Jayna Hefford said she never thought this moment would come.

"I grew up as one of a very few girls playing the game, I had opportunity to compete for Canada for 17 years and compete in five Olympic games, but never did I dream of something like this," she said.

The this she is referring to is the Professional Women's Hockey League, which was announced Tuesday.

The PWHL will launch in January with teams in six North American cities: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, New York, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minnesota).

"I dreamt of what I could see, which was the NHL," Hefford said. "So to have something like this today that we're launching is something that's so significant for our sport and I know that many women (that came) before me have dreamed of something like this."

Jayna Hefford discusses the new PWHL

Hefford, who won gold in four Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and silver in another (1998), and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, is the league's senior vice president of hockey operations.

"The journey to get us here has been long, it's been twisted, it's been empowering. I'm not sure success comes in a straight line, so I think we're all excited to move forward together."

The PWHL is supported financially by Mark and Kimbra Walter, who own the Los Angeles Dodgers. Its Board of Directors includes women's tennis legend Billie Jean King, sports executive Ilana Kloss, Dodgers president Stan Kasten and Dodgers senior vice president of business strategy Royce Cohen.

"The National Hockey League congratulates the Professional Women's Hockey League on today's announcements," the NHL said in a statement. "We remain committed to supporting the women's game and look forward to working together with the PWHL to grow our sport."

Stan Kasten discusses January 2024 launch of PWHL

As Kasten said, it was "serendipitous" that the PWHL was announced one day after the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open tennis tournament becoming the first sporting event to offer equal prize money to female and male competitors. King organized women players to threaten a boycott of the 1972 tournament unless women got the same pay as men.

"Like everything she's done in life and been successful with, I can tell you she has brought that same energy to this project," Kasten said of King. "She is our spiritual leader. All of us who have been involved have had the benefit of her guidance and her pressure to get this done and to make it right."

On Friday, general managers for the six franchises were named: Danielle Marmer in Boston, Natalie Darwitz in Minnesota, Daniele Sauvageau in Montreal, Pascal Daoust in New York, Michael Hirshfeld in Ottawa and Gina Kingsbury in Toronto.

The league will hold a 10-day free agency period beginning Sept. 1. The inaugural PWHL Draft will be held Sept. 18.

The order of selection in the draft was announced Friday; Minnesota holds the No. 1 pick in the first round, followed by Toronto, Boston, New York, Ottawa and Montreal.

The draft will consist of 15 rounds and 90 picks using a snake format; once a round is completed, the following round will be held with the teams picking in reverse order of the previous round.

The lottery to determine the draft order was held using a computerized list randomizer during a video conference call with all six GMs. Teams had equal odds of securing the top pick.

Each team is allowed to have 20 players under contract when training camps open in November.

Tuesday was an emotional day for all involved, including Brian Burke, who was named executive director of the PWHL Players' Association. He's mindful of the struggles women's teams have endured.

"I've watched players borrow tape and borrow laces when the teams playing had no resources at all," said Burke, a former general manager for the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs, and president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins. "I watched a Calgary Inferno (Canadian Women's Hockey League) game, and I watched players passing around a roll of tape. A roll of tape, for God's sake. So I've seen now the hardships they've gone through, the iterations they've gone through, to get there to play and to put this together.

"I'm so proud to be involved. It was a very emotional moment for me when they offered me the job."

Desbiens on Professional Women's Hockey League

Cale Makar said it was "awesome" to see the creation of the PWHL.

"Now it's solidified," the Colorado Avalanche defenseman said. "You have six places that are very good hockey cities so they should pull well, and it should make it exciting for people that just watch whether it's men's or women's hockey. It's awesome to see."

There's still plenty to be done, from naming teams to creating a logo. But the league Hefford and other women's hockey players have dreamt of has become a reality.

"I'm very excited for the players to be a part of this today," she said. "This is what we've been building toward for some time and they're going to have the opportunity to be part of this special moment. I'm excited for players of my generation, the ones who came before me that put so much into this.

"And I'm equally excited for all the new fans of our game, men and women, boys and girls, who are going to be inspired by the women that go onto the ice in this league. We're going to represent what it means to be strong, to be powerful and to be determined. We're just getting started here." senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report.