TORONTO – The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is no more.
The CWHL‘s board of directors have decided to discontinue operations as of May 1, 2019, the league has announced.
“Unfortunately, while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable,” the league said in a statement.
The news comes a week after the 12th edition of the Clarkson Cup, and despite putting in place new management led by former Canadian women’s star Jayna Hefford, and a new board last summer and fall.
Dakota Woodworth with the Calgary Inferno forward was shocked when she learned the league was folding in a conference call today.
“It is definitely a hockey city and after just winning the Clarkson Cup — the reception we got from the city this whole week has been incredible. I think it would be a huge loss if there was no women’s hockey here,” she said. “I am fully confident that there will be a team here.”
Although the news is disappointing for players and fans alike, Woodworth feels a sense of optimism moving forward.
“It means that the landscape is certainly going to change and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “We have an opportunity now to chose what comes next for women’s hockey.”
WATCH: Players react as CWHL announces it’s folding
Despite the CWHL’s response that the league had become unsustainable, she pointed to the viewership of their recent Clarkson Cup win as proof of interest in the league.
“We had almost 200,000 people view our Clarkson Cup championship game on TV,” she said. “We had some of our players have extreme success at the NHL Allstar game competition. There is definitely a market — women’s hockey is not going anywhere.”
Woodworth hopes the CWHL’s demise will jumpstart talks of expanding the other pro league — the National Women’s Hockey League.
Wait… what????? https://t.co/9R7dlswu3k
— Tara Slone (@TaraSlone) March 31, 2019
Sandra Prusina, the play-by-play announcer for the Calgary Inferno, said she’s been blindsided.
“I’m shocked, to be honest with you. It was not news that I was expecting to hear on a Sunday morning and I’m still coming to grips with what’s happened because, as you know, Calgary had such a successful season, they won the Clarkson Cup just a week ago,” said Prusina.
“It’s the one week anniversary of Calgary bringing another Clarkson Cup home, their second one in four years. Season-wise, they had statistically the best season they had ever had and the league as a whole was growing with a team based out of Asia and it just seemed like the league itself was on the road to something really special.”
The CWHL was founded in 2007 with a mandate to grow women’s hockey. It had six clubs throughout North America and China.
A record 175,000 fans tuned in to watch last week’s championship game.
Heartbroken at the CWHL news. It hurts knowing how many players, coaches, and fans this will affect. The product in Calgary has been world class. Covering the Inferno is one of the highlights of my career. Please, continue to support women's sport.
— Sandra Prusina (@sprusina) March 31, 2019
“I’m heartbroken at the news of the #CWHL folding,” Calgary Inferno forward Brianne Jenner said on Twitter.
“Hard to process this after our most successful season to date. Thank you to the builders, players, coaches, GMs, fans that made it possible for 12 seasons. We will rebound from this.”
Sami Jo Small, who co-founded the league in 2007, was named general manager of the Toronto Furies last summer.
“I have no idea what this means for the future, but this is heartbreaking,” Small tweeted. “We will work hard to ensure there is still women’s hockey in Toronto.”
Inferno forward Blayre Turnbull and Les Canadiennes de Montreal forward Marie-Philip Poulin posted identical reaction on Twitter:
“This morning we were informed the #CWHL is folding. As players, we will do our best to find a solution so this isn’t our last season of hockey but it’s hard to remain optimistic. #NoLeague.”
The CWHL operates like the MLS in that the league owns the teams.
Former player Jayna Hefford was appointed interim commissioner last year when Brenda Andress stepped down.
The CWHL began paying its players salaries in 2017-18 ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, out of a total budget of $3.7 million.
The addition of two expansion teams in China that season – since amalgamated into one – was believed to have injected hundreds of thousands of dollars into the CWHL.
Awful news. How do we (Canada) fix this? https://t.co/5OXUtqY5Te
— Jason Hampton (@jasonChampton) March 31, 2019
hopefully a merger with the NWHL is in the works!
— Andrew Johnston (@AndrewMJohnston) March 31, 2019
But the CWHL lost a major financial backer in November when longtime supporter Graeme Roustan withdrew the sponsorship of his venture capital firm Roustan Capital.
And the new coach of the Chinese women’s team hinted recently that he hopes the players soon won’t have to travel internationally to develop into better players.
“I think the biggest goal now is to have a league or some competitions here in China where we can play good games,” Jakob Kolliker told China Daily.
“It’s important for the future.”