Saskatoon coach not 'overly shocked' at demise of women's hockey league

Saskatoon Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian says professional women's hockey will be "hit or miss" in the future following news that the Canadian Women's Hockey League will be folding on May 1.

Saskatoon Stars coach says the female game is a 'tough product' to market

The coach of a Saskatoon female midget hockey team says the future of professional women's leagues is "hit or miss" with the announcement that the CWHL will be folding May 1. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The head coach of a female hockey team in Saskatoon says he's saddened but not "overly shocked" with the imminent folding of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.

On Sunday, the league announced it would be ceasing operations on May 1 because it was no longer financially sustainable.

They can't make a living off of it like you can on the male side.- Greg Slobodzian, Saskatoon Stars head coach

Greg Slobodzian, head coach of the Saskatoon Stars of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, said running a professional hockey team is not cheap and that it's difficult to get a lot of attention on women's hockey.

"It's really unfortunate because these young athletes they train so so hard and they love the game so much," he said. "They can't make a living off of it like you can on the male side."

Slobodzian said that even though professional women's hockey has an uncertain future, there is still the incentive for young players to try to earn a scholarship.

"Being able to get your school paid for and attend a school through hockey obviously is the ultimate goal," he said.

"If there is a league to play after that, that's sort of going to be hit or miss, I think, in the future."

He said young female players will have to continue to focus on their love of the game.

"At the end of the day it's a game, he said. "We do it because we love to play and as long as you're doing it for the right reasons, good things will happen."

Cary Kaplan, a consultant for professional and amateur sports leagues across North America, said he doesn't believe it would be difficult for a women's league to exist and ultimately thrive in Canada.

Kaplan is the president of Cosmos Sports and Entertainment, which has had clients such as the National Hockey League, NHL teams, NBA teams and the CFL.

It's a disservice to women's hockey to be viewed as a cause.- Cosmos Sports and Entertainment president Cary Kaplan

Kaplan said it's "not a gender issue", and there are "lots of people" that would like to own women's hockey teams in "a correct business model" in this country.

Kaplan said many people misunderstand what caused the CWHL to fold.

"It's not because people didn't support it or because it's women's hockey versus men's hockey. It's because they had a flawed business model," he said.

"The way the league was set up is different from virtually all other leagues in the country, which is not a franchise ownership model. And having been doing this for 20 years, that's the reason it's not successful."

Kaplan also said the CWHL has been marketed as a cause and that is not the way to run a league.

"It's not a cause. It's a league and a business and an investment," he said. "A cause is the hospital. There's a lot of charitable causes. It's a disservice to women's hockey to be viewed as a cause."

He pointed to other sports teams like the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who market themselves as entertaining and as a fun environment.

"A lot of people talk about saying, 'Well, fans should come out and support it' and 'Please support women's hockey.' " Kaplan said. "It's not the obligation of a fan to come to the game."

The six-team CWHL had four teams in Canada and had been in operation for 12 years.

The rival National Women's Hockey League said earlier this week that it's board had approved a plan to establish teams in Toronto and Montreal in time for next season.

It also said it had received a commitment from the NHL that would make it one of the NWHL's biggest financial sponsors.

With files from The Associated Press


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