For Lakewood native, Team USA standout Hensley, new PWHL women’s pro league a thrilling opportunity
Since graduating college in 2016, Lakewood native Nicole Hensley has found her way on to many USA Hockey women’s national teams and playing in women’s professional leagues.
Now, she’ll be a part of the new PWHL Minnesota franchise after being selected Sept. 18 in the second round (12th overall) of the inaugural PWHL Draft.
“The draft took place in Toronto (last) Monday, and a large group of players attended,” Hensley said. “It was a historic day for the sport. I was really excited to be drafted by Minnesota. I love Minnesota and am excited to be here. I think we have an exciting team with lots of local ties.
“I think our roster is very exciting. We have some great veterans in Lee (Stecklein), Kelly (Pannek), and Kendall (Coyne Schofield). We have some great young talent with Taylor (Heise) and Grace (Zumwinkle). It is a good mix. I think we will have a team capable of making a good run at this thing.”
Hensley, who played NCAA Division I hockey at Lindenwood from 2012-16, also represented the United States at the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics.
“It’s an honor to have been able to represent the United States on the international stage,” said Hensley. “It has also been an honor to be part of the PWHPA and work toward the creation of the PWHL. The goal of the PWHPA was always to create a sustainable professional league, and the PWHL will fulfill that goal. To have had a role in all of this, though it was a small one, is something I’ll look back on and be very proud of one day.”
The PWHL will start play this fall with six teams across the U.S. (Boston, Minnesota, New York) and Canada (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto).
“The league has a great group of investors that believe in our product and the people building this league, and to have this backing is huge,” Hensley said. “They hired an elite group of general managers and I believe the GMs will put together tremendous staffs in each location.”
Still, when she looks back on her youth hockey days in Colorado, Hensley said it’s a dream come true to see where she is today.
“When I was growing up, I only really had an NHL team to look up to,” said Hensley. “The national team has only played in Denver in 2002 and 2010, so although I knew it existed, it wasn’t something I understood or saw very often. On top of that, you only see the women play in the Olympics every four years. That’s the great thing about this league. Young girls will finally be able to look up to professional female hockey players, day in and day out all season long, and know they can fulfill dreams of playing professionally.”
Back home, Hensley played for the Colorado Select and Foothills Flyers. She is a three-time winner of the Colorado Sportswomen of the Year for hockey, and was inducted into the Colorado Sportswomen Hall of Fame in March 2016.
“I was very blessed to have so many great coaches growing up,” Hensley said. “I’m fortunate to have a long list of coaches that helped me love and learn the game growing up. It’s hard to single out just a few – Chris Leahy, John Seymour, Neil Olsen, Geoff Reigle, Shawn Rafferty, Jamie Weis, and Marnie Hill. Ken Klee, when I first made the U.S. Women’s National Team, made me believe I had the ability to make it at that level. He gave me a chance and I’ll never forget that.”
With an Exercise Science degree from Lindenwood, Hensley sees using that as a Plan B down the road.
“Focused on playing hockey right now,” said Hensley. “I plan to play hockey as long as I am able to compete at a high level.”
As a role model, Hensley said she has a meaningful message to convey to girls hockey players in Colorado.
“I would say enjoy every minute of your time on a team and on the ice,” Hensley said. “You’ll remember more of your experiences with the people than the results of a game. It goes by fast.”
— Matt Mackinder
(September 25, 2023)