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Burlington's Emma Maltais excited for PWHL opportunity in Toronto

The 24-year-old forward is ready to bring her high-energy game to professional women's hockey
Emma Maltais, centre, poses for a photo with Toronto general manager Gina Kingsbury, right, and Executive Vice President and President of Canadian Tire Retail, TJ Flood, left, after being selected 11th overall by Toronto during the second round of the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League draft in Toronto, on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Maltais is excited about her opportunity in a new environment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

TORONTO — Emma Maltais is excited about her opportunity in a new environment.

The 24-year-old forward was Toronto’s second-round pick (11th overall) in the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League draft in September. Currently on a three-year deal with Toronto, Maltais has a chance to establish herself as a pro in ways she hasn’t yet with the Canadian national team.

“I’m just excited to grow in this environment and being able to grow my game at this level,” the Burlington, Ont., native said Wednesday after practice. “In college, I had, obviously, a different role than I did with the national team. 

“So this is kind of that middle ground where I can grow into hopefully getting more opportunities with the national (team) and also at this level just creating a different identity for myself.”

Maltais closed her time in the NCAA earlier this year as the Ohio State Buckeyes' all-time leader in both assists (140) and points (206) across 169 games in a standout five-year career. 

She also holds the school’s single-season assists record (40) and is tied for the single-season points record (59), both coming in 2019-20. Maltais was a two-time Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top 10 finalist (2020, 2021) for top NCAA player.

As part of the women’s national team, she’s won world championship gold medals in 2021 and 2022, a silver in 2023 and Olympic gold in 2022.

However, her role on the star-studded Canadian team — which she has been with since 2021 — was more as an energy player who grinded out opponents defensively.

“With the national team it’s no secret, you have to earn your playing time and I was in the position with a different role,” she said. “I was just really happy to be there, I learned so much from so many of the girls and the coaches.”

PWHL teams are set up to develop young talent alongside veteran stars. Maltais will be playing alongside a few Canadian team stars in Toronto and should benefit the league’s direction.

“The exciting part of this league is, even when we’re coaching at the international level, we were wishing we had a league like this,” said Troy Ryan, head coach of Toronto and the Canadian women's national team. "A high-calibre league where we can assess that level of player — can they play at this level? You can’t just judge those teams based on one camp.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of things surfaced from this league, some young players being able to showcase themselves.”

While acknowledging Maltais’s role with Canada as that of an energy player that was tough on forechecks and backchecks, Ryan has new expectations of her.

“The one consistent comment I’ve made to Emma over the last number of years with the national team has been, that if she ever lets her foot off the gas, her opportunities may not be as abundant,” he said.

“Here, and now at the international level, there’ll be an expectation for her to still play that (role), still be that difficult player to play against, but finding ways to contribute offensively. 

“It’s not that this league is different than the international game — at the international game, that’s becoming more of an expectation for her as well. She probably just needed the last couple of years to get to that point.”

That's welcome news for Maltais, who wants the opportunity to create plays.

“That’s a nice feeling,” she said. “They’re comfortable with my defence and my way to bring energy and if I can keep bringing that, but also add to my game, I think that’s going to bring me a lot of confidence. 

“I think the fact that they believed in me enough to bring me to the Olympics with just that piece figured out, I think now I have the space and the room to add to my game and that gives me a lot of confidence.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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