When Angela James and Geraldine Heaney stepped onto the ice together as members of Team Canada, they would instill fear into opponents. This year, behind the bench and in the stands, they’re hoping to build a team that produces similar feelings from teams across the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF).
This off-season, Angela James, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, was hired as the new GM of the PHF’s Toronto Six. One of her first moves in the role was to hire her former teammate, and fellow Hockey Hall of Fame member, Geraldine Heaney. as the Six’s new head coach.
“Bringing in Geraldine Heaney was a no brainer,” said James. “As far as I’m concerned, I got a great coach with Geraldine. I really think our coaching staff will be tops in the league and our team as well. Geraldine brings a no-nonsense approach to coaching. I understand that, and the support of her assistant coaches will round out their needs and responsibilities.”
For Heaney, the opportunity to reconnect with James when presented with the offer was too good to pass up. The two were teammates on Team Ontario, Team Canada, Seneca College, and the Toronto Aeros.
“The big thing that drew me to the Six was getting to work with Angela James, a very good friend of mine,” said Heaney. “We’ve both been called pioneers of the game and just taking a different role than what we’re used to as players.”
Having just finished coaching her son’s AAA team, Heaney, who has also coached with the University of Waterloo, was planning to take time away from the game – that is, until James came calling.
“When Angela called, I started laughing,” said Heaney. “She told me about this opportunity and it was one I couldn’t turn down. It was all about timing. It just seemed like the right time and right fit for myself.”
Now, the duo, who have compiled 11 World Championship gold medals, a number that would have been higher had the women’s World Championship started prior to 1990 and run annually, and Heaney’s Olympic gold from 2002, will aim to build a championship roster in Toronto and grow the game.
“I’m excited to get this league going,” said Heaney. “It’s been around for a while, but with more media attention, and these girls starting to get paid, it’s really nice to see it’s got to the professional level, and for myself to be a part of it in a coaching role is really exciting.”
“Most days, I’m absolutely over the moon that we are where we are today with the PHF,” echoed James. “I see such a growth in terms of talent and expectations of each girl for themselves and the amount of work they put into their game. I really think the PHF is going in a great direction, and I hope at some point all of the world will want to make the PHF the best league in the world so we can highlight the best hockey players in the world.”
When James says she wants the best hockey players in the world in the PHF, the Toronto Six GM is alluding to the still present divide between the PHF and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) in the quest for a sustainable professional women’s hockey league.
James said she is concerned that some of the separation exists because of the suggestion that “Hockey Canada wants to control the pro game.” With almost all national team members for Team Canada and Team USA participating in the PWHPA, James believes Hockey Canada does not want a professional women’s league to avoid the top players in the world missing certain competitions similar to the NHL.
“The last thing they want is the girls to have a pro league,” James said about Hockey Canada. “They don’t want them to have a pro league because then they have to go to them and say, ‘we need players for this event, this event, and this event,’ and they might say ‘no,’ no different than the NHL, so they don’t want to lose control.”
While James acknowledges many of the world’s best players compete with the PWHPA, she said she does not believe all of the world’s best players are there. Rather, she sees the PHF as a league featuring a growing number of the top players on the planet, whether they are labelled as such or not, and she’d love the opportunity to prove it.
“For the PWHPA to say, ‘We’ve got the best players,’ who is saying that, who is making that decision? I would love for the Toronto Six to play one of their PWHPA teams, and if we’re all in it together, and we want the best for women’s hockey, maybe we start doing some exchange games.”
Whether the Toronto Six get that opportunity or not, Heaney and James will look to first assert their place as one of the top teams in the PHF when the puck drops on their 2022 season Nov. 5 against the Minnesota Whitecaps.