Members of the Calgary Inferno — who last month won the Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship — say they’re shocked and devastated by league’s sudden closure but remain optimistic that professional women’s hockey will re-emerge in the city and across the country.
The league announced plans on Sunday to cease operations, effective May 1.
The abrupt announcement left players and team staff without a gig for next season, and fans wondering where they’ll watch their favourite athletes in the future.
“It was definitely not at all what we expected to hear, just a week after the championship game,” said Dakota Woodworth, an Inferno forward.
“It’s devastating news. I can’t really sugar-coat it.”
The team’s general manager, Kristen Hagg, said the league’s decision to cease operations came as a complete surprise to her.
It seemed like “business as usual” as recently as last week, she said, when the Inferno were playing for the Clarkson Cup, the league’s championship trophy.
“We were having meetings at the Clarkson Cup about moving things forward and the next season,” she said.
Zoe Hickel scored a pair of goals as the Calgary Inferno claimed their 2nd Clarkson Cup title in franchise history, beating Les Canadiennes de Montreal 5-2. 1:26
Despite the setback, Hagg said she and others in the sport remain committed to keeping it alive in the city.
“We continue to believe in the existence of women’s hockey in Calgary,” she said.
“It’s a great hockey market and we know, under the right circumstances, we can run a successful franchise here.”
Despite a recent surge of popularity, the league said its business model was “economically unsustainable” and it wouldn’t last for a 13th season.
The league owns the teams and only started paying players during the 2017-18 season, from a total budget of roughly $ 3.7 million.
The 12-year-old CWHL had teams in North America and China this past season but struggled financially.
Popularity had been increasing over the years, with the recent championship game in Toronto drawing a record-setting 175,000 viewers.
Still ‘extremely optimistic’
“I’m extremely optimistic that there will be professional women’s hockey in Canada, come the fall,” Inferno assistant coach Becky McGee said.
“Women’s hockey has had an incredible year, with higher exposure rates than ever, and there’s a committed group of athletes, staff and people beyond that who want to see hockey on the female side played at its highest level.”
Aside from the Inferno in Calgary, the CWHL also had teams in Toronto, Laval, Que., Markham Ont., Worcester, Mass., and Shenzhen, China.
Calgary Inferno’s Blayre Turnbull hoists the trophy after her team beat Les Canadiennes de Montreal 5-2 to win the 2019 Clarkson Cup on Sunday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
Woodworth, who is also a representative on the CWHL Players Association, said many players whom she’s spoken with want to stay in Canada and help build a successor to the league, and she’s “really confident” something can be sorted out by next season.
“I think we can get something done, just because we have to. There has to be professional hockey up here. There has to be professional hockey in Calgary, and there has to be professional hockey in Canada,” she said.
“No one is rushing off to go sign contracts anywhere else … there’s too many good players for everyone to disperse and go other places. Logistically, I don’t know how that works … but just as a player who’s been in the league for three years, I know that it has to happen. It will happen because it has to.”
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