Maggie Connors: Seizing The Moment

By Dillon Collins

At only 23 years of age, Maggie Connors grasps the gravity of the moment more than most. Moments, and the weight of them, will be referenced often throughout Downhome’s conversation with the budding sports star.

“It’s been a whirlwind, a lot of emotions,” Maggie says with a smile, beginning a candid Zoom call from the PWHL’s Toronto office.

For those unaware of the current movement in women’s hockey, the groundbreaking PWHL was formed in the summer of 2023 from the ashes of the Premier Hockey Federation. Six teams – three in Canada and three in the United States – make up the Professional Women’s Hockey League, which held its historic inaugural game on New Year’s Day before a sold-out, rabid Toronto crowd and a combined viewership of over 2.9 million.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s own Maggie Connors, fresh off a rock-solid campaign with the NCAA’s Princeton Tigers, was named player of the game for PWHL Toronto in a 4-0 loss to PWHL New York. But the score wasn’t the story.

“I think you try to soak in the moment because just thinking about it and knowing this is the first-ever professional women’s hockey game and league this season, before the game and leading up to it, you really do try to appreciate and be grateful and thankful for the situation that you’re in,” Maggie shared, remarking on her footnote in women’s sports history.

“I was lucky enough to play in the first game with Toronto. You have your veterans and people who are constantly reminding you. They’ve played many years out of university and have kind of been flip-flopping around about where to play and how to still develop and compete for that next level, and you’re reminded that it’s not just about us. It’s not just about the players on the ice. We’re the ones playing the first game, but it’s so much more than us and so much bigger than us. The commentators that are commentating for their first professional women’s hockey game that I’m sure they’ve dreamt up as well. You have past generations that dreamed of this that have now retired, looking back. I think this moment is way bigger than us and I was so happy to share it with so many people. It’s huge for the next generation.”

Emotions were high pre and post-puck drop. Tears were shed, smiles were visible from the nosebleeds, and high-fives and hugs were exchanged between teammates and rivals alike, all soaking in the culmination of a gradual – and at times arduous – journey for women in professional hockey, still battling for equal footing to that of their male contemporaries.

The launch of the PWHL, complete with rave reviews for its fast, gritty and passion-laced play, goes a long way to bridging the long-too-wide gap between the sexes in pro sports.

“It’s hard not to smile,” Maggie remarks. “The moment is just so massive and so much bigger than yourself. At least for me, I was talking about how nervous I was. You just look at the moment that you’re playing in that represents so much and you have so much emotion. It kind of comes in waves throughout the game.

“I remember standing on that blueline for the ceremony and you have so many emotions running through your head, and I think the last thing you’re thinking about is the little details of the game at that time, which you will for every other game. But in that moment you’re watching Billie Jean King and Jayna Hefford come on the ice and drop that puck. It’s a huge moment for the little girls watching the TV. It’s a huge moment for people that have been long gone from our sport.”

Describing herself as an offensive player who “loves to be creative,” relying on her cleverness and deception to generate high-danger scoring chances, Maggie’s ascent to the upper echelon of women’s pro hockey began in earnest here in her native St. John’s. Daughter of noted cardiologists Sean Connors and Susan Fagan, and sister to a pair of hockey-loving brothers (Michael and Chris), Maggie dove head-on into the sport from a young age.

“I was playing hockey for as long as I can remember,” she recalls fondly. “It started with my parents having very busy careers and they wanted us all in sports and kind of having that, I guess, social experience. My two brothers were older than me, and I guess they put them in hockey and I followed right behind when I was four. They tried me in figure skating, but I don’t even think it lasted more than a few weeks. I just wanted to do what they did.”

As a teenager, Maggie would head Stateside to further her desire to grow in the game. Attending Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep school, she would win four national championships in five seasons, with three Tier 1 16U National Championships, adding another with the U19 team in 2018. In her senior year, she tallied 75 points in 50 games, scoring 31 goals and 44 assists.

Landing with the prestigious Princeton University in 2018, she would go on to have a prolific run in the NCAA with 78 goals and 145 points across 127 games, including a point-per-game pace of 33 points in 31 games in her senior year.

The productive campaign, aptly timed with the launch of the PWHL, resulted in her being selected 62nd overall by Toronto in the inaugural PWHL Draft this past September, where she would go on to ink a two-year contract with the club.

The timeliness of the blossoming league for Maggie cannot be understated, as the driven and passionate athlete and academic found herself at a crossroads as her time at Princeton drew to a close.

“I think it was a huge decision for me last year and a stressful one because if you look at this time last year, there was always the hope of the league and there were the rumblings of one, at least from what I would hear, but it didn’t come to fruition until later in the year and early 2023 and into June when the CBA was signed,” Maggie shared, reflectively. “Last year I was kind of thinking that I love hockey, I’m not ready to be done, especially with how I was doing at Princeton. I didn’t want it to end there.”

And while there’s no immediate endgame to Maggie’s hockey dream, the foundation of it was firmly built in her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I think that’s a tribute to SportNL and Hockey NL,” Maggie says of the growing pedigree of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the sport of hockey, giving credit to thriving local organizations for her maturation in the sport.

“I think of everything that they’ve done to develop the game and they’re in a harder position than being in Ontario where you have an abundance of players and so much access to different things and it’s a larger population … Now you look and it’s such a competitive group.”

Today organizations within the province like Xtreme Hockey and Vision Hockey Group lead the charge with female-centric programs that were previously unavailable for generations of up-and-coming talent, Maggie among them.

“I think it’s come such a far way, even the simplest things like girls hockey camps. I never did an only-girl hockey camp when I was growing up in Newfoundland,” she admits, praising the continued growth within her home province.

“I absolutely love it. I think the more girls we can get in the game is so important. And now I think there’s going to be way less of a drop-off you see around that high school age because now they have something to play for. When I grew up I always said that I wanted to play in the NHL, but that isn’t possible. And so now there’s no reason to stop. You want to be a professional athlete and now the opportunity for girls exists. So I think it’s going to be such a huge thing for women’s hockey in Newfoundland.”

As the sport continues to grow in rinks and on freshly cleared ponds across the island, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians continue to wear their fandom for the game on their collective sleeve. Fiercely passionate and loyal to our own, Maggie admits she’s felt the love, in spades and then some, early and often into her flourishing pro-career. It’s a love and adoration of the place and its people she reciprocates at every opportunity.

“Being from Newfoundland means everything to me,” she says with a wide smile. “I love that it’s a huge part of my personality. I never shy away from telling people that I’m a Newfie or building a connection with someone who has a relative of a relative from Newfoundland. I swear, everyone has a connection to Newfoundland and I love being from the East Coast.

“It’s incredible the amount of support that I’ve received throughout my career, but especially within the past few months,” she adds proudly. “I’ve had people reach out to me, people I work with every single day in the summer, my coaches, my trainers, to people I’ve never even spoken to or know. And they’re reaching out and I’m making the effort to respond to everyone because they’re just so proud. I appreciate the support so much. I absolutely love being from Newfoundland.”

Growing up as a die-hard fan of the game, emulating the likes of hero-turned-teammate Natalie Spooner, Maggie pauses to take in the idea that she – much like the trailblazers who paved her way – can be an inspiration for the next wave of female hockey hopefuls.

“It’s an awesome opportunity and position that I’m in. And I’m lucky to kind of be, I guess, almost leading the torch, at least for Newfoundlanders in terms of the women’s game playing professionally,” Maggie says, smiling widely once more. “I’m so excited to be that role model for younger girls in Newfoundland.”

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