Toronto defender Allie Munroe the embodiment of PWHL's emphasis on physical play

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There is no question the increased physicality in the PWHL has been a big part of the popularity of the new league.

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If it’s not the first topic that comes up when the PWHL’s success is discussed, it is invariably the second or third.

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As popular as international competition is, and has been among fans of the women’s game, it has always lacked the physical element that gives the sport its edge and left many fans wanting more.

The PWHL, in conjunction with its players, identified that as a need for the new league and made it a priority.
There isn’t a team among the six in the league that has not embraced the idea of a more physical game, but PWHL Toronto believes it has embraced it even more than its rivals.

“I would say we are one of the most physical teams in the league,” Toronto defender Allie Munroe said Thursday following practice. “We pride ourselves on that. Just be aggressive. It can separate us from a lot of teams. It wears you down by the end of the game if you are physical and just throwing little bumps here and there.”

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Head coach Troy Ryan and GM Gina Kingsbury call it being a team that is hard to play against.

And right from Day 1, they have emphasized that.

From defenders such as Munroe, Renata Fast, Jocelyne Larocque and Lauriane Rougeau to forwards like team captain Blayre Turnbull, league-leading scorer Natalie Spooner and certainly the fiery Emma Maltais, this team goes out of its way to wear you down with the body and makes no apologies for it.

Ryan’s team draws more than its fair share of penalties because of that approach and, quite frankly, the head coach could not care less.

“That’s who we have to be,” Ryan says.

Munroe may not be as well-known as some of her teammates who have the benefit of having played on the national team, but when it comes to taking the body and relishing the idea, there isn’t anyone on the roster who does so any more than she does.

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“Everyone is just trying to figure it out, but personally I just try to be as physical as I can,” Munroe said Thursday when asked about that fine line between good body contact and what earns a player a seat in the penalty box.

Growing up in Yarmouth, N.S., and playing on boys teams into her bantam years, body contact was always a key part of Munroe’s game.

When she took her game to the college ranks and joined Syracuse, that part of her game was put to the side because the rules prohibited contact. But when Munroe headed overseas and joined the SDHL in Sweden, where physical play was encouraged, she quickly found that part of her game again.

In the PWHL, she has rediscovered the style of game she has always wished for.

“That’s what I’m really enjoying about the new rules,” Munroe said. “You can bump people and rub them out and not get called for it.”

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Munroe admits the calling of the game has still left her occasionally baffled. A hit she was sure was legal in a recent game earned her a trip to the penalty box. It became only more confusing minutes later when the same hit by another player at the same spot on the ice, was not called.

“It can be confusing at times when you can hit and when you can’t, but I think I’m starting to figure it out a little bit,” she said.

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Her rule of thumb — until someone tells her something different — is that a hit along the boards is fine. Anything open-ice is likely to be called.

“Yeah, no open-ice hits, but if you have the puck along the boards, I’m probably going to hit you,” Munroe said. “That’s what I go by.”

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Of course, if a forward tries to go through her in the open ice, Munroe is more than willing to engage and take whatever comes her way.

“If someone comes at me in open ice, I’m going to stand my ground,” Munroe confirms. “That sometimes happens along the blue. Someone will take a run at you. It’s important to protect yourself, but I think we’re still figuring that out as players.”

But this is exactly the approach that has enhanced the viewership numbers and attendance numbers across the league.
What perplexes Munro is how women’s hockey has gone so long limiting physical play when seemingly most in the game wanted it.

“I do wonder about that, but I just think that it was just the norm in women’s hockey,” she said. “But look at all the rules the PWHL is adopting.

“They’re changing things for the better. Little things like the ‘jailbreak’ and the playoff format. They are taking these things from other leagues, I would guess, and then talking it through, listening to what the players want and running with it.”

Opening up the physical side to a game that demands it is just one more example of something the PHWL is doing right.

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