Pat Hickey: Strong attendance shows PWHL is on solid footing in first season

It took only two hours to sell out Friday’s game between Montreal and Toronto at the Scotiabank Centre, which has more than 18,000 seats.

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If you have any doubts about the viability of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, you weren’t in Scotiabank Arena Friday night to watch Montreal and Toronto in the Battle on Bay Street.

For the third time this season, the PWHL set an attendance record for a professional women’s game, with a sellout crowd of more than 18,000. That topped the mark of 13,316 previous record for the Montreal-Minnesota game at the Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 6. The previous record in Canada had been the 8,646 fans who came to Place Bell on Jan. 27 to watch Montreal beat Ottawa 2-1 in overtime.

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The record turnout Friday is the latest evidence that the league is on solid footing in its inaugural season. I never doubted there was a market for professional women’s hockey, but it took a lot of factors for the PWHL to come together and they have come together sooner than expected.

The most important was the financial backing of Mark Walter, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers along with the credibility provided by the involvement of women’s sports pioneer Billie Jean King.

They convinced the world’s best players that this was what they had been fighting for since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League collapsed in 2019. This was a professional league with professional management, exposure on TV and a regular paycheque. The money isn’t great — salaries range from US$35,000 to US$80,000 — but it’s a start and it beats the days when the players had to buy their own equipment and Hockey Hall of Famer Caroline Ouellette’s mother collected $5 at the door for admission to Les Canadiennes games at Arena Étienne Desmarteau.

Four of the six teams have sold out at least one game and a fifth, Minnesota, leads the league in average attendance playing in a rink it shares with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

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Montreal has sold out its games at Verdun Auditorium and averaged 7.490 in two games at Place Bell, which is close to the average 8,500 who attend Rocket games. The women will make a third trip to Place Bell Sunday to play Minnesota (1 p.m., SN, RDS).

Toronto sold out the 2,400-seat Mattamy Athletic Centre before the season started and it took only two hours to sell out Friday’s game. There were tickets available on the resale market with prices ranging from $125 to north of $1,000.

The only market that is struggling is New York, which splits its games between UBS Arena, the home of the NHL Islanders, and an AHL rink in Bridgeport, Conn. Jayna Hefford, the senior vice-president of hockey operations for the PWHL, says the New York team suffers from competition from other attractions, but the Big Apple is the only market without a history of women’s hockey.

Hryckowian leads Huskies: Île-Bizard native Justin Hryckowian scored a goal and set up Gunnarwolfe Fontaine for the overtime winner as unranked Northeastern upset No. 3 Boston University 4-3 in the final of the Beanpot tournament at Boston’s TD Garden. It was Northeastern’s fourth Beanpot win in five years.

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Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson scored at 19:53 of the second period to put BU ahead 3-2, but Jack Williams scored a power-play goal midway through the third period to force the overtime.

Reba comes through: I’m not a betting man, but I couldn’t resist joining the countless millions who wager on the Super Bowl each year and I’m happy to report that the Queen of Country, Reba McEntire, came through for me.

McEntire sang the U.S. national anthem before the game and the oddsmakers established one minute and 26 seconds as the over/under for the song. I took the over and I was a winner seconds before she finished with a prolonged “the home of the braaaaaave.”

Because the anthem wasn’t one of the 106 props offered by Mise-O-Jeu, I had to get an out-of-province friend to place the bet for me through FanDuel and I’m crossing my fingers Gary Bettman doesn’t suspend me for 41 games.

I could have made more money if I had put together a parlay, which involves betting on three or more results. Parlays are a sucker bet, but I liked the Chiefs who won and I would have completed the parlay on another of the wacky props. FanDuel set the over/under on how many times CBS cut away to show Taylor Swift during the game at four-and-a-half. I stopped counting at seven midway through the fourth quarter.

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