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How Minnesota brought on a controversy the PWHL didn't need

The team from the State of Hockey progressed from a championship to a debacle

St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter and PWHL Minnesota assistant coach Mira Jalosuo stand with ninth overall pick Britta Curl after announcing her selection at the PWHL Draft on Jun 10, 2024. (Photo by Heather Pollock, via the PWHL)



A few weeks after winning the inaugural PWHL championship in a do-or-die game five, PWHL Minnesota have been showered in controversy.   


To set the scene, 24-year-old Taylor Heise had just been named playoff MVP, Grace Zumwinkle was poised to win—and since has won—rookie of the year and team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, who was pivotal in bringing Billie Jean King into the PWHL fold, had just lifted the Walter Cup to cap off a sensational playoff run for Minnesota. 


They were the envy of women's hockey until they weren’t. In a matter of just a couple of weeks, PWHL Minnesota became shrouded in controversy.


Everything started mere days after the championship celebrations with the team parting ways with general manager Natalie Darwitz, the woman who built PWHL Minnesota and a legend in the state of hockey (Darwitz played for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and the PHF’s Minnesota Whitecaps and was even captain of the American national team). 


The decision to push out Darwitz was reportedly led by head coach Ken Klee and Coyne Schofield.  


Minnesota’s captain, along with several players, supported Klee, who had previously interviewed for the general manager's job before being named head coach after Charlie Burggaf stepped down from the role. It was a messy process just to get him involved, but it was what players wanted and the league—who manage all six teams—decided on.


Klee previously coached Coyne Schofield and the American team during the 2015 and 2016 world championships, where they captured back-to-back gold medals. 

As reported by Michael Russo and Joe Smith of The Athletic, the team became marred by a power struggle between Klee and Darwitz and the league brought in a third-party consultant firm, who suggested mediation could work. They ultimately decided Klee would stay, and Darwitz would go.


Reports also said that the PWHL offered Darwitz the opportunity to assume a different role within the league.


The fact the PWHL was open to having Darwitz remain in-house all but confirms her departure from Minnesota wasn’t due to any workplace misconduct. The continued mystery surrounding the alleged “power struggle” from within PWHL Minnesota was made even more confusing by the fact staff and players alike were shocked by the move.  


With no concrete explanation from the team or Darwitz, who in a statement said “At this time, I am not able to provide any details regarding my departure,” fans are left to speculate. It’s drama and intrigue, which can be positive and negative, but it was a dose of controversy that such a young league did not need to have followed up.


All this just days before the PWHL draft in Minnesota.


The Draft

According to Ian Kennedy of The Hockey News, defender Cayla Barnes was set to be drafted third overall by Minnesota prior to Darwitz’s firing. Come draft day, they instead selected defender Claire Thompson, while Barnes fell to PWHL Montreal at fifth. 

It was a somewhat surprising move and an early indication of how things changed in Minnesota in a matter of days.


A first head-turning moment on draft day was Klee and company overplaying their hand and allowing Abby Boreen to be drafted by another team.


Boreen, who had played for Minnesota as a reserve player last season, was a core member of the championship-winning squad but was draft-eligible due to her reserve status. Minnesota overplayed their hand and the forward was drafted away to Montreal in the third round.  

 It wasn’t just their first-round pick, or letting Boreen slip between their fingers, that surprised. The real bomb was dropped when Minnesota made their second-round selection, selecting forward Britta Curl.


When the Wisconsin Badgers captain was selected ninth overall, boos were heard and the outcry began immediately online. A league statement was even posted in the YouTube stream of the draft


“As an inclusive league, we will remain dedicated to ensuring a safe & welcoming environment for players, staff and fans. We acknowledge that individuals will have differing views on various topics, and not all personal perspectives will align with the values of the PWHL,” the statement read.


Alarms weren’t being raised for the style of player Curl is, but due to her activity on social media. The forward’s X account shows likes leaning towards, amongst other things, anti-LGBTQ messaging. 

What stands out most is the flip of the script. Apparently, Minnesota staff were even shocked by the pick, which strayed from their plans a week before.

When asked by CBC’s Karissa Donkin whether he had spoken to anyone from the LGBTQ community prior to selecting Curl, Klee gave the kind of statement that does little to justify the pick.

“Did I speak to anyone from the community? Um, I mean, I talk with players, with coaches. I’m not…that’s tough for me to answer. I spoke to a lot of people. I mean at the end of the day, I was told that she’s a great teammate, a great person and she’s obviously a great player. So for me, we have people in that community, and obviously [assistant coach] Mira [Jalosuo] making the selection for us, I think that speaks volumes for us,” he said.

Klee’s answer gives the impression Minnesota talked to people who would give them the answers they were looking for as opposed to finding an unbiased view of Curl. Even more so, the team seemed to overlook how making such a controversial pick would align with everything else that had happened around the team in the previous week.

Do people deserve the chance to show that they’ve changed, or that they aren’t the same person? Of course. But that chance shouldn’t be in the PWHL with the inaugural Walter Cup champions, especially when Curl’s actions have been well-documented.

Since the draft, Curl has uploaded a pair of videos on X. In those videos, she apologized for her social media activity and asked fans who still have reservations to “extend me the grace to prove to you who I really am.”

For Curl, actions will speak louder than any words going forward.  

The PWHL has several players who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and trumpets diversity. So then, how does the ninth pick in the league’s second-ever draft sharing hateful remarks line up? 


When Marie Philip Poulin—the face of your league—is engaged to another woman and her teammate Laura Stacey and your social media pages have rainbow-themed logos as profile pictures to show support for Pride month, and you make that pick, it alienates LGBTQ+ fans and allies alike. 


The inclusive nature of the PWHL was what made it such a unique hockey league.  It was supposed to be a sports space that was welcoming to all and gave hockey a fresh, compassionate, human face, but the Curl selection has driven a wedge between fans and the team. Minnesota has some cleanup to do, and so does the league.


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