Former Hamilton Snowplow Driver Kayla Vespa Among The Women Making History With PWHL | CBC News


The new Professional Women’s Hockey League is a long time coming for fans and for players like Kayla Vespa, who was previously juggling hockey, coaching and working for the City of Hamilton as a snowplow operator and parks employee.

Vespa scored in the league’s first-ever game on Jan. 1 against Toronto

Saira Peesker · CBC News

· Posted: Jan 11, 2024 4:00 AM EST | Last Updated: 2 hours ago

New York forward Kayla Vespa (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Toronto during third period PWHL action, in Toronto, on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)As a player in the Professional Women’s Hockey League, Kayla Vespa’s schedule is very full, but it still feels like a bit of a break compared to her last job — an overnight snowplow driver in Hamilton.

With the league now underway, Vespa works out in the morning, reviews video footage of game play, goes over the day’s practice plan with her teammates and then gets on the ice for a couple hours.

“We’re out of the rink probably around 4 or 5 p.m. and then we do whatever we want to do with our time,” said Vespa, a forward for New York who scored in the league’s first-ever game on Jan. 1.

For Vespa — who is used to a schedule of working out in the afternoons, hockey in the evening and driving a snowplow during the night — playing in the league is a dream come true.

She just needs to get used to the evening down time. “It’s hard for me to sit still,” she told CBC Hamilton.  

WATCH: New York beats Toronto in inaugural PWHL game

PWHL’s New York beats home team Toronto in sold-out inaugural gameThe Professional Women’s Hockey League has played its first game, in front of a sold-out crowd in Toronto. There are high hopes for this league, in spite of the bumpy history of professional women’s hockey.

Vespa, 26, grew up near Upper Wentworth Street and Rymal Road, a suburban area on the Hamilton Mountain. She attended both St. Jean de Brébeuf and St. John Henry Newman Catholic secondary schools.

After finishing a hockey scholarship at St. Lawrence College in Canton, N.Y., she came back to Hamilton, where she worked for the city, coached girls hockey with the Stoney Creek Sabers and commuted to Toronto to be on Team Sonnet in the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association (PWHPA), a precursor to the new league.

‘It’s just been incredible’Vespa is one of dozens of players from Ontario in the six-team league. She said it’s “an awesome feeling” to be now able to focus on hockey full time, in a professional, paid league that has been a long time coming for players and their fans. 

“November to April was prime season [for snow clearing and] the PWHPA,” said Vespa. “I was like, this is what I want to do. I want to play hockey and I also wanted to obviously have a realistic living, paying job and whatnot. So I did both. Now with this league and the salaries, it’s just been incredible.”

New York forward Kayla Vespa (10), from Hamilton, scores on Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell (50) as defender Renata Fast (14), from Burlington, Ont., tries to help on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)Vespa lives walking distance from her team’s practice rink in Stamford, Conn., in a house with two teammates. Despite the “New York” moniker, the team plays most of its games in nearby Bridgeport, Conn., and had its home opener on Jan. 5, losing to Toronto 3-2. 

Vespa also made history in Toronto, at the league’s opening game at the former Maple Leaf Gardens. After a pep talk in the change room from tennis legend and league co-founder Billie Jean King, Vespa and her teammates hit the ice to the sounds of a wildly cheering, sold-out crowd, where they later routed the home team 4-0. 

WATCH: Player Kayla Vespa says first game was ‘awesome’ and emotional

Kayla Vespa describes the first PHWL gameHamilton hockey player Kayla Vespa describes the atmosphere in the arena when the Professional Women’s Hockey League launched on Jan. 1.

“The loudness in the rink was crazy,” said Vespa, speaking on Zoom from her practice venue last week. “I was just looking around and I’m like, ‘This is awesome.’ And it was a great feeling and definitely a little emotional as well. 

“There were girls getting emotional… So much progress has been made.”

‘A long time coming’Hockey fan Anne Tennier is thrilled to see the progress as well. She watched the league’s first game, more than 50 years after writing a letter to the Boston Bruins asking how she could get a job on the team.

“It was all framed, as I recall, around career planning,” said Tennier, 65, who grew up a rabid Bruins fan in a small town in northern Quebec.

“Part of the thought process was, you know, it’s not really fair. Women should be able to play hockey, too,” said Tennier, who now lives in Hamilton and works as president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

“Little girls were starting to play hockey at that time and I was saying women should be able to play hockey. My goodness, here we are, what, almost 54 years later?”

WATCH: Anne Tennier describes writing to the Boston Bruins 50 years ago

Anne Tennier’s letter from the Boston BruinsHockey fan Anne Tennier wrote to the Boston Bruins in 1970 asking for a job. Believe it or not, they wrote back, and she still has the letter.

Remarkably, Bruins president Weston W. Adams Jr. wrote her back just six days after she had sent her letter on May 27, 1970.

“It says ‘Dear Miss Tennier, thank you for your kind letter of May 21st, 1970. I am sure that when you have attained all the skills necessary to a player of NHL caliber, the Bruins as well as the rest of the National Hockey League will look forward to having you at their training camp,” read Tennier.

Anne Tennier, now in her 60s, recently unearthed a letter she received from the Boston Bruins in 1970. (Anne Tennier/Submitted)”They could have just as easily tossed it in the garbage, but they didn’t,” she said.

Tennier posted online about the letter last week after her husband dug it out of a trunk where it had been stored. 

“Fifty-four years later, it just seemed like the right time to post because this women’s league has been a long time coming.”

Full list of Ontario players in the leaguePlaying for Toronto: 

Alexa Vasco (St. Catharines, Ont.) Sarah Nurse (Hamilton, Ont.) Emma Maltais (Burlington, Ont.) Renata Fast (Burlington, Ont.) Samantha Cogan (Ottawa) Rebecca Leslie (Ottawa) Jess Jones (Picton, Ont.) Natalie Spooner (Scarborough, Ont.) Brittany Howard (St. Thomas, Ont.) Victoria Bach (Milton, Ont.) Erica Howe (Orleans, Ont.) Playing for New York: 

Kayla Vespa (Hamilton) Jessie Eldridge (Barrie, Ont.) Emma Woods (Burford, Ont.) Taylor Baker (Toronto) Claire Thompson (Toronto) Ella Shelton (Ingersoll, Ont.) Carley Olivier (Sudbury, Ont.) Playing for Boston:

Loren Gabel (Kitchener, Ont.) Jamie Lee Rattray (Kanata, Ont.) Samantha Isbell (Thunder Bay, Ont.) Nicole Kosta (Mississauga, Ont.) Sophie Jaques (Toronto) Jessica Digirolamo (Toronto) Emma Buckles (Toronto) Playing for Minnesota:

Emma Greco (Burlington, Ont.) Michela Cava (Thunder Bay, Ont.) Playing for Montreal:

Elaine Chuli (Waterford, Ont.) Laura Stacey (Kleinburg, Ont.) Kennedy Marchment (Marmora, Ont.) Claire Dalton (Toronto) Kristin O’Neill (Oakville, Ont.) Erin Ambrose (Keswick, Ont.) Playing for Ottawa:

Daryl Watts (Toronto) Mikyla Grant-Mentis (Brampton, Ont.) Brianne Jenner (Oakville, Ont.) Kristin Della Rovere (Caledon East, Ont.) Lexie Adzija (St. Thomas, Ont.) Zoe Boyd (Caledon East, Ont.) Victoria Howran (Bancroft, Ont.) Taylor Davison (Oakville, Ont.) Rachel McQuigge (Bowmanville, Ont.) ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Saira Peesker is a reporter with CBC Hamilton, with particular interests in climate, labour and local politics. She has previously worked with the Hamilton Spectator and CTV News, and is a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail, covering business and personal finance. Saira can be reached at

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