Ryleigh Houston an emerging star as PWHPA Dream Gap Tour hits Chicago

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s (PWHPA) nationwide showcase continues this Saturday as Team Minnesota takes on Team New Hampshire from United Center in Chicago. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app. You can stream the game by clicking here.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has some of the biggest names in the women’s hockey world. Many of those names have been recognizable for years, or are emerging stars, like Abby Roque or Jincy Dunne or Savannah Harmon, getting big recognition.

Ryleigh Houston is entering that young star conversation.

One of the few Canadians on the tour in the United States, Houston picked up a goal and two assists in for Minnesota over the two game weekend in New Jersey and then at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Houston played primarily alongside Sophia Shaver and at times, centered by Roque, who had arguably the best showing of any player over the weekend. They played off each other well, and saw their stars rise in the process.

Houston’s performance is independent of Roque though, too; before joining the PWHPA, Houston was emerging with Minnesota Duluth, and before that, the Canadian U18 team.

She likely won’t be a part of the Olympic squad in Beijing next season, but she’s on the radar as a player who could grow into a bigger role if she gets consistent, high quality games. If the PWHPA expands its schedule this tour and beyond, it could be a great opportunity for her to prove herself against and alongside some of the best players in the world.

[COVERAGE BEGINS SATURDAY, 3 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Working with Roque has certainly helped her too, though, and other veteran players who are guiding her in things such as zone entries, allowing Houston more room to produce straight offense.

Houston’s path to pro hockey wasn’t easy; she was one of the last members of the North Dakota women’s hockey team before they cut the program, and she transferred to Minnesota Duluth, which slowed her offensive pace for her sophomore season.

She would have been their top returning scorer, but instead slowed down in her second full collegiate season before rebounding as a junior with 20 points.

Houston never matched her 26-point production from her freshman season again. It seems, though, playing with some elite players in the PWHPA has set her on a path forward.

One of the appeals of the PWHPA for audiences is seeing some of the big names like Hilary Knight or Brianna Decker, but the young stars and future of the sport — including Houston’s former college teammate, Sydney Brodt — have carried the show as well. Houston seems like a name to keep an eye on long-term, especially for a Canadian national team that’s going to have to shift towards younger players sooner rather than later.

There’s a lot to be excited about when the Dream Gap Tour hits Chicago on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but those interested in the future stars especially have a lot to look forward to. Roque and co represent some of the best the United States have to offer, and Houston is raising her clout as a Canadian prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Kate Scott, A.J. Mleczko and Kathryn Tappen led last year’s broadcast and will anchor coverage of Saturday’s game. Kendall Coyne Schofield – who was also a member of last year’s NBCSN broadcast team – will play in the Chicago showcase and will be mic’d up for the game. Sports icon and social activist Billie Jean King will narrate the opening tease for Saturday’s coverage leading into the game.

On Her Turf, NBC Sports’ Female Empowerment brand, will present game coverage on NBCSN and will be integrated into the broadcast through graphics packages, as well as through cross-platform tactics including shoulder programming through social and digital and real-time coverage of the game.

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Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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