Inside Natalie Darwitz’s firing from PWHL Minnesota: The rift with coach and players is taking sides

Around Christmas time, Ken Klee received a call that changed the course of Minnesota’s PWHL season.

Their future became clear.

Klee, 53, was at home in Castle Rock, Colo., when he was told that Charlie Burggraf — the coach selected to lead the inaugural Minnesota Women’s Hockey League team — had decided to step aside a week before the season for personal reasons. the reasons.

Klee interviewed for the position over the summer, as well as for the general manager job, which was eventually given to Minnesota hockey icon and IIHF Hall of Famer Natalie Darwitz. He wanted to be both. He didn’t get either…at first.

But with Burggraf stepping aside, the league felt it was easier to see if the successful former US women’s national team coach was willing to step in. Klee has already been vetted and background checked by PWHL.

“When do you want me there?” Asked.


So, Klee checked in with his wife, then packed a bunch of suits and other clothing and drove 13 hours to Minnesota to start the season that would end with the Walter Cup championship.

However, it was only a week into the celebration, when the league decided to make a major and unexpected change at the top.

According to multiple team and league sources, the PWHL — which owns all six teams — on Tuesday informed Darwitz that she will no longer be the franchise’s general manager.

On Thursday morning, during a meeting with league officials, Darwitz was presented with multiple options, according to sources: Take a position in the PWHL’s hockey operations department, and issue a joint statement declaring she had achieved everything she wanted in year one. from the franchise and was moving on to a new challenge or sitting at Minnesota’s table for Monday’s PWHL draft but without authority.

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In practical terms, this would have allowed both parties to delay her departure until they could come up with an exit strategy.

The athlete It was reported that Darwitz was out of the GM position Thursday night. The league and Darwitz on Friday declined to comment.

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Natalie Darwitz takes over as GM, PWHL Minnesota: Sources

News of her departure — which came just days before St. Paul hosted the league’s draft — was felt throughout the league and the championship-starved country, which supported and celebrated the new franchise.

Her departure, according to league and team sources, was the result of a falling out with Klee, with a handful of veteran players like Kendall Quinn Schofield in Klee’s camp and others in Darwitz’s camp.

The league has hired a consulting company to provide advice on how to deal with the sensitive situation, according to league sources. According to one source, the company said: “This is not the first time there has been a power struggle between a GM and his coach in a sports organisation, and we can mediate it and resolve the issue.”

But in the end, the league felt a change was needed.

Klee, who said he couldn’t discuss the situation when he got to it The athlete On Friday, he will run Monday’s PWHL Minnesota draft schedule with the help of his coaching staff, league sources said. He will likely return next season as head coach, according to sources, while the league conducts a search for the next general manager.

All of the coaches and general managers, including Darwitz, worked the inaugural PWHL season on one-year contracts set to expire June 30 unless renewed.

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No players reached The athlete They were willing to comment on the situation.

“Natalie was a mainstay for me during a really tough season,” said one PWHL player in Minnesota. The athlete On condition of anonymity. “When I felt like I was spoken to inappropriately or saw behavior and language that was out of budget, Natalie listened emphatic and always encouraged me on and off the ice. This is a huge blow to our team and I know many girls can attest to that. I am extremely shocked and confused that “It was abandoned.”

Quinn Schofield, largely responsible for the league meeting, was captain of Minnesota’s championship team. She and fellow captains Kelly Panek and Lee Sticklin played with Klee on the U.S. National Team and are very impressed with his coaching style and abilities.

Quinn Schofield did not respond to a request for comment but was effusive in her praise of Clay last week after the tournament.

“He did a great job,” Quinn Schofield said. “I said this after the game, but look at the league awards. Player of the Year. Best Forward. Best Defender. Best Goalkeeper. Best Coach. We don’t have any of those. We have the Best Team. It starts at the top. The way he put it together. (All) This group together, the way they make every player feel valued – their role is important.

“Everyone knows what they have to do to help this team succeed. And it was different for everyone. But every role was important for us to get to the Walter Cup and then win it. I was fortunate to play with him before I came here with the USA National Team, and I will say Everywhere I’ve played, we’ve won. It’s been pretty special. We’ve been very fortunate to have him this year, and I will say some of the most fun years I’ve ever played hockey have been under him.

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“It’s fun to come to the rink. It’s fun to work. It’s fun to be challenged. It will push you to be better. But you will be because of it. A better person and a better player.”

Asked if she was pushing for Klee to return as coach, Quinn Schofield said: “That would be great. I don’t make those decisions. This is a professional sport. We play for who they tell us we play for. But after that season, I can’t imagine Not coming back if that’s the decision he wants.

It’s unclear when the league will announce Darwitz’s departure, but on Monday, the reality will be clear when the person who ran last year’s draft will no longer be in attendance.

Inside the office that Darwitz has assembled, employees feel uncomfortable and confused.

“They’re all Minnesotans, and if you’re from Minnesota and watch hockey and women’s sports, Darwitz is obviously the first name you know,” a team source said. “If you meet her, you will like her more because of her personality. She treats her employees like gold. People are shocked, angry and sad.”


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(Photos of Ken Klee on the PWHL Minnesota bench and Natalie Darwitz: Mark Stockwell/The Associated Press and provided by the University of Minnesota)

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