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New York selects Princeton, Canadian national team forward Sarah Fillier with 1st pick in PWHL draft

Putting numerous women’s hockey accolades and a degree in psychiatry at Princeton behind her, Sarah Fillier is fully focused on her next career challenge: Being a difference-maker on a PWHL team in New York that struggled both on and off the ice.

A New York team lacking identity, offense and wins in its inaugural season used the No. 1 pick to select the 24-year-old Canadian national team forward — and dubbed “a generational talent” by league scouts — with the No. 1 pick in the Professional Women’s Hockey League draft on Monday night.

“I think it’s exciting. If you look at the talent New York has, I think they’ve built a really solid foundation,” Fillier said. “It’s an amazing sports city and the fans have been amazing this whole season. And I went to school just down the road, so it feels like a bit of a homecoming.”

From outside of Toronto, Fillier is a three-time Patty Kazmaier college player of the year finalist, and completed her four-year career at Princeton ranking sixth on the school list with 93 goals and fourth with 193 points in 120 games. Internationally, she won gold at the 2022 Beijing Games, where she finished second in the tournament with eight goals, and was also a member of three Canadian world championship teams.

General manager Pascal Daoust called it a privilege to have the opportunity to select Fillier.

“She’s faced so many good players. She played already against the best in the world with the best in the world. And she’s always outstanding facing them or playing with them,” Daoust said. “Very pleased to add her to our lineup for sure.”

In New York, she joins a team in transition under newly hired Colgate University coach Greg Fargo, in need of offensive talent beyond veteran Alex Carpenter, and a franchise that struggled to attract fans after splitting home games between three sites.

“I’m excited to help build that solid foundation,” Fillier said. “And Greg Fargo’s been a tremendous coach. I’ve played against him for four years in the ECAC, and he’s always a tough coach to play against. So it’s exciting that I’m on his team now.”

A year after U.S. national team player Taylor Heise went first in the PWHL's inaugural draft, Fillier topped a list of three Canadians chosen. Colgate's Danielle Serdachny was selected second by Ottawa followed by defenseman Claire Thompson, who went third to defending champion Minnesota.

Thompson is returning to hockey after taking last season off to focus on her second year of studies at NYU.

“They always say absence makes the heart grow fonder. And so not being able to play this year has really reinvigorated my love for hockey,” said Thompson, who joins an elite Minnesota blueline that already includes U.S. veteran Lee Stecklein and Sophie Jaques, college hockey’s player of the year in 2023.

Minnesota's picks were made by coach Ken Klee and his staff, who oversaw the draft after the PWHL stripped general manager Natalie Darwitz of her title on Saturday.

Klee was questioned over the team's decision to select Wisconsin forward Britta Curl with the ninth pick. Curl has drawn criticism from the women's hockey and LGBTQ+ communities for supporting transphobic messaging on social media.

The criticism was evident on X, with dozens of posts criticizing the selection in response to the PWHL's post announcing Minnesota picking Curl.

Klee defended Curl's selection by saying he spoke to numerous coaches and players who knew Curl.

“I was told she’s a great teammate, a great person. She’s obviously a great player,” Klee said. “So, you know, for me, we have people in that community, and that obviously Mira making the selection for us, I think that speaks volumes for us.”

He was referring to assistant coach Mira Jalosuo, who is a lesbian.

The first Americans selected were forward Hannah Bilka, who went fourth to Boston, followed by defenseman Cayla Barnes to Montreal. Bilka, who is from Texas, and Barnes, from California, were teammates in helping Ohio State win a national championship in March.

It's a homecoming for Bilka, who spent her first four college seasons at Boston College before transferring to Ohio State.

“I came to Ohio State to win a national championship and we got the job done," she said. "So I couldn’t have written the script better. And this just tops it off.”

The draft became a Buckeyes celebration in St. Paul, Minnesota. Overall, eight Ohio State players were selected in a draft capped by Buckeyes goalie Raygan Kirk being selected by Toronto with the 42nd and final pick.

Meantime, Ohio State defenseman Lauren Bernard, who was selected 24th by Toronto, heard her name called from the stage by Buckeyes coach Nadine Muzerall.

Fargo’s senior class at Colgate had five players selected in the six-team, seven-round draft.

Toronto capped the first round with Canadian national team forward Julia Gosling being reunited with Team Canada GM Gina Kingsbury and coach Troy Ryan.

New York opened the second round by trading its pick to Boston, which used the No. 7 selection to choose the first European — Czech Republic defenseman Daniela Pejsova.

“It’s an honor to be even here and experience this in real life. Yeah, having a good time,” said the 21-year-old Pejsova, who has been playing professionally in Sweden. “It feels amazing. I can’t believe that it’s true.”

Overall, the U.S. led the way with 20 Americans selected versus 12 Canadians, plus Dara Greig, who is a dual citizen. Nine European players were selected, including the first from Russia, Ilona Markova, a 22-year-old, who plays in the Russian women’s pro league and was selected 37th by Boston.

U.S. national team veteran forward Amanda Kessel wasn’t selected until going 41st to Montreal. Kessel is a three-time Olympian, who took last year off to focus on her job as a special assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In an unusual twist, forward Abby Boreen was selected 17th overall by Montreal after she spent last season winning a title with Minnesota. Boreen was in this situation because she signed a reserve contract with Minnesota after not declaring for the draft last year.

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AP Women's Hockey: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-hockey

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