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Darwitz out as GM of Minnesota's PWHL team

Frederick Breedon / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Natalie Darwitz is no longer Minnesota's general manager, the PWHL announced Saturday, just over a week after the team won the inaugural Walter Cup championship.

PWHL vice president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford addressed the surprise firing, saying it became clear that "a change needed to be made" after reviewing the professionalism of all six teams.

"For organizations to be successful, operations need to run relatively smoothly," she said, according to The Athletic's Hailey Salvian. "The high standards of this league need to exist. And as a leader, often those things fall on you.

"There's a lot of things we looked at. Over the course of these reviews and the work we did throughout the season, it just became very clear from different parties that this wasn't going to be able to move forward as it stood."

Darwitz addressed her firing Sunday.

"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," she said, according to The Athletic's Michael Russo. "My goal was to grow the game of women's hockey and to show young girls their dream could become a reality.

"I am very proud of the team and organization that was built and the championship we brought home to this great State of Hockey. At this time, I'm not able to provide any details regarding my departure."

Darwitz was informed she wouldn't be back as GM for next season earlier this week. The league offered her other roles as well as the opportunity to release a statement that said she had chosen to depart the organization, according to Salvian and Russo.

The executive clashed with head coach Ken Klee, a source told the Star Tribune's Rachel Blount.

Darwitz hired Klee one week before the season began after the team's original bench boss, Charlie Burggraf, resigned citing family reasons.

Minnesota lost its final five games of the regular season but still made the playoffs as the lowest seed of the four postseason-bound squads. It pulled off an upset in the semifinals, eliminating top-ranked Toronto with a 4-1 victory in the decisive fifth game after losing the first two contests.

On May 29, Minnesota defeated Boston 3-0 in Game 5 of the final to claim the first-ever Walter Cup title.

The PWHL owns and operates all six of its teams. The league hired Darwitz to guide Minnesota last September. As a player, she won two silver medals and a bronze at the Olympics for the United States, along with three golds at the World Championships and two more at the 4 Nations Cup.

The 40-year-old also had a stellar collegiate career for the University of Minnesota. She helped the Golden Gophers win back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005, winning Most Outstanding Player at the Frozen Four in the latter campaign. She also scored the title-winning goal to defeat Harvard in her final game and was later named U.S. Women's Player of the Year.

The second annual PWHL draft is scheduled to be held in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on Monday night. The first-ever PWHL Awards are to be handed out one night later in the same city. The league's statement on Darwitz's departure said Minnesota's coaching staff will make the player selections at the draft.

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