It's been a wild few months for the Canadian women's national team.
The squad won gold at the women's World Championship last August after the tournament was canceled just weeks before the start of the original date in April. The team then formed its centralization group in Calgary, where it spent much of the next few months. They then flew to Ottawa for a new event, the Capital City Challenge, against three U-17 all-star teams before settling in for some other exhibition games against Finland and the United States.
And that all led to the big prize: the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. They won gold there, too, going a perfect 7-0 with one of the strongest efforts in women's Olympic hockey history.
Once the glitz and glamor from winning one of the most coveted pieces of hardware started to slow down, it was back to normal everyday life.
"Jenner has a newborn, so she's been changing diapers since coming home from Beijing," Nurse said with a laugh at a recent press life.
But unlike in other Olympic years, most of the players didn't have a proper league to return to. Some players, like Brianne Jenner, returned back to the CWHL in 2018 for playoff runs, while others elected to just stay home and relax after a wild few months leading up to the Games.
The game is in a much different spot than it was four years ago. The CWHL shut down, and instead of going to the NWHL (now PHF), many of the top players joined a PWHPA featuring more of a tournament format. Throw in some major tournament shutdowns and
But players are holding on to one thing in particular: hope. Hope of a better future for the women's game.
With no NHLers in Beijing, the best women's hockey players in the world received extra attention, with the gold medal game between Canada and USA averaging more viewers than any NHL game this season.
"It's fast, there's a lot of talent on the ice and it's really exciting. It's competitive," Olympic MVP Brianne Jenner said. "The next step for our sport is a sustainable professional league and we're daily and hourly to make that a reality as soon as possible."
With reports emerging of a new league run under the PWHPA banner emerging, there's hope that that could become a reality sooner rather than later. The details of the proposed new league - including if there'd be any potential NHL involvement - are unknown at this point. Individual NHL teams have partnered with PHF and PWHPA teams in the past.
There's also the report that the NHL has asked the PWHPA and PHF to meet to discuss the future, which could be one of the biggest attempts at building a stronger, more sustainable united league.
One player, who asked to remain anonymous, said while they aren't sure how those supposed talks would go, they believe the future looks bright.
The ultimate goal has been giving players a long-term financially sustainable professional league that players can grow as athletes and build a high profile to help take the sport to new heights. The PHF has tried, and while there's excitement with expansion on the horizon and an increased salary cap, the huge explosion just hasn't happened yet.
Will that happen with a new league? Who knows, but all the talk has excited the game's top stars. To some players, there has never been this much anticipation about the future of the women's game.
"It's exciting for women's hockey, lots of momentum," Poulin said. "Obviously, there was the Olympics, there were a lot of viewers watching us and it's obviously the same thing every four years. We want to show people how exciting women's hockey is."
Building the sport needs to happen globally, too. A top women's league in North America will be rostered heavily by Canadian and American talent. The rest of the top hockey powers need to work together to build stronger domestic leagues in Europe to give more players more opportunities. An expanded league with more teams than we've ever seen in a new North American outfit would offer chances for more players to come over, but the development needs to improve at a grassroots level across Europe and Asia.
Still, you can tell there's excitement in the air. There are more eyes than ever on the women's game, and the future looks promising, even if it's unclear.