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Out as PWHL Minnesota GM, Natalie Darwitz proud of team she built and ‘championship we brought home’

Natalie Darwitz, who built the PWHL’s first championship team only to be ousted as its general manager last week, said Sunday she is proud of her work as Minnesota’s general manager but declined to comment on the specifics of her dismissal.

“As the General Manager of PWHL Minnesota, I gave my heart and soul to provide a first-class experience to the players, staff and fans,” Darwitz wrote in an email to reporters. “My goal was to grow the game of women’s hockey and to show young girls their dream could become a reality.”

Minnesota won the inaugural Walter Cup, the championship trophy for the six-team league, by clinching a three-game sweep over Boston on May 29. Minnesota ranked second in attendance, averaging 7,138 at Xcel Energy, well over the league average of 5,448.

Darwitz, a high school phenom from Eagan who went on to star for the Gophers and Team USA before turning to coaching at Hamline and her alma mater, was removed as the Minnesota PWHL team’s GM on Thursday. She addressed the team’s supporters in her email, her first public comments on the move.

“I am very proud of the team and organization that was built and the championship we brought home to this great State of Hockey,” Darwitz wrote. “At this time, I am not able to provide any details regarding my departure. Thank you.”

Darwitz, 40, was hired as Minnesota’s first general manager in September and was responsible for drafting the entire roster in the league’s first draft. She used the first-overall pick on Taylor Heise, a Kazmaier Award winner in 2022 when Darwitz was her position coach at the U.

She also pulled the trigger on the PWHL’s first trade, sending forward Susanna Tapani and defender Abby Cook to Boston for blue liner Sophie Jaques, who won the 2023 Patty Kazmaier Award as a senior at Ohio State. Jaques scored twice against her former team in Game 2 of the PWHL finals.

The decision to fire Darwitz was made by PWHL management, which released a statement on Saturday confirming it had “parted ways” with Darwitz.

“We appreciate all that Natalie has done for PWHL Minnesota in the league’s inaugural season and her contributions to the team’s championship success. We wish her the best moving forward,” Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford said.

In a teleconference held with a small group of reporters that did not include a member from the Pioneer Press, Hefford said the league’s decision came after internal and external review that included interviews with Minnesota players and staff.

“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, according to the Associated Press. “It was with the work we did throughout the year, and it was clear that a change needed to be made.”

Some Minnesota players asked to comment on Sunday did not immediately return messages.

“There is no immediate timeline for the naming of the next PWHL Minnesota General Manager,” the PWHL said, but it’s expected that coach Ken Klee — hired later after Darwitz’s original choice, Charlie Burggraf, stepped down before the season started — will remain and add general manager duties.

Remaining Minnesota staff will run the team’s PWHL draft, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Monday at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. Minnesota has the third-overall pick. The draft will stream live on the PWHL’s YouTube channel.