Darwitz out as GM of PWHL champion Minnesota

Natalie Darwitz’s tenure is over as general manager of the PWHL champion Minnesota franchise after an internal and external review, vice president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford said Saturday.

Without going into detail on the findings, which included input from players and staff, Hefford called the decision a difficult but eventually necessary one for the betterment of the PWHL.

“The feedback to us was pretty direct and pretty clear that there wasn’t a path forward with the current personnel in place,” Hefford said during a Zoom interview with select members of the media. “It was with the work we did throughout the year, and it was clear that a change needed to be made.”

Hefford said the decision involved more than one person and was part of a yearlong process, after a question about whether a rift escalated over the season between Darwitz and coach Ken Klee.

The decision to part ways with Darwitz is solely the PWHL’s because it operates all six franchises and employs the staff and coaches.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed a report by The Athletic of a rift between Darwitz and Klee, adding that team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield had sided with the coach. The person also said members of the PWHL’s human resources department met with Minnesota players last month regarding Darwitz’s managing style.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the league did not reveal those details.

Klee declined to comment in a text to the AP. He will continue his role as coach, and he will serve as interim GM in overseeing Minnesota’s selections in the draft Monday.

The decision to remove Darwitz is stunning in both timing and significance after the completion of the PWHL’s first season.

Darwitz assembled the team that won the PWHL’s first championship with a 3-0 win over Boston in a decisive Game 5 on May 29. Minnesota reached the final by rallying from a 2-0 first-round series deficit to beat regular-season champion Toronto in a best-of-five playoff semifinal. Darwitz’s dismissal also comes days before Minnesota hosts the PWHL’s second draft Monday.

Darwitz, 40, is one of the more recognized faces of Minnesota hockey. From St. Paul, she’s a three-time U.S. Olympian, is a three-time world champion, and was part of a University of Minnesota team that won consecutive NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005.

This year, she was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation’s hall of fame.

“We completely recognize the iconic status of Natalie Darwitz in the state of Minnesota. Her incredible contributions, to the PWHL, to building a championship team,” Hefford said. “And this is certainly not something that we could have foreseen happening or wanted to happen. But it has led to us and Natalie parting ways.”

Klee is a former NHL defenseman who had experience coaching U.S. national women’s teams. He took over as Minnesota coach in late December to replace Charlie Burggraf, who stepped down citing family reasons.

Klee had previously been a finalist for a PWHL coaching and a PWHL GM position.

Darwitz was hired in September and signed a one-year contract, which was standard for each of the centralized league’s six GMs and coaches. She then stocked her lineup with a distinct local flavor representative of Minnesota’s hockey-rich roots.

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