clubs, Sports Schools, Traditional Schools and Academies.
The North Division is made up of all Canada-based teams and includes Athol Murray College of Notre Dame (Saskatchewan), Balmoral Hall (Manitoba), Warner Hockey School (Alberta), The Edge School (Alberta), the Pacific Steelers (British Columbia) and the Okanagan Hockey Academy (British Columbia).
The South Division boasts the North American Hockey Academy (Stowe, VT), the Washington Pride (Bethesda, MD), the Boston Shamrocks (Wilmington, MA), the Colorado Selects (Littleton, CO) and the expansion Canadian International Hockey Academy (Ontario).
Each team will play teams in their own division three times, and teams in the other division twice during the season. The majority of league games are played in weekend showcases to cut down on travel. Some of the venues include the University of Minnesota, Providence, Brown, Union, RPI and Merrimack College.
The Warner Hockey School, the defending North Division and JWHL champions, went an impressive 3-0-1 to start the 2015-2016 season at the first Showcase at Merrimack College.
Warner returns 11 players from that championship club, and welcomes 13 new skaters to the program. It will have a young squad, with three ninth-graders and four tenth-graders on the roster.
As of now, the team’s only committed player is senior defenseman Codie Cross, who will continue her career at Northeastern University. Cross and seniors Aislynn Nachtegaele and Lindsey Weech anchor the defense for coach Mikko Makela, a veteran of 423 NHL games, primarily with the New York Islanders.
Offensively, Delaney Ross has exploded out of the gate with a line of 13-3-16. Youngster McKenzie Hewett has six goals, while Kennedy Ganser and Kiera Dietrich are key forwards as well.
Warner’s goaltending has been split between Morgan Lindstein and Cassidy McEwen.
Located in Winnipeg, the Balmoral Hall School won all four its games at the Merrimack Showcase, scoring 25 goals in the process.
Senior Ryleigh Houston, who has committed to the University of North Dakota, already has 22 points. Syracuse-bound Kelli Rowswell (14 pts) and Tori Stebnitsky (16 pts) also drive the offense for the Blazers.
Forward/Defenseman Emily Middagh, a member of Team Manitoba along with Houston and Rowswell, is committed to Potsdam State. Kaitlin Howarth is another key defenseman, while Corinne Schroeder also sees time between the pipes.
“We are looking for our Team Manitoba players to provide much of the firepower,” said coach Gerry Wilson. “The younger players are adapting quickly to the pace of play and the physical style of the JWHL.”
Calgary’s Edge School won three of its first four games, then went 2-0-2 at a North Division showcase. Edge likes to play a strong defensive game, winning those three games in Boston while scoring just seven goals in those four games.
We are looking forward to a great, competitive season in the JWHL,” said Edge School coach Carla MacLeod. “We have 11 returning players that were a big part of our Bronze Medal win last season. Our team looks to compete at both ends of the arena, while working hard to push the pace in every game.”
Claire Stewart has scored four goals to lead the team in scoring in the early going. Other key operatives up front will be 2015 Team Alberta members Chloe Puddifant, Amanda McLeod ( 4goals, committed to Penn State) and Lauren Bowman (committed to McGill), along with underclassmen Jane Jacobs and Megan Wilson (7 pts), and senior Tessa Lowry.
In goal, Kirsten Chamberlin and Emily Severson have both excelled between the pipes.
The Okanagan Hockey Academy has split its first 11 games of the season (5-5-1). The team will be seasoned, returning 10 skaters, with two players – Minnesota-bound defenseman Olivia Knowles (Canada) and goalie Alex Gulstene (USA) – U-18 National Team members for their respective countries.
Alex Rempe (10 pts), has committed to Brown University and is a stalwart on offense. Sister Stephanie Rempe, also going to Brown, is a key on the blue line for coach Jim Fetter.
Veteran Alyssa McMillan (a North Dakota commit) was second in scoring for Okanagan last winter and will be a key offensively, as will youngster Miranda Gaudet (team-leading 11 points on the young season). Cyan Roepcke and Mikayla Capelle must be watched as well.
A deep blue line corp also includes the likes of Chloe Cook, an agile blueliner, and young Kailee Skinner, who plays with veteran composure already.
Joining Gulstene in the goaltender rotation is returning netminder Aurore Beaulieu.
Athol Murray College of Notre Dame is another North Division team off to a great start, winning its first five games (outscoring opponents by a 25-7 margin) en route to a 8-2 start.
The Hounds have been clicking offensively, led by Jetta Derenoski (18 pts) and junior Nara Elia (six goals). Post-graduate Jaycee Gebhard (15 pts) and Sophia Shirley (13 pts) have been keys as well for coach Janice Rumpel.
Anna Shepherd has been a catalyst on defense. Jessica O’Leary and Victoria Bourassa have been solid in goal for the Hounds.
The Pacific Steelers from North Vancouver, BC will most definitely be the mix in the North Division.
Lindenwood University-bound forward Kirsten Martin has been an offensive leader thus far for coach Jeff Eaton. Leona Sim, headed for UConn, and Maddison Devlin are also off to good starts up front. Olivia Ramos has committed to McGill University in Quebec.
The Steelers defense features a pair of commits in Whitney Dove, headed for Providence College, and offensive-minded Cassidy Bell, who will go to McGill University as well. Goalie Morgan Skinner will move on to Lindenwood University as well.
“We have an older team this season with a stronger skill set than we have had in recent years giving us a great opportunity to be a very competitive team in the JWHL this season,” said Steelers assistant coach Dayna Birch.
Next: The Junior Womens Hockey League South Division