Despite finishing her NCAA hockey career as the second-best player in NCAA women’s hockey history, Daryl Watts had to make a tough decision. Options for playing professional hockey were limited, especially if she wanted to earn a living wage.
She had been accepted into a master’s program in commercial real estate with the prospect of soon earning six-figure sums. Alternatively, his lifelong dream of playing hockey was over. At 23, she considered herself retired from the game because the PWHPA and PHF simply did not pay sustainable salaries.
That was until the PHF announced that their salary cap would increase to $1.5 million next season. With this news, Watts’ head began to spin. She told her parents she wouldn’t be going back to school this year, and soon she was signed with the PHF’s Toronto Six.
In the end, the six-figure sums Watts had hoped for were already hers, as she signed a two-year deal that will net her $150,000 next season. The deal is the biggest in women’s hockey history, smashing Mikyla Grant-Mentis’ $80,000 deal she signed this season with the Buffalo Beauts.
For Watts, however, it wasn’t about breaking records, it was about breaking the glass ceiling and opening doors for future generations of women in professional hockey.
“Women’s hockey has been in trouble for so long. I think a number like this will bring great relief to the women’s hockey community and a great sense of hope that the future is bright,” Watts said of her record deal.
“This is a big step forward for women’s hockey. When I was young, I think I would have been thrilled to know that professional female hockey players can now make a lot of money. It’s a good day for women’s sports and women’s hockey.
From a 23-year-old retired hockey player considering a career in real estate to a rookie in North America’s only professional women’s hockey league, Watts’ perspective quickly changed.
“When I considered myself retired, I was so excited to see what my future looked like without hockey, because hockey had been my life for so long,” she said. “It was fun to get a new perspective, but my perspective has changed.
“The opportunity to earn a good living playing the sport I first fell in love with – what a dream come true.”
It’s an experience for female athletes across North America with professional leagues paying six-figure salaries, including the WNBA (basketball) and NWSL (soccer).
The WNBA’s salary cap will be $1,420,500 for 2023. That’s a lower number than the PHF, although with fewer roster spots, WNBA players will, on average, earn more than players. PHF players. The NWSL’s salary cap was also recently increased, bringing its cap per team to $1,375,000.
Along with the salary increase comes more focus on the league and more players choosing the PHF over playing with the PWHPA, going to Europe or retiring.
In fact, of the past five winners of the Patty Kazmaier Award, representing the NCAA’s top female hockey player, three are currently in the PHF, while a fourth – last year’s winner Taylor Heise – is still in the NCAA. Watts won the award herself in 2017-18. Similarly, last year’s Canadian University Player of the Year, Jade Downie-Landry, is also in the PHF and plays for the expansion Montreal Force.
Watts believes it’s a clear sign “that young, skilled players are starting to move into the PHF,” which she called “the future of women’s hockey because the next generation is here now.”
Last season with Wisconsin, Watts scored 57 points and 28 goals in just 38 games. While the Toronto product might focus on adding to her personal accolades, for now her intention is to be an ambassador for the game, so young girls can see possibilities in PHF and professional women’s hockey. .
“I hope to help grow women’s hockey and establish a professional league that young girls can look up to and where the salary compensation is enough to make a living, and that’s why I believe in PHF,” Watts said.
After representing Canada twice at the U-18 World Championship, collecting two silver medals, Watts isn’t sure where the future will take her, but she isn’t ruling anything out, including competing for a spot with Team Canada. Until then, she is excited to play the game she loves again and make a living from it.
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