Women’s Hockey Still Alive: NWHL Expands to Canada After CWHL collapse
Last week, the hockey world was shocked when the CWHL, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, suddenly collapsed and announced their foreclosure. That move left the future of women’s professional hockey in North America in chaos, since many of the world’s best players were left without a team to dress for.
Founded in 2007, the CWHL, is basically one of two women’s professional leagues in North America, and for a long time now many were seeking the two leagues to unite since running two separate leagues, despite their popularity, were not fiscally viable to keep running as they were.
“It was overkill,” says Ken Wong, a marketing professor at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, who told Reuters new agency when first hearing of the collapse. “This is a very limited, not just pool of talent but pool of fans. So to split them up two ways like that made no sense at all.”
With four teams in Canada, one in the United States and another in China, the CWHL was looking to expand the women’s game and benefit from the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympics. The league has a solid base of fans, since they reported only last month that a record 175,000 tuned in to watch its championship game in Toronto, and had a live crowd of nearly 5,000 Calgary beat Montreal for the Clarkson Cup.
The CWHL also had some of the game’s biggest stars, Canadian Marie-Philip Poulin and American Hilary Knight, and reported operating as a viable nonprofit enterprise, but it turned out their business model was economically unstable and ultimately unsustainable. And that’s why it will close its door forever on May 1.
In the wake the shocking announcement, many Canadian players, including two-times Olympic gold medalist Poulin, tweeted and posted on their social media accounts to let fans know their discontent.
“The only thing stronger than the initial shock of the news, was the force felt by every single one of the players immediately coming together,” Poulin’s post read. “We know what we have is not enough. We want to build a better future for ourselves and for generations of women to come. That begins now.”
Now the only professional hockey option for women in North America is the five-team NWHL, National Women’s Hockey League, founded in 2015 and is based solely in the United States and earlier talks about a merger between the CWHL and NWHL now seem like a great idea in the face of the shutdown. The NWHL had encouraging words for fans and players last week when NWHL Founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan said:
“We will pursue all opportunities to ensure the best players in Canada have a place to play. Those conversations have started already and have quickly become a priority.”
Many hockey experts and pundits have suggested that this situation could have a positive outcome, which would mean a women’s hockey league in North America supported by the NHL, National Hockey League, which could extend its expertise, infrastructure, marketing and branding power to unite the two leagues and sexes.
And they were partially right, as this week, good news prevailed and only day after it’s Canadian counterpart announced it was ceasing operations, the NWHL board has approved expansion to Canada and Toronto and Montreal will get teams for the upcoming season, all the while maintaining its current five United States-based teams. Both these cities had teams in the CWHL so at least a handful of players will still get to strap on the gear and perform.
The Associated Press also reported that NWHL got a financial commitment from the NHL which will make it the league’s biggest financial supporters and investors. Rylan told ESPN that the CWHL collapse basically sped up their reaction and decision on expansion. “Obviously coming off the news of the CWHL ceasing operations for this upcoming season, it was a shock to us, but also an immediate reaction was needed from us to do what we can to provide an opportunity for those players to have a place to play next year,” said Rylan.
“As long as there is a women’s professional league existing and providing professional opportunities to elite women hockey players, we have no intention of weighing into this space,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told media in a press release. “That doesn’t mean we won’t be supportive, but there is no need to take a leading role. Professional opportunities still exist for the best women hockey players.”
So out of the ashes, rises a new opportunity that keeps women’s professional hockey alive in Canada, and despite the struggles, that’s something to be thankful for.
A crazy hockey fan who was tired of all the hegemonic and male-centric views being proliferated in sports news, with almost no media outlets offering an alternative or queer perspective, I decided it was time to prove my love for hockey. So I created a site that was inclusive, and made a space for all voices, where hockey fans despite their background or identity, could enjoy the majestic sport freely, without bias or judgment. And get in a bet or two...