CWHL and the NWHL

A weekly sports column from the 100 Mile Free Press

It’s funny. Before this weekend I was thinking of writing this column on when B.C. could get a professional women’s hockey team. With a team in Calgary and two teams in China in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (one team was disbanded at the end of the 2017-18 season), it seemed somewhat possible in the near future.

The Calgary Inferno, the most recent champion of the CWHL, is the most westerly team on Canadian soil in the league with nothing between them and Ontario.

The National Women’s Hockey League doesn’t have much of a westerly presence either, with the Minnesota Whitecaps being their furthest from the rest of the league’s teams on the east coast.

However, during my research, I found out there actually was a women’s hockey team based in B.C. from 2004-09 called the British Columbia Breakers that played in the Western Women’s Hockey League. The team based out of Langley folded in 2009, due to financial costs. The league itself would cease to exist.

The Breakers were terrible. They failed to register a single win in three of their seasons.

Regardless, the thought that the Breakers or another team in B.C. will return to women’s professional hockey seems further away than it did before March 31.

Just only days after the Calgary Inferno raised the Clarkson Cup, the CWHL folded citing their business model is “economically unsustainable.” It was abrupt, to say the least.

The CWHL is regarded to be the premier hockey league in women’s hockey, even though it only started doling out professional contracts in 2017-18. The NWHL has always been a professional league, but when the CWHL started paying a lot of Canadian and American Olympians joined the league.

Of course, there was an outcry on social media about the league’s decision to fold. Players and staff are suddenly out of a job, with limited positions in professional women’s hockey on the continent available.

Dani Rylan, the commissioner of the NWHL, said the league will pursue Canada’s best players but the major picture everyone should take note of is what will happen in terms of the NHL’s relationship with women’s hockey.

It’s no secret that both the NWHL and CWHL have been in discussions with the NHL in hopes of support and sponsorship for the women’s game. They were also in talks among themselves about a possible merger, with a scheduled meet this month (which is obviously not going to happen now). The NHL has always been in the position that they would only be financially supportive if there was one league.

So is it possible the CWHL sacrificed itself to make it possible? Maybe, but at a major cost.

It’s very possible there will be no professional women’s hockey in Canada for the 2019-20 season. Some of the big names will be in the NWHL, others will be in Europe. Rylan has already spoken about potential expansion next fall.

As the CWHL’s folding is a complete shutdown, it’s hard to say if any of the Canadian teams will be allowed to join the NWHL. China is extremely doubtful, while the Worchester Blades are also unlikely to be represented in the league, due to a franchise already in the Boston-area (Boston Pride).

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