Montreal

'Not the end of women's hockey in Canada': Montreal coach optimistic after CWHL collapse

News that the Canadian Women's Hockey League is shuttering come May 1 came as quite the shock to many within the league and Montreal was no exception.

Danièle Sauvageau says time has come to consolidate professional leagues

Members of Les Canadiennes de Montreal pose for photos with the Clarkson Cup during a news conference in March 2017. Two years later and they lost that cup and their league. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Though players with Les Canadiennes de Montréal were downcast Sunday after learning their league will be folding, at least one leading figure in women's hockey believes it will bring much-needed change to the professional game.

"No, this is not the end of women's hockey in Canada," said Danièle Sauvageau, a former coach of the Canadian national women's team and an associate coach of Les Canadiennes.

"On the contrary, I think it will make way for something that will be more in keeping with the current context of women's hockey."

On Sunday, the Canadian Women's Hockey League abruptly announced it will be shuttering on May 1. The news came as a shock to many players. 

"We learned it at the same time as everyone this morning," said Les Canadiennes forward Karell Émard. 

"We ask that the media, the people and our fans understand that the players will take a step back to reflect on a plan of action for the near future. The movement continues, we will need the support of all."

Caroline Ouellette, left, and Marie-Philip Poulin show off their Les Canadiennes jerseys in Montreal. Poulin was among those tweeting about the league's closure Sunday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Sauvageau, who also founded the women's hockey program at Université de Montréal, said it has been known for some time that change was on the horizon.

The CWHL was founded in 2007, but for the last four years has competed against the U.S.-based National Women's Hockey League.

Both fans and those involved with the sport questioned the need for two separate female hockey leagues, Sauvageau said.

"If there was only one league and we could attract international players, it would be extraordinary," she said. "And I think it is toward this model that we must put our energies more now."

The CWHL's players' association took to Twitter soon after the news broke, saying  "it is our job to ensure our players' futures and we intend on doing so." The group is asking for everybody to remain patient as it wades into the issue.

As for the local team, members of Les Canadiennes de Montréal have remained relatively quiet on social media. CBC News has learned they've been instructed not to give interviews.

Regardless, a few have shared the same tweet at various times today.

"This morning we were informed the #CWHL is folding," the tweet reads. "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."

With files from Radio-Canada

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