Questions still linger as to why Darwitz was ousted as GM of PWHL Minnesota

by Bryan Zollman, Let’s Play Hockey

Former PWHL Minnesota General Manager Natalie Darwitz released a statement Sunday in regards to her “parting ways” with the PWHL.

The PWHL issued a statement on Saturday, June 8, confirming rumors that Darwitz had been let go from her position as the team’s general manager just days after PWHL Minnesota won the inaugural Walter Cup.

Fans and media members alike were shocked at the move. The PWHL cited a lengthy internal review and stated:

The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) and PWHL Minnesota General Manager Natalie Darwitz have parted ways, effective immediately.

“We appreciate all that Natalie has done for PWHL Minnesota in the league’s inaugural season and her contributions to the team’s championship success. We wish her the best moving forward,” said Jayna Hefford, Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, PWHL.

There is no immediate timeline for the naming of the next PWHL Minnesota General Manager.

Darwitz issued a statement of her own on Sunday:

“I would like to thank the State of Hockey for their support of PWHL Minnesota,” Darwitz wrote. “As the General Manager of PWHL Minnesota, I gave my heart and soul to provide a first-class experience to the players, staff and fans. My goal was to grow the game of women’s hockey and to show young girls their dream could become a reality.

I am very proud of the team and organization that was built and the championship we brought home to this great State of Hockey. At this time, I am not able to provide any details regarding my departure.”

Darwitz is a hockey icon in Minnesota and on the national stage where she was recently inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. She grew up in Eagan and went on to win two national titles with the University of Minnesota. She is a three-time Olympic Winter Games medalist (silver in 2002, bronze in 2006, silver in 2010), three-time IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medalist (2005, 2008, 2009) and five-time IIHF Women’s World Championship silver medalist (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007).

She has also been a successful coach, turning around a struggling Hamline University program and leading them to national relevance and winning Division III coach of the Year in 2018. She joined the University of Minnesota coaching staff and served as an associate head coach until last season when she was pegged to be the new head  coach of the Hill-Murray Girls’ High School team. She instead joined the PWHL and became PWHL Minnesota’s general manager and was credited with constructing a roster that won the inaugural league title.

Rumors swirled about tensions behind the scenes between Darwitz, PWHL Minnesota Head Coach Ken Klee and some players. But those rumors were squashed by Jayna Hefford, Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations for the PWHL. Hefford told select members of the media it wasn’t one person but the input of many over the past five-plus months that led to the decision to remove Darwitz as PWHL Minnesota’s GM.

 

The Associated Press reported Hefford as stating: “The feedback to us was pretty direct and pretty clear that there wasn’t a path forward with the current personnel in place. It was with the work we did throughout the year, and it was clear that a change needed to be made.”

Hefford also stated: “We completely recognize the iconic status of Natalie Darwitz in the state of Minnesota. Her incredible contributions, to the PWHL, to building a championship team. Certainly, this was the last thing we wanted to happen. But our job is to also do what’s right for the league, and so that’s where we’re at today.”

Still, no specific reasons were given in Hefford’s comments to the media, leaving fans and members of the media wondering what could possibly have led to the ousting of a general manager who just won a championship.

In the meantime, the PWHL is hosting the draft in St. Paul tonight (Monday, June 10) and the PWHL Awards ceremony on Tuesday. The current coaching staff, headed by Klee, will be in charge of the team’s selections. A new general manager is expected to be named in the future.