Gina Kingsbury says she would have loved to play in a professional women's league. While she didn't have that opportunity during her storied playing career, she is looking forward to making sure that others do.
Kingsbury was one of six general managers named Friday by the Professional Women's Hockey League for its inaugural season, which begins play in January. Kingsbury will take over the front office of Toronto's team, with Daniele Sauvageau assuming the role in Montreal and Michael Hirshfeld leading Ottawa.
Kingsbury said leaving a high-level position at Hockey Canada, where she said she was "very happy," shows her commitment to building the women's game at the professional level.
"My gut was telling me I could probably have a greater impact here than I could even have at Hockey Canada," Kingsbury said in a video conference. "I've always had the belief that it's not the role that you play but the impact you can have, so I reminded myself of that when I was leaving a vice president position for this job."
Former U.S. team captain Natalie Darwitz (Minnesota), Danielle Marmer (Boston) and Pascal Daoust (New York) were also named general managers by the new league.
"We were looking for people who brought great hockey knowledge to the table," PWHL senior vice president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford said. "People that brought a collaborative approach, that brought a real emphasis on culture and leadership that they could help build out their rosters in their own markets."
They were on the job immediately with the start of free agency and the upcoming draft in Toronto later this month.
Kingsbury was vice president of hockey operations at Hockey Canada and had been GM of Canada's women's team since 2018. She helped the women's team to back-to-back women's world hockey titles in 2021 and 2022, as well as Olympic gold last year in Beijing.
As a player, Kingsbury helped Canada win gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics. The centre was also part of three champion teams and three silver medallists at the women's world championship.
“Gina’s contributions to Hockey Canada have helped create lifelong memories for millions of Canadian hockey fans and we join them in congratulating her on today’s announcement,” Katherine Henderson, incoming president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, said in a release. “We are excited to work with Gina and the PWHL to support the upward trajectory of women’s hockey and ensure it continues to grow and inspire the next generation of participants and fans.”
Kingsbury acknowledged that there will be challenges growing a team in Toronto, where the entertainment dollar is already stretched pretty thin.
"But when you look at the demographics of women's hockey, Toronto is a hotbed," Kingsbury said. "So many young girls play hockey in Toronto. That's what gets me really excited, to be in a city that has a long history of women's hockey and has a tremendous amount of growth possibilities."
Sauvageau also has deep connections to Canada's national women's program. She coached Canada to its first women's hockey Olympic gold in 2002 and established a women's high-performance hockey centre in Quebec in 2019.
Having a high-level professional team in Montreal has been a longtime passion for Sauvageau, who held the GM role for the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association's Montreal region from 2020-23 and was head coach from 2020-22.
"This position is a pinnacle," Sauvageau said. "Growing the game over the last few years, I'd rather not say how many, it is a pinnacle to now have a professional league and obviously a professional team here in Montreal."
Hirshfeld served as the executive director of the NHL Coaches' Association for the past seven years.
He began his career working in Toronto as a corporate lawyer and spent 14 years in the investment business before joining the hockey world.
"I think I bring a unique skillset, a different perspective," Hirshfeld said. "I think that could be really valuable to a new league that's starting up."
Hirschfeld, who says he's not afraid to seek out the advice of others for help, says he has already talked to people with a wealth of hockey experience in the Ottawa market, including current Senators coach DJ Smith, former 67's and current Arizona Coyotes coach André Tourigny and former Senators coach and Toronto assistant Guy Boucher.
The PWHL also released its order for its Sept. 18 draft. Minnesota will have the first overall pick, followed by Toronto, Boston, New York, Ottawa and Montreal. The order will be reversed for even-numbered rounds, and there will be 15 rounds in all.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2023.
The Canadian Press