‘Girls can’t be what they can’t see’: The push for a women’s pro hockey league

Callie Lane
Story by Callie Lane and CBC Kids News • Published 2020-03-06 09:47

Future for aspiring female professional hockey players still unknown

When Bailey Bram was a kid, she dreamed of playing pro hockey.

“I thought I was going to be the first girl to play in the NHL,” she told CBC Kids News.

She didn’t see any other options for young girls.

Believe it or not, that was almost 20 years ago, and young female players like Bram still have few opportunities when it comes to a career in hockey today.

Despite this, Bram has found a way to carve out a career doing what she loves, by playing for Team Canada and winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea.

a hockey player and a goalie on the ice

Bailey Bram, right, celebrates with goalie Shannon Szabados after beating Russia 5-0 at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

She also played five seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL).

But last year, the league closed its doors leaving, once again, few options for women hockey players.

“My heart broke,” she said when she heard the news.

Bram herself had taken a year off from playing, but still had a lot of friends in the league.

“I was like, what is going to happen? Where are they going to go?” she said.

Women hockey players earned very little

Julia Bird, 16, plays hockey for the U18 AAA league in Manitoba.

She said girls should have the same options as boys.

“We’re all just playing the game that we love and there should be the same opportunities [for boys and girls],” she said.

a young female hockey player on the ice

Julia Bird, 16, hopes to see a professional women’s hockey league that she can aspire to join. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

And for the most part, it comes down to money: the league didn’t make enough cash to justify its existence.

Bailey Bram explains why women’s hockey is struggling in Canada:

At the start, players didn’t earn any money at all.

Once teams in China joined the league (along with teams in Canada and the U.S.), the organization had more money.

Still, salaries were so low — between $2,000 and $10,000 a year — the players had to have other jobs and work their hockey schedules around those jobs.

Why didn’t the CWHL make money?

If people don’t buy tickets and go to games, the league can’t make money.

That’s what happened here, in addition to limited corporate sponsorship and low merchandise sales.

Members of the Markham Thunder celebrate their overtime victory over Kunlun Red Star to win the top award in the CWHL, the Clarkson Cup, in 2018. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

But Bram said that if there was more promotion, there would be more fans.

“Little girls can't be what they can't see,” she said.

Julia agreed that women’s hockey needs more attention.

“I think that it could potentially reach the level of boys’ hockey,” she said. “But I feel like it would need a lot more media attention.”

‘They’re all stars’

Professional women hockey players were turning heads at the NHL All-Star Game in January.

An intensely competitive 3-on-3 game between the best U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey stars was one of the highlights of the weekend.

A woman hockey player chases another women who has the puck

Marie-Philip Poulin of the Canadian All-Stars, right, battles with Alex Carpenter of the American All-Stars during Elite Women’s 3-on-3 action at the 2020 NHL All-Star weekend. (Scott Rovak/NHL via Getty Images)

“It turned so many heads and people were like, oh my goodness the women can actually play,” said Bram. “They're talented. They're all stars.”

There’s also the Dream Gap Tour, in which some of the brightest stars in women’s hockey have been playing in tournaments in Canada and the U.S. to bring attention to their cause and shine a spotlight on their talent.

The hope is that this buzz is starting to have an impact as women continue their fight for what they’re after.

women hockey players stand on the ice in a row with their sticks in the air.

  Canada women’s hockey team celebrates winning the semi-final match against Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)

Last May, a group of players banded together and said they won’t play in another pro league until they “get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”

Bram said she supports those women and their mission.

“It might be a sacrifice for them right now,” she said, but it will be worth it.

“Little girls are going to benefit from the stance that they're taking,” she said.

Check out Callie Lane's report here:

Want to watch Canadian stars such as Marie-Philip Poulin, Rebecca Johnston, Sarah Nurse and Ann-Renee Desbiens in action? The Arizona stop of the ‘Dream Gap Tour’ will be streamed for free at cbcsports.ca and the CBC Sports app this weekend. The first game kicks off on Friday, Mar. 6 at 9:30 p.m. ET. The puck drops for game two on Saturday, Mar. 7 at 5 p.m. ET.

About the Contributor

Callie Lane
Callie Lane
CBC Kids News Contributor
Callie Lane lives in Winnipeg, Man. where she stays active in several sports. Callie keeps herself busy playing volleyball and hockey in the cold winter months. In the summer she enjoys the outdoors and playing softball. On her downtime the 13-year-old is involved with local film, print and tv commercials. This energetic teenager has a knack for being creative. Callie is excited to be part of the CBC Kids News team. She believes providing local news stories to her community is key to staying informed.

Was this story worth reading?