TORONTO – For the second time in as many years, Mikyla Grant-Mentis has made history.
Back in the spring of 2021, a Brampton, Ontario native was busy stocking up on trophies. A dominant debut with Toronto’s sixth team from the First Hockey League earned her the MVP title, as Grant Mintes became the first black player in league history to reach that lofty peak.
Now, the 23-year-old is seeing the rewards of appearing on the ice – earlier this month Grant-Mentis put pen to paper in a historic one-year $80,000 deal with Buffalo Beauts, making her the highest-paid player In the history of the women’s game.
News of the deal created quite a stir throughout the hockey world, and the agreement became a new standard for elite talent in the PHF and beyond. But for Grant Mintes herself, the weight of the moment surprised her.
“I don’t think I really knew all of this would come of it. I honestly had no idea when I was signing,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. In fact, Grant-Mentis didn’t learn the historical significance of her new deal until everyone knew, when it was reported About the terms of the contract for the first time on social media.
“Someone posted it on Twitter and that was when I found out. Oh my god, I didn’t know that,” she said with a chuckle, “to be honest.” It kind of exploded after that. And then when Buffalo announced it, it just got even crazier.”
The deal came with the opening of a free agency in early May. The Beauts jumped into the competition, delivering Grant-Mentis early and with an undeniable display, bent on securing the best player.
“Buffalo was the first to call my agent at the time, and it was kind of something I couldn’t miss,” she says. “The show was too good to be true. You know, I just thought I’d have to leave Toronto, leave my whole family behind and go to Buffalo. But it was too good to pass up.”
Dollars aside, the decision was still tough given the opportunity her two years in Toronto presented her. Talk to anyone who’s ever spent time around Grant-Mentis and you’ll hear about the boundless passion of her family, who pack an entire cheering department for six home games, and who cherish the chance to see her take the snowman home four years later in North Andover, Massachusetts, appropriate for Merrimack College.
“I was really torn between the two teams,” she says of the decision to switch from the Six. “Toronto was a great place to play. It was my dream to play in my hometown again. … I’ve accomplished so much here, the team has accomplished so much. It is definitely an experience I will never forget.”
In the end, it was the support of her family, friends, and teammates that drove her to take the step and sign up with Buffalo, and it’s the amount of opportunity that made a new chapter worth the adventure.
But a shirt exchange is more of a full-circuit journey than a move into unfamiliar territory. It was the Beauts who gave Grant-Mentis her first chance as a professional in early 2020, when she was still wrapping up her college career – a whirlwind of a few weeks that saw the young striker spend weekends driving and flying to Buffalo and the cities the club was playing in, before returning to the North Andover in time for class on Monday.
Now, she will return to Buffalo as the face of the franchise.
“You know, that’s kind of cool about it,” she says. “My career started in Buffalo and I didn’t get paid at all because I got out of college and I couldn’t. Now I’m the highest paid player in the league.
“It’s kind of surreal to think that, in just four years, that was possible.”
Of course, this turnaround is bound to bring stress unlike what Grant-Mentis faced in her young career, where this landmark deal brought a certain weight of expectation.
But she says she sees more of an opportunity than anything else. An opportunity to focus on her craft more than ever.
“I won’t have to work anymore,” she says. Those familiar with the schedule that the young phenom kept last season will understand. Grant-Mentis’ showings for 2021-22 came amid a grueling weekly routine: 5 a.m. FedEx shifts, team practices, multiple workouts each week with his teammates, and even more pre-workouts. these Workouts with her personal trainer.
Moving forward, all of her energy and all of her focus can be directed towards her game.
“I will be able to put more time into hockey and exercise and take care of my body. I think it will be easier for me to do that money,” she says. “And I hope everyone gets that opportunity, where they don’t have to work, they can just play hockey.”
It’s an important moment not only for Grant-Mentis, but for all who came before it, and those who will come after it. It’s an important moment for her family, for mom Sandra and dad James, whose dedication to their daughter’s career is endless – and who have seen her transcend and look past from the start.
Everyone used to go out to watch everyone else,” James said when we spoke earlier this year, reflecting on his youngest daughter’s days on the ice. “But she continues to work hard and sets the numbers and does things to be positive. They can’t keep me frustrated forever,” she says.
Sandra said of seeing this trend continue even as her daughter made a splash of professionalism, but she didn’t get much attention from the national show: “I’ve been so disappointed. Because this is something you work so hard for, you know? You’re doing this extra, special extras.” Bey, you do all these things, and you still don’t get recognized.”
Grant-Mentis’ greatness is now being recognized, for sure – this historic decade is proof enough of the fact that she has made herself undeniable. But no matter what happens next, and what this moment means in the grand scheme of her journey, it doesn’t change the mindset that got her here.
“I’ve basically been overlooked throughout my career,” she says. “And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if people still don’t see me, or they still look at me, just because, you know, I don’t have Team Canada. [experience]I didn’t have a Wisconsin school behind me and things like that.
“But at this point, I’m playing for myself and my teammates, and I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m the best hockey player. And making sure I’m giving my best for the team I’m playing for.”
Whether national program decision-makers appreciate what the new Grant-Mentis deal says about its potential and place in the game, one thing is clear – others have taken notice across the sport.
According to Sportsnet fellow Jeff Marek, several players from the Professional Hockey League have reached out to PHF teams about opportunities to join the league in the future after learning about news of the new Grant-Mentis agreement.
She says they are all working to bridge that gap in any way they can.
“This is really cool,” says Grant Mintis. “I think what everyone wants is just to be one, a strong women’s hockey league. We can all play, just live by playing hockey, and not have to worry about anything else. Hopefully this deal has moved some people. And maybe, in The next year or two, we are all just one, and we can continue from there.”
For now, her focus is on preparing for the 2022-23 season, and on turning the page and starting a new chapter at Buffalo. But as has always been the case with Grant-Mentis, she still keeps an eye on that bigger picture, hoping that the work she’s doing now may propel her sport forward when all is said and done.
Not many people will be able to do that, and I’m glad I’m the first to have it. But there is a lot more that we have to do, to make sure that this is a minimum,” she says. “This is not talked about anymore, because we are all making way more than this.
“So, I mean, I feel good. But there is still a lot of work that women’s hockey has to do to make sure everyone does the same.”