With the 2018-19 CWHL season heralding a new era of relevance for the league, the Calgary Inferno have made an integral contribution to this empowering time. Complemented by the appearance of Montreal’s scoring sensation, Marie-Philip Poulin on extra-large coffee cups at Tim Horton’s, along with the induction of commissioner Jayna Hefford into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Inferno have enjoyed the historic opportunity of becoming the first team to have their regular season games broadcast on commercial radio.
As the Inferno hosted the new-look Shenzhen KRS Rays on October 21, 2018, emerging victorious in a 5-0 shutout, the contest was broadcast on one of Calgary’s most popular radio stations: Sportsnet The Fan 960 (call sign CFAC). Featuring a broadcast range of 50,000 watts, The Fan holds another unique place in Canadian radio as it is the only station in Canada currently broadcasting on the frequency of 960 kHz.
From the outset, the most redeeming aspect is the major league feeling bestowed upon these tremendous competitors. While it is important to emphasize that many leagues in numerous sports have benefitted from the benefit of exposure through social media, with due deference, there is just another sense of accomplishment that comes with commercial radio.
Taking into account the long history between radio and sports, it is a relationship that still holds significant meaning today. For Canadian fans, multiple generations grew up listening to the legendary voice of Foster Hewitt describing the action on radio, their only access to the game besides newspapers.
Although contests from women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games have been broadcast on radio in years past, the opportunity for the women of the Inferno to gain such treatment signifies an unprecedented standing. One can easily imagine the Inferno’s contests broadcast at an arena where a girls’ tournament is taking place, players listening in between games, mesmerized by the airwaves describing the on-ice heroics.
Emerging with a career high in points during the 2017-18 season, Erica Kromm is certainly a role model for so many youth players in Southern Alberta. Having served admirably in the role of team captain during said season, it was also a season that saw players gain compensation for the first time in their careers.
Complemented by the chance to play for a live radio audience this season, it allows Kromm an opportunity to gain an even more profound connection to her hockey heritage. A second generation player, Kromm’s father, Richard competed for the Calgary Flames from 1983-86. The events of the last two seasons have enabled Kromm to attain the well-deserved big league status that her father enjoyed.
Reflecting on this milestone attained, pondering the empowering results, the broadcast deal may serve as the springboard towards even greater milestones in seasons to come,
“Being broadcast on radio gives our team extra visibility within Calgary. Any media support we can get helps us in the long run. There is potential, in this situation, to definitely grow our fan base through a different avenue.
The most important aspect of this deal for our team is access to a different fan base... those who listen to the radio more than (those who) go on Instagram or Twitter.”
Signifying the first time that a CWHL regular season contest was broadcast on radio, it marks a bold step forward in the league’s evolution, while serving to enhance the Inferno’s place in Calgary’s sporting conversation. Comprising the broadcast team are play-by-play announcer Sandra Prusina, along with former Inferno great and Clarkson Cup champion Jenna Cunningham as the colour analyst.
This remarkable milestone in Canadian sporting broadcast history is one that is destined to solidify the Inferno’s footprint in both, Southern Alberta and Western Canadian sports. Certainly, the chance to make history is one not lost on Prusina, a lifelong resident of Calgary.
“Truly, it is an honour. The outpouring of support is overwhelming. I am thrilled Calgary is the first market to take the plunge into women's hockey coverage. Calgary is a wonderful city with such a love for the sport at all levels.
To the Max Bell Arena being packed every Christmas to watch the Mac's Midget Tournament, to the Calgary Hitmen, and of course, the Calgary Flames, this city lives and breathes the sport. The addition of the Inferno brings everything full circle.
I think what is most special about this endeavor is that we have a chance to bring these players into the homes of Calgarians on a regular basis. Rather than just every four years at the Olympics or the token international tournament, the sport, CWHL, Inferno and players will get the recognition they deserve.
It is a world-class league with representation from across the globe, with plenty of homegrown talent. That's something to be celebrated. As a born and raised Calgarian, being a part of this means more than I can say.”
Undoubtedly, the broadcast deal has also added to Kristen Hagg’s body of work as the Inferno’s General Manager. A longtime competitor with the franchise who enjoyed the jubilation of the Clarkson Cup victory in 2016, the seamless transition to the front office is only enhanced by the feeling of achievement and victory that has emanated from this watershed moment.
Simultaneously, Hagg’s involvement in bringing a new element of relevance has also enhanced the legacy of the Inferno’s General Managers in professional hockey lore. Having inherited the General Manager duties from Chantal Champagne, who assembled the Clarkson Cup championship team, Hagg belongs to an amazing group of incredible women that have served in such a capacity, whose lineage begins with legendary hockey advocate Samantha Holmes.
From Holmes building up the franchise, helping bridge her earlier work as founder of the Strathmore Rockies, to the admirable work of Champagne in constructing a Cup champion, Hagg has now elevated the relevance of the Inferno to unprecedented heights, contributing her own legacy to the GM position, simultaneously enhancing the feeling of family that has defined her journey with the franchise.
“I am very proud to be a member of the Inferno and the CWHL. It feels pretty special to be a part of such an important milestone, particularly with a group that has grown to mean so much to me.”
Having been with the club since its earliest years, when it had the nomenclature of Team Alberta, Jenna Cunningham’s journey holds several unique parallels to Hagg. Akin to her former teammate, she also enjoyed an empowering transition following her playing career, one which also involved a Clarkson Cup victory.
Possessing a very proud and distinguished legacy with the franchise, retiring as its all-time scoring leader, the path to the broadcast booth may have been unforeseen, but its impact has been given much more bearing with Cunningham’s presence. Highly articulate, Cunningham first made her mark with the Inferno’s online broadcast team. Finding a new outlet, while gaining accolades and popularity with fans, her vocalizations clearly indicate a continued enthusiasm for the game,
“I could not be more excited about partnering with the Fan 960. When I retired almost three years ago, colour commentating was not even on my radar. So, to now be going into my third year as a colour commentator is pretty special. It is exciting to still be a part of the Inferno and celebrate new milestones.”
Having proven to be an ideal choice to work alongside Prusina, their strong on-air chemistry has translated into an auditory delight. Providing a compelling insight into the game, weaving a narrative that transports listeners into a fascinating dimension where the greats of the female game are transformed into on-ice icons.
As fans throughout the province suddenly enjoy the luxury of gaining a new access to their team, it is a privilege that provides Cunningham with a strong sense of gratification. Most proud to be part of another amazing milestone for the franchise, Cunningham’s background as a player provides a keen insight, sharing experiences that have transformed her into a remarkable storyteller, but it also translates into a passion for the game that comes across to the listeners, augmenting conversation and interest.
“I enjoy talking hockey the most when it comes to broadcasting. I love getting to tell some of the players' stories and talk about their amazing careers. Sandra and I have also developed a great working relationship and love to call the games together. Each season we learn a little bit more and get a little bit better and we are at a place now where we feel really comfortable feeding off each other, which is important when broadcasting.”
Although the broadcast schedule for this season shall only include four regular season games, weekly content is poised to satisfy Inferno enthusiasts. As Prusina explains, a unique program will complement a landmark season regarding the Inferno’s media presence. Hosting a weekly show on Saturday afternoons, another strong indication of The Fan 960’s commitment to the female game, such a forum is poised to shed light on the player’s careers, simultaneously displaying a warm, human side, while providing a fascinating access,
“'Inside the Inferno' is a 30-minute magazine-style program, telling the stories of the Calgary players, coaches, front office and alumni. This year's roster, in particular, is fascinating with a new coach in Shannon Miller, major changes between the pipes, the Olympians have returned, there are a number of new American faces—there's just so much ground to cover. Each player's journey is unique and inspiring. Let's share them.”
Perhaps no player has enjoyed a journey in team lore such as Laura Dostaler. The longest serving member of the Team Alberta/Inferno franchise, she brings about a durability and an ethereal serenity to the rink, representing the heartbeat of a franchise.
Having worked tirelessly and stoically in the on-ice battles to keep the Inferno among the league’s upper echelon, while serving as an ambassador for both team and brand, Dostaler is an athlete who remains an integral component of the Inferno’s culture. Upon discovery of the broadcast deal, recognizing the impact of the reach and scope of radio in terms of allowing kinship to remain informed and entertained, it fueled her eagerness for the season to begin,
“Super excited! It is a huge step forward and it is awesome for friends and family to have something to tune in to. Prior years my family has sat in front of the computer hitting refresh on the scoreboard to see if anything happened!
So, it will be great to have something to tune into as well as help grow our fan base by allowing people to follow games they cannot make it to.”
Considering that Dostaler’s career, like so many others, teammate and rival alike, has run parallel to the development of the league, her observations reflect the bigger picture. In discussing whether the broadcast deal brings even more relevance for the Inferno, she is quick to point out that every success in the league represents a shared victory, all essential towards developing a more prosperous future,
“Definitely, every year I see the growth of the league and the team. We have a great product, fast games and amazing talent and we just have to get that out to fans and potential fans.
One day women will be paid full time to play hockey and that is when we will see an amazing jump in talent across the country. Yet, to do that, we need to grow our fan base. You cannot have one without the other! So this is a great step forward.”
Such sentiment is also shared by Hagg, emphasizing the club’s clandestine status. While Calgary is one of Canada’s great sporting cities, boasting victory in the Grey Cup, the Stanley Cup, along with the National Lacrosse League championship, the last decade has seen a very important contribution on the part of elite female athletes, adding to its championship lore.
In addition to the Inferno capturing a Clarkson Cup title, the University of Calgary Dinosaurs (featuring Hayley Wickenheiser and Iya Gavrilova) ice hockey team earned the Golden Path Trophy, while the last two years has seen rosters from Calgary win the CBHA National Ball Hockey Championship. Along with the Calgary Rage capturing the Western Conference title in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, the women of Calgary sport have definitely taken on the persona of role models, unified towards positively shaping the city’s sporting future.
Undeniably, the media exposure from the Fan 960, serves as a crucial component towards gaining a more mainstream appreciation. Such commendable athletes are not only worthy of a greater status; they are equally integral to the city’s sterling sports reputation.
“While we have some dedicated fans, we are still Calgary’s best kept secret. People do not even know we exist let alone know much about our players.
Being on mainstream media brings our game and our players to a wider audience and gives our game more legitimacy in the eyes of the general population.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Game action photos by Dave Holland
Image of Kristen Hagg obtained from: http://calgary.thecwhl.com/roster
Image of Jenna Cunningham and Sandra Prusina obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/sportsnet960/
Acknowledgements: Tammy Schwass
Remaining schedule for regular season games broadcast on the Fan 960 are as follows:
December 1: vs. Markham Thunder
December 16: vs. Toronto Furies
February 10: vs. Worcester Blades