While Ashton Bell and her Ottawa teammates were playing against Toronto at Mattamy Athletic Centre this past Saturday afternoon, Hallie Franklin and the Westman Wildcats were on the ice in Carman facing the Pembina Valley Hawks.

Bell drew an assist on Daryl Watts’ goal with 16 seconds left in the first period which extended Ottawa’s lead to 3-0. The final scored was 5-1 for the visitors.

Franklin assisted on Ivy Perkin’s first period goal and then watched from the bench as Perkin score the shootout winner in the Wildcats 3-2 victory over the Hawks.

Bell and Franklin, who are cousins, both worked tirelessly developing their hockey skills at the Doc Bonar Memorial Arena in their hometown of Deloraine.

The 24-year-old Bell played four seasons with the Westman Wildcats; five years with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and two years with the Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team.

The 17-year-old Franklin is into her third and final season with the Wildcats and will graduate from Deloraine School this June.

Bell along with Brandon’s Kristen Campbell (Toronto), Elm Creek’s Corinne Schroeder (Boston), Kati Tabin of Winnipeg (Montreal) and Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne (Toronto) are the five Manitobans playing in the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s inaugural season which became a reality in late August.

“It was definitely exciting,” said Hallie Franklin. “It gives me, being pretty young, a goal to strive for. It also shows the quality as well. It’s awesome that women can get paid to play hockey and they’re going professional. I just think it’s a really good thing.”

The PWHL pays an average salary of $55,000. The league provides coaching and training facilities. There is also a $1500 per month housing stipend, the players receive meal per diems and maternity leave.

Franklin said seeing Ottawa select her cousin in the second round of the PWHL’s inaugural draft was awesome.

“We were watching with my family and a couple of my teammates were watching too because we all knew that she was going to get drafted. We didn’t know how early but when she went eighth overall it was definitely exciting. I remember I was jumping up; it was super awesome. So cool to see someone from a small town and that played in the program that I’m in now get drafted. It shows that kind of stuff is possible now.”

Bell and her Ottawa teammates played their first-ever home game on January 2nd and fell 3-2 in overtime to Montreal.

“The hockey is just so good,” noted Franklin. “It’s so fast and all of them are so smart. Seeing how happy and excited they all looked, to be playing their first professional game, it was awesome. Definitely made history that game.”

Franklin adds her cousin, who has won Olympic and World Championship gold medals with Team Canada, has been a huge inspiration as she continues to build her own hockey career.

“It’s amazing what she’s done. I remember when I was younger, she would always be out at breakfast club in the mornings, skating and doing everything she can to improve herself. She came on Christmas Day to our house and got the school keys from my dad so she could go work out. That was a great sign of commitment that she made to the game from such a young age. You can just tell how much she loves it and how much work ethic she’s put in to be as good as she is now.”

Hallie Franklin’s final season with the Wildcats has been intense. Westman along with the Winnipeg Avros, Yellowhead Chiefs, Eastman Selects and defending Manitoba Female U18 AAA Hockey League champion Winnipeg Ice are all battling for top spot and playoff positioning.

“It’s crazy, it’s gone by so fast,” noted Franklin. “It feels like my hockey season just started and we’re halfway done now. It’s surreal too because I don’t want to leave Westman but it’s also exciting in a way as well.”

When her Wildcats hockey season and career ends, Franklin will start the countdown to her high school graduation in late June and then head off to the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon where she will play for the Huskies who are undefeated in 2024.

Franklin explained why she committed to play and begin her post-secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Coach Steve Kook reached out to me in the middle of my grade 11 year. It was pretty early so I always had them in mind and then he saw me play in Calgary and talked to me after a game. I just got a really good vibe from him. He seemed super nice and over the phone too he was very open and very welcoming. When he had me for a tour - the facility is amazing, the campus and the dorms – it’s ridiculously nice. He made it feel so welcoming and I just felt it was the right fit for me.”

Hallie Franklin played for Team Manitoba at the 2023 Canada Winter Games in Summerside, Prince Edward Island and the 2023 National Women’s U18 Championship in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

She also played on the Wildcats team that captured the 2021-22 Manitoba Female U18 AAA Hockey League championship.

“From being a little kid, it was always my dream to make the Wildcats, so I always worked towards that,” said Franklin. “I would do my best to wake up and go to breakfast club, go to any free ice I could, go out and skate with my dad or my siblings. When I made Wildcats my grade 10 year, it was like the best feeling. I wanted to keep putting in the work and then my next goal was making Team Manitoba. I’m just going to keep working towards my goals because these past couple of years have been great experiences for me.”

The Professional Women’s Hockey League is not going away.

It's anyone's guess as to how long it will take before interested parties see the success of the league and approach the PWHL about expansion plans. Is it possible that the league could move from six teams to 10 or more in five years, which means another 100 players or more will have an opportunity to earn roster spots and become professional hockey players?

“It’s definitely something that I’m working towards now,” Hallie Franklin said. “There is something after university that women can work towards. It makes me want to work even harder in university and get myself out there and do my best to improve as much as I can to make that the best possibility for myself.”

hockey_2023Wildcats defender Hallie Franklin (photo courtesy Darryl Gershman – IceWaveMedia)