The new Professional Women's Hockey League has announced that Kelly Pannek, Lee Stecklein and Kendall Coyne Schofield have signed with its Minnesota franchise, becoming the first three players to join the team.
All three are U.S. Olympians, and all have a hockey history in Minnesota. Pannek, a Plymouth native, and Stecklein, of Roseville, were stars for the Gophers. Coyne Schofield and Stecklein played for the Minnesota Whitecaps women's pro team and helped it win the championship of the National Women's Hockey League in 2019.
The three players all signed three-year deals, with the league set to begin a 24-game schedule in January. Salary terms were not disclosed. But the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players association says six players on each team will receive three-year contracts worth "no less than $80,000 per league year,'' and average annual salaries will be $55,000.
The PWHL announced the locations of its six teams last Tuesday and said roster formation would begin with a 10-day free-agency period that began last Friday. Each team can sign as many as three free agents in that span. The league's inaugural draft will be Sept. 18, and Minnesota has the first pick.
Other teams in the league are located in Boston, the New York City area, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Team names and home arenas have not been announced.
Minnesota General Manager Natalie Darwitz praised her initial signees for their talent, experience and leadership.
"With the signing of three of the top players in the world, Minnesota cements its foundation as a team built on excellence,'' Darwitz said in a statement. "Kendall, Lee and Kelly's world-class hockey skills and leadership qualities embody the level of excellence that the culture of Minnesota will be built on.''
Stecklein, 29, is a three-time Olympic and eight-time world championships medalist who led the Gophers to three NCAA titles. Pannek, 27, played with Stecklein on many of those teams; her resume includes two medals at the Olympics and five at the world championships, along with a pair of NCAA crowns.
Coyne Schofield, 31, has been captain of the U.S. women's national team since 2019. She played college hockey at Northeastern and has earned medals at three Olympics and nine world championships.