PWHL Toronto taking time to establish new, defining culture in training camp

Won't be a "copy and paste" of the Canadian women’s national team

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

General manager Gina Kingsbury says Toronto’s Professional Women’s Hockey League team will distinguish itself culturally and not be a mere “copy and paste” of the Canadian women’s national team.

Kingsbury, who also serves as the GM of Canada’s women’s team, oversees a Toronto squad that features numerous national team members. The yet−to−be−named PWHL team, which is in its second week of training camp at the Ford Performance Centre, includes notable players such as Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, Blayre Turnbull, Renata Fast and Jocelyne Larocque

“I think every time you have a new member in any kind of unit or team, the culture and the environment has to shift a bit if you actually include them into it,” Kingsbury said at Wednesday’s practice. “By no means are we copying and pasting what we’ve done at the national team level.

“Culture, it’s a lot more than just what you see on the ice. I think this is the foundation to, hopefully, a team that’s around for a century,” Kingsbury added.

Alongside Canada coach Troy Ryan, who also helms the Toronto team, Kingsbury guided the national team to consecutive world titles in 2021 and 2022, as well as Olympic gold in Beijing in 2022. The Canadians fell to the U.S. in the 2023 Worlds Final in Brampton, Ont., in April.

Nurse, Spooner, Fast, Larocque and Turnbull have been national team teammates dating back to the Pyeongchang Games in 2018. Toronto teammates Emma Maltais and goaltender Kristen Campbell have also been with Team Canada since 2021.

While the familiarity helps, Ryan says putting the Toronto team together has more to do with choosing characters who can contribute to fostering the right environment and building a team identity.

“There’s a difference in wanting good teammates and actually selecting people that you know are good teammates, but also holding people accountable to being a good teammate,” he said. 

“If you generally have good people with good leadership characteristics, and they hold each other accountable to being good teammates, you generally have a pretty good environment.”

Having the right environment, however, doesn’t solely fall on the staff, according to Ryan.

“We try to set a little bit of a tone and manage it (but players) are more responsible for the environment that they create,” he said. 

“We just have to give them a little bit of a voice that when things aren’t going well, they’re comfortable enough to come to talk to me or Gina or any of the other staff so we can fix it instead of letting things build up.”

While not every player on the team is familiar with one another, the players are making it a point of emphasis to connect and build relationships.

“I think whenever you start a new season, it’s so important to establish that connection and make those reachouts,” Nurse said. “It’s like the first day of school, you don’t know everyone in your class, right, but you want to create connections, you want to get to know people. 

“Taking time out of cool−downs, around the ice, to just chat with people. It’s not always business, it’s not always super serious. We’re able to be light, have fun and get to know each other.”

But that’s not to say winning isn’t on the mind of the team. 

Ryan acknowledged that having a strong culture leads to winning games. Spooner, meanwhile, was quick to point out that they’re still competitors at the end of the day.

“Obviously, when we come together as a team, and we look around that locker room, I think we all have that belief that we can be that team,” Spooner said. “We just got to put our pieces together and work hard this season.

“But I think it’d be amazing to win the first−ever season, so that’s what we’re going to come to the rink every day and work for, and we’ll give it our best at the end.”

banner image: The Canadian Press