Thunder Bay·Audio

Loss of professional women's hockey league simply 'not an option,' says Haley Irwin

Recent news that the Canadian Women's Hockey League is closing its doors came as a blow, but Haley Irwin says she's remaining optimistic about the future of professional women's hockey in Canada.

'We have to have a place to play,' says Haley Irwin

Three-time Olympic medalist, Haley Irwin, pictured at the 2010 Olympic games. (Haley Irwin / Facebook)

Haley Irwin says hearing the news that the Canadian Women's Hockey League is folding came as a heavy blow.

"I think at first it's heartbreaking," said Irwin, a three-time Olympic medallist who hails from Thunder Bay, Ont., in an interview with CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning.  

"To hear that the league that you've been playing in and that's been around for 12 years is closing its doors. And shocking, to be honest, as well." 

On Sunday, the CWHL announced its plans to stop operations, effective May 1, citing an "economically unsustainable" business model.

However, Irwin, who joined the league after graduating from University in 2012, and most recently played for the Calgary Inferno before turning to coaching, said despite the disappointment, she remains determined and optimistic about the future of professional women's hockey in Canada. 

"We have to have a place to play," she said.

"We can't sit around in-between Olympics and not have a league to play in. That is not an option."

Players, volunteers and coaches associated with the league are already coming together to try to make sure some of the world's best female players aren't left out in the cold, Irwin said, explaining that she believes they will find a way forward. 

"The game is growing, there just needs to be a model that makes it sustainable and makes sense," she said, adding that she'd like to see organizations such as the NHL and Hockey Canada step in to help. 

When asked about the American-based National Women's Hockey League, which was founded in 2015, Irwin suggested she'd like to see one place where the best female athletes in the world could take to the ice together. 

"I think the initial thought is women's hockey isn't at a place where two leagues can exist," she said. "We need one league so that it is the most competitive hockey you will see, and grow out from there."