Ottawa

Interim CWHL commissioner defends decision to fold league

It was an "incredibly difficult decision" to shut down the Canadian Women's Hockey League, according to the league's interim commissioner — but it was also the only responsible way forward.

'There's got to be something better for the players out there,' Jayna Hefford says

The Calgary Inferno hoisted the Clarkson Cup in March as the winners of the Canadian Women's Hockey League. The league recently announced it would be folding May 1. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

It was an "incredibly difficult decision" to shut down the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), according to the league's interim commissioner — but it was also the only responsible way forward.

In a news release issued over the weekend, the league, which was formed in 2007, announced it will shut down May 1 because its business model "has proven to be economically unsustainable."

Sami Jo Small, one of the co-founders of the CWHL and general manager of the Toronto Furies, said the league's GMs could have tried to help keep things going if they'd known the league was in trouble.

"During this entire season I was never asked once to bring in more money or spend less money. That's why the confusion — it was just such a blow and a shock when we could have been doing a lot of different things along the way," Small said.

Jayna Hefford, left, the interim commissioner of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, says scaling back operations to keep the league afloat wasn't an option. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

'The players deserve more'

But Jayna Hefford, the CWHL's interim commissioner, dismissed the idea that scaling back would have helped.

"We want the game to grow, and the idea of cutting back on the growth that we've had is not an option.... We believe that the players deserve more, and we think that there's got to be something better for the players out there," Hefford told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.

She hopes organizations step up to make something new work for women's hockey in Canada.

"There's a large number of organizations that have declared their support for women's hockey and expressed a desire to see the sport continue to grow. And out of this, I think our hope is that these organizations will step up in actionable ways to continue to advance the growth."

Shock and heartbreak at news that Canada's women's pro hockey league is shutting down. Now GMs and players want to know why the league couldn't make it work. We ask the interim commissioner. 7:34

Hefford, who played in the CWHL herself, said the league both offered young girls the chance to see women play professional hockey and contributed to the success of Canada's national program.

"It's disappointing, and it's been difficult," she said.

"But at the same time I'm really optimistic about the future and about the possibilities that could come out of this, because our players deserve more than this."

Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson had the Clarkson Cup, which is given out to the top women's hockey club in Canada, made out of silver by Inuit artists in Nunavut. It has been awarded regularly since 2009. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

'They are being very realistic'

For her part, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson — the woman behind the Clarkson Cup, awarded since 2009 to the top women's hockey team in Canada — wasn't surprised by the CWHL's news. 

"The not-for-profit model that the league has been working under just was not functioning. They couldn't get enough money in ... to sustain [operations], and I think they are being very realistic," Clarkson told CBC Radio's All In A Day on Monday.

"I think something will arise out of this, and maybe it just had to collapse like this for something ... to come out of it which will work."

Clarkson had the Clarkson Cup made out of silver by Inuit artists in Nunavut. It was most recently won last month by the Calgary Inferno.

She said the cup will always be there for Canadian women's hockey champions, and that women in Canada deserve the same choices as men when it comes to playing professional hockey.

We check in with the namesake of the league's championship trophy former governor general Adrienne Clarkson. 9:58

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning and All In A Day

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