The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF)—formerly the NWHL—has appointed long-time USA Hockey executive Reagan Carey as its next commissioner, the league announced Tuesday. Carey most recently served as USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey and general manager for all U.S. women’s teams, including the U.S. national team, which won gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics and silver in 2014 during her tenure. Carey will start as the third PHF commissioner on May 10, succeeding Ty Tumminia in the role.
“Growing the game and being part of advancing women’s and girl’s hockey has always been a common thread [in my career],” Carey said in a phone interview. “And the PHF is not all talk. They’ve put a lot of thought into what they believe this league can become. All the deliverables they’ve achieved in just the last season even and what they’re looking to do in the coming season certainly piqued my interest… I realized that people and the purpose were a great fit for me right now.”
Connecticut Whale owner Tobin Kelly led the hiring committee that oversaw the commissioner search. PHF board members Johanna Boynton and Andy Scurto were also part of the committee, alongside Lisa Haley (who leads the PHF’s hockey operations), Metropolitan Riveters president Digit Murphy and Octagon’s Susie Piotrkowski.
Kelly noted Carey’s experience in women’s hockey as well as her “collaborative approach,” as key reasons for her hire. “In all of our many conversations, Reagan’s commitment to communication and her values that advocate for what is right and put player’s first, make her the perfect leader for the next phase of growth in the PHF,” he said in a statement.
Tumminia resigned earlier this year after leading the league the last two seasons. She took over as commissioner in October 2020, first in an interim capacity, then permanently, before stepping down at the conclusion of the 2021-2022 campaign. During Tumminia’s short-lived tenure, the PHF made significant progress, starting with transitioning from a single-entity model to independently owned teams.
With its clubs in the hands of private ownership groups—two of whom currently hold multiple teams, a temporary arrangement reminiscent of MLS’ early days—the league underwent a major rebrand and inked a number of important commercial deals, including ones with Upper Deck Sports and equipment manufacturer Warrior, as well as an unprecedented broadcast agreement with and ESPN+ (which included international rights for ESPN affiliates, including TSN in Canada).
It also secured a record $25 million investment from its board of governors over the next three years to support increased player benefits and salaries—the salary cap will jump to a record $750,000 per club this year—as well as COVID-delayed expansion plans for the league. The league’s six teams will be joined by two newcomers during the 2022-23 campaign, including an expansion club in Montreal. All told, more than $7.5 million will be invested into the league this coming season.
The new commissioner wants to continue that momentum, and though there will be no formal transition period, Carey said she has talked to Tumminia, who has “offered to be a helping hand,” moving forward.
“There’s a lot of opportunity ahead of us and a lot of work to do,” Carey said. “I look at this season as a real proving ground for the PHF. We’ve got to deliver on all the things we’ve been sharing with the players, and hopefully go beyond that. We’re in a really great spot and we’re excited about the [PHF’s recent] accomplishments, but we’re not satisfied with them.”
Carey, who played NCAA hockey at Colby College and did stints with both the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) and the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks before joining USA Hockey in 2010, articulated a need for additional “like-minded” partners to support the league’s recent momentum and a “clear and solid roadmap” for what the PHF wants to accomplish.
She starts her tenure amid an inflection point for professional women’s hockey. During her time with USA Hockey, Carey developed relationships with many of the players who eventually left the PHF, when it was still the NWHL, and have since begun building the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), which is preparing to launch its own professional women’s hockey league that will compete with the PHF for both talent and audience.
The NHL tried to broker discussions between the two entities about collaborating, but talks quickly collapsed. Carey didn’t articulate any immediate plans to leverage those relationships to revive conversations between the two soon-to-be competitors, but those connections could be the bridge the parties have long needed.
“My take is: Anybody who’s working to advance the game, regardless of the logo they’re wearing or what entity they’re attached to, is a teammate,” Carey said. “I’ll always support the players that that I worked with at USA Hockey. I’ll continue to champion them, but right now, the PHF is providing a full season for players to train, compete and entertain fans and is working with sponsors to grow the game. That’s the focus. It, to me, isn’t a competition. It’s just an opportunity to see there are a lot of great things happening in women’s hockey. And we’re one of them. If more come along, then that’s better for the sport.”
Whether there’s a market for two professional women’s hockey leagues in North America is still to be seen. The NWHL launched in 2015 as a rival to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), and the two coexisted for a few years before the CWHL—which only started paying its players in 2017—shuttered in 2019.