If you go on social media right now and search CWHL, you’ll see a lot of negativity. You’ll see players who have given their lives to women’s hockey no longer having a home to play. You’ll see dedicated fans losing the teams they’ve given their time, money, and heart to. You’ll see the volunteers, media members, and other staff thanking the CWHL for helping them grow their careers and wondering where they’ll go from here. You’ll see speculation as to what happened and where women’s hockey goes from here. And you’ll also see some positivity.
I’m here to bring you that positivity and reassure you that this is not the end, but merely the beginning of better things for women’s hockey.
I’m here to tell you that while the above is all true and my heart aches for the players and people wondering where their careers and support goes from here, that women’s hockey in Canada is not over. Far from it.
For a long time, I’ve been saying that something in women’s hockey needs to give—a piece needs to fall out of place. On Sunday, when the CWHL announced it would cease operations, that piece finally fell out of place and I wasn’t surprised. Instead, I felt hope. Sound crazy? Hear me out.
The current state of women’s hockey is not healthy. Before Sunday, there were two professional women’s hockey leagues in North America. The #OneLeague movement is nothing new because people have been realizing for some time now that having two leagues competing against each other, watering down the talent pool, and making it difficult for supporters like the NHL to get involved isn’t good for the game. Women’s hockey is still a growing sport. Yes, it’s made leaps and bounds in recent years, but it’s still not where it should be.
Someone, whether it be the NHL or another party willing to put the effort and financial support behind women’s hockey, needs to step in and guide the women’s hockey ship to where it deserves to be, and I believe the folding of the CWHL is a huge step in making this happen.
What led to the CWHL folding?
While players, GMs, and other staff were reportedly blindsided by the folding of the CWHL, there were signs of the league’s impending downfall far before Sunday. What I don’t think those involved realized, though, was just how bad things were getting.
In November of last year, the league’s largest financial contributor and longest serving Board Member, Graeme Roustan of Roustan Capital and Roustan Media pulled his funding for the CWHL. In a letter to the league he stated, “For the refusal to provide details on any money or benefits that Directors personally may have received, I will no longer financially support the CWHL and hereby resign as a Member of the CWHL.”
Roustan wasn’t the first member of the board to leave as big names like Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Brian Burke, Arlene Dickinson, along with six others left in 2018. The league’s inaugural commissioner, Brenda Andress also stepped down in July 2018.
It’s safe to say that something was going awry in the CWHL. Unfortunately, it’s the players, staff, fans, and others involved who are now taking the brunt of the mistakes that were made.
What now for women’s hockey?
I firmly believe that yesterday was not the saddest day for women’s hockey, as some have been referring to it. That’s not to say that it isn’t a sad day and that many people aren’t left wondering what their lives now look like. This is absolutely a heart-breaking time for these people. But there is something better on the horizon.
I don’t believe that that something better is the expansion of the NWHL, not in the big picture anyways. I don’t believe the NHL is going to step in now that there is only one league, as they have said over and over again that they will not step in to a league that is already in place because they don’t believe in the current business models. Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner of the NHL, reiterated this yesterday:
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly’s email to The AP on status of women’s pro hockey after CWHL announces it will fold. pic.twitter.com/4hgy1zDqQq
— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) March 31, 2019
This means that despite everyone’s pleas, the NHL will not be stepping in to help the NWHL. And I don’t blame them. While the NWHL has also worked incredibly hard to bring a solid professional league to women’s hockey, it’s still not cutting it. The attendance records, despite growing, are still not where they should be. The players’ salaries are not where they should be. The exposure of the women’s game is certainly not where it should be. It’s a tough world out there and when you don’t have the necessary resources to build something, it’s going to suffer.
While it would be the ideal situation for the NHL to swoop in and save women’s hockey now, I don’t believe it’s going to go down this way. Something else needs to give before the NHL will step in, unless someone comes along in the meantime to save women’s hockey.
Women’s Hockey Life had the opportunity to speak with former CWHL Board Member Graeme Roustan and he confirmed the following: “Unlike the Board of the CWHL, I’m not quitting on women’s professional hockey.”
Women’s hockey is going to be okay. I know that to be true and in due time we will see the ending of the CWHL as the beginning of modern day women’s hockey: a league that gives the players, staff, and fans what they deserve and what they’ve all been waiting for.
We’ve seen the power of women’s hockey and the incredible players who are dedicated to paving a better future for the next generation. Put your faith in them and the people who believe in women’s hockey, because they aren’t going to back down without a fight. There will be something better for tomorrow’s hockey players.
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