Anchorage's Clair DeGeorge is living the dream in new Professional Women's Hockey League

Jan. 27—Although she wasn't there in person, Clair DeGeorge could feel the significance of last September's inaugural Professional Women's Hockey League draft from nearly 1,000 miles away.

Tessa Bonhomme, the former professional women's hockey player and Canadian Olympic gold medal winner turned sports broadcaster, hosted the historic event in Toronto, and legendary retired tennis player Billie Jean King announced the first overall pick.

DeGeorge, a 24-year-old from Anchorage, was selected 36th by the Minnesota franchise.

"That was a pretty surreal and special moment," she said.

Being part of the fledgling six-team league gives DeGeorge an opportunity to be the kind of role model she didn't have growing up — a woman playing at the game's highest level, to inspire a future generation of Alaska girls hockey players.

"I think it's something that I'm still trying to wrap my head around," DeGeorge said. "Growing up, I looked up to the UAA Seawolves and the Alaska Aces, and they were all men."

Although she was one of 100 draft-eligible players, there was plenty of uncertainty on draft day. Fortunately for DeGeorge, who is a vascular nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, everything worked out perfectly.

"I knew I was in the mix, but I just didn't know where I'd be going or if I'd get drafted," DeGeorge said. "It just so happened to be Minnesota, and I was very fortunate because I already live here."

The league hopes to draw big crowds and attract families with young girls. Minnesota's franchise plays home games at the Xcel Energy Center, which also is the home building for the Minnesota Wild.

"With this new league starting, it's just been amazing to see all the little girls out there showing us their support, and now they have the dreams of coming to this league someday," DeGeorge said.

In 2022-23, DeGeorge played as a member of the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association, which is "dedicated to advocating for the promotion of professional women's ice hockey."

The association's partners purchased the Premier Hockey Federation, formerly the National Women's Hockey League, in summer 2023, winding down the federation's operations in anticipation of launching a new unified league. Then the PWHL was born.

The collection of talent in the PWHL includes players fresh out of college as well as those who came from other leagues and countries. There are six teams total, in Boston, Montreal, New York, Minnesota, Ottawa and Toronto. The teams feature players from across the U.S. and Canada and from as far away as Europe.

The season launched on Jan. 1 and so far, the high quality of the competition has been an enjoyable experience for DeGeorge.

"Every game is very close," she said. "They're not high-scoring games, but goals are still being scored, so it's still great quality hockey."

[Behind the scenes of the PWHL opener, 'the birth of women's hockey']

The league wanted to ensure its stability and make it so their players didn't have to work additional jobs to support themselves, and could focus solely on hockey. DeGeorge is on supplemental status as she is devoted to being a professional athlete during the season.

"That's for the next six months, and in the summer I'll go back to that job," she said. "My focus right now is completely on hockey."

Furthering female empowerment in sports was one of the core values in the development of the league, and DeGeorge is proud to be at the forefront of it.

"It's amazing to see because women definitely deserve it and have been working hard," she said. "While I do wish they didn't have to fight so hard for it, seeing those that have persevered and made sure it happened is awesome."

As of right now, the six teams are named after the cities or states where they're located but eventually would like to have official mascots and logos.

One of the names that the Minnesota franchise is workshopping is "Purple Reign" as an homage to the hit song "Purple Rain" by the state's late legendary pop artist Prince.

It wasn't hockey but figure skating that DeGeorge started with as a 3-year-old. But she soon caught the hockey bug.

"Ever since then, I've been a rink rat," she said. "By the time I turned 13 when bantams hit, I decided to make the transition from playing with boys to girls (exclusively) and the best option for me was to come to Minnesota to Shattuck-St. Mary's School."

DeGeorge played all four of her prep seasons for the Sabres, leading the girls hockey team to a national championship each year.

She played four years of college hockey at Bemidji State University in Minnesota before spending her last collegiate season at Ohio State University, where she was on a national championship-winning Buckeyes team that featured fellow Alaskan Zoe Hickel on the coaching staff as an assistant.

"That was pretty awesome and a pretty cool experience," she said. "Zoe has been a good friend of mine for a long time, so to be able to be coached by her was a great feeling. If I were to pick any female player for Alaska to be a role model, she'd be one of them."

Off the ice, DeGeorge first became interested in the medical field when she was a teenager, a curiosity that was sparked when she took a bioscience class in high school.

"That kind of piqued my interest to do a lot of field trips out to the Mayo Clinic, and I just loved the research that they did there, always striving for excellence, and the way that they cared for people," she said.

For now, DeGeorge is focused on hockey and hopes this league will be a trailblazing opportunity that will inspire young female players — even the ones who have yet to pick up a hockey stick and strap on pads to go along with a pair of skates.

"It's been nice to see that they've had access to watching the games in Alaska, and just being able to be there for the little girls to show them that they can have the same big dreams as their little brothers and cousins," DeGeorge said.