Four Gophers selected in NWHL Draft

Grant Donald

Minnesota forward Hannah Brandt was selected second overall in the inaugural National Women’s Hockey League draft Saturday by the Connecticut Whale.
Although she said she found out about her selection on Twitter almost an hour after it was made official and still has yet to hear from anyone associated with the franchise as of Monday, the new Gophers captain still sees her selection as an honor.
“The idea [of a women’s professional hockey league] is now here, and there are some people supporting it, so that’s exciting,” Brandt said. “Being one of the top picks is special, especially with it being the first draft ever.”
Along with Brandt, fellow seniors Milica McMillen, Amanda Leveille and Maryanne Menefee were all selected within the top-15 picks of the draft. Defenseman McMillen and forward Menefee were also selected by Connecticut 10th and 14th overall, respectively, while the Buffalo Beauts took goaltender Leveille 12th overall. 
“This was a historic moment for women’s hockey, and the enthusiasm from the hockey community was amazing,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said in a press release. 
But while the draft may have been a milestone for women’s hockey, there are still unanswered questions. 
“I haven’t talked to anyone from Connecticut, so I’m not sure how that all works,” Brandt said. “Milica and Maryanne did text me saying that we were all on the same
team, but none of us really know where it goes from there.”
Back in April, the NWHL announced its plan to begin its first season this October, with a statement of support from the National Hockey League. But the first season will take place without the players that were just selected in Saturday’s draft.
Players will be eligible to sign with the team that drafted them once their collegiate careers are complete, or they can elect free agency and sign with one of the other three teams.
“I think the ones that got drafted expected to get drafted, but really, what does it even mean?” Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. “There are so many unknowns at this point in terms of what that league even is and will be and what it means to be drafted and not get to play there for an entire year.”
Frost added that one of the biggest obstacles for the NWHL to gain traction will continue to be the salary it will likely pay the players.
Although the salaries have not officially been laid out, Frost said right now it would be equivalent to a part-time job — which would mean the players would have to find another job on top of playing in the city their team resides in.
NWHL teams will only play one game a weekend during the league’s inaugural season and practice just twice a week.
“At this point, anything that women’s hockey players make is better than nothing because that’s what it has been,” Brandt said. “There’s a lot of details that need to be hashed out, but it is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully it goes well during their first year.”
But for right now, the uncertainties of what kind of professional career these four Gophers can pursue after college takes a back seat to preparation for another potential national championship run.
“They are trying to make the [NWHL] the best fit for the players, and they are willing to work with us to make it better, which is promising,” Brandt said. “But to be honest, I’m just focused on the upcoming season and see how everything happens with the new league and determine if it’s something I would want to join.”