Season One is off and running.

The Professional Women’s Hockey League became a reality in late August with the announcement that six teams - Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York and Minnesota - would begin play in January of 2024.

The PWHL’s inaugural draft was held September 18th in Toronto, and five Manitobans were selected. Defender Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne was chosen second overall by Toronto; defender Ashton Bell of Deloraine went in round two to Ottawa; goaltender Kristen Campbell of Brandon was chosen by Toronto in round three; defender Kati Tabin of Winnipeg went to Montreal in round five and goaltender Corinne Schroeder of Elm Creek went to New York in round six.

Season one got underway on New Year’s Day.

“It’s been crazy,” said Ashton Bell. “Every day I wake up and I can’t believe this is my job, this is what I’m doing for a living so it’s definitely pretty special. Very grateful that I get to wake up and go to the rink every day and do what I love.”

Ottawa played its home opener in front of 8,318 at TD Place Arena on January 2nd.

The home team dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to Montreal.

“The first game was insane,” noted Bell. “Just the atmosphere and the energy in our building at the home opener, being a sold-out crowd was definitely a game to remember and something that I’ve never experienced before. Just having that energy and the fans that loud was pretty crazy so definitely very memorable.”

Bell added that her game day experience for the season opener was quite a bit different than other game days.

“It was definitely tough to kind of manage my energy and my emotions just because it was such an exciting day, it being our first game ever and just making history here in Ottawa. I was definitely really anxious just to get the game started. Seeing it was a later start game we had lots of time to kill throughout the day. Even warm-up was crazy. We stepped out onto the ice for warm-up and the building was already packed. It was like, ‘Holy!’ It was such a surreal feeling. It took a few shifts to get into the game and get those jitters out but as they game went on we definitely settled in.”

Ashton Bell picked up her first professional point when she drew an assist on Daryl Watts’ goal late in the first period of Ottawa’s 5-1 victory over Toronto on January 13th.

“It’s great to see so many people getting their first’s ever – first goal, first point, whatever it is, first win. It’s really cool that everything is kind of a first here and it’s going to go down in history. It’s really special to be a part of it.”

Bell says the talent in the PWHL is impressive.

“It’s crazy just looking at the depths of everyone’s rosters and knowing that each game is going to be high intensity, very competitive and can go either way. The skill level on the teams is incredible and the hockey has been really fun to watch. Every game I feel like it’s going to be a battle and really close games so you never know what way it can go which makes it really exciting.”

Ottawa has one win and two overtime losses and will host Toronto on Tuesday.

“I think we definitely have a very unique group having players from all over,” Bell said. “It’s cool to get to know different teammates and where they came from, other culture and what that’s all like. Our staff and our leadership group have done a really job of creating a fun and safe environment where everyone feels valued and included and buying into that team-first identity. I think we have a lot of fun together; we enjoy coming to the rink together and we just want to see the person beside you succeed. I think that’s really special.”

On a non-game day or travel day, Bell heads to the rink at 9 a.m. and stays until around 4 p.m.

“I usually linger around. I like to take my time and spent lots of time at the rink getting recovery treatment, watching video, working out, whatever that is. It’s definitely pretty crazy that this is my job and I love doing it so it’s easy to wake up in the morning and head to work. I don’t really call it work but that’s what it is.”

The 24-year-old Bell played four seasons in the Manitoba Female U18 AAA Hockey League with the Westman Wildcats; five years with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and helped Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team win gold at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing as well as gold at the 2021 & 2022 World Championships.

Now the Deloraine native is playing for a PWHL championship.

“I think it’s just incredible that girls coming out of high school can now dream of something past college or the national team you want to represent,” said Bell. “Having this league that they can strive for and dream of playing in one day is pretty special. Hopefully in the future there is an expansion and there is a lot more option for female players to keep playing and do this for a living which is pretty cool to say that. I’m grateful for all the people that have made this possible.”

hockey_2023Ottawa played Montreal in its season opener (photo courtesy Jana Chytilova)