March 31, 2019 11:07 am
Updated: April 1, 2019 6:06 pm

‘Heartbreaking’: Canadian Women’s Hockey League folding due to financial woes

WATCH: Canadian Women's Hockey League folding due to financial woes

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The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) will be no more as of May 1, 2019, its board of directors announced on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable,” the league said in a statement.

The CWHL was founded in 2007 with the mandate of growing women’s hockey and went on to attract many of the world’s best female hockey players.

In its final season, which concluded with last week’s Clarkson Cup, the league comprised six teams — the Calgary Inferno, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, Markham Thunder, Toronto Furies, Worcester Blades (of Worcester, Mass.) and the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays (based in Shenzhen, China).

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The Inferno defeated the Canadiennes 5-2 in the Clarkson Cup, which was held at Toronto’s Coca-Cola Coliseum.

“Last week, 175,000 fans tuned in to watch the 12th edition of the Clarkson Cup, a new record for viewership, and the game delivered,” the CWHL said in a statement.

“Women’s hockey is fast, skilled and generally high-scoring, making for excellent entertainment.”

Calgary Inferno’s Zoe Hickel (left) and Tori Hickel celebrate with the trophy after beating Les Canadiennes de Montreal 5-2 to win the 2019 Clarkson Cup game in Toronto, March 24, 2019.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

However, despite the best efforts of players, staff, corporate sponsors and partners in the industry, the league’s business model is simply not sustainable financially, the board of directors said.

The CWHL operated on a budget of $3.7 million in 2017-18. Players were paid for the first time in 2017 and received between $1,500 and $7,500 for the season.

The league lost a prime source of financing in November when venture capital firm Roustan Capital pulled out.

At the time, founder W. Graeme Roustan said he did so because the league’s board of directors had denied him access to financial information for the first time ever. He said he was the league’s largest contributor.

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“I’m heartbroken at the news of the CWHL folding,” Calgary Inferno forward Brianne Jenner, a member of the Canadian team that picked up a silver medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics, said in a tweet.

“Hard to process this after our most successful season to date. Thank you to the builders, players, coaches, GMs, fans that made it possible for 12 seasons. We will rebound from this.”

In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Canada forward Brianne Jenner chases the puck as U.S. defencewomen Emily Pfalzer and Megan Keller look on during the gold medal game at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Gangneung, South Korea.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

“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,” tweeted Canadiennes forward and Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin.

Toronto Furies forward Natalie Spooner said it’s important women’s hockey continues to find a way to showcase its best players in order to provide role models for future generations of girls and women.

Sami Jo Small, GM of the Furies and one of the league’s co-founders, called the news “heartbreaking” and expressed concern about the uncertain future of women’s hockey.

“I have no idea what this means for the future, but this is heartbreaking,” Small tweeted. “We will work hard to ensure there is still women’s hockey in Toronto.”

In this March 8, 2017, file photo, Canadiennes captain Marie-Philip Poulin poses for photos with the Clarkson Cup in Brossard, Que.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The announcement sparked a flurry of responses from hockey fans and analysts on Twitter.

Many dubbed the folding of the league a travesty for players, fans and team employees.

“It’s disgusting that it’s 2019 and women still have to put up with this s***. This season has been a game changer for the game of hockey for women,” tweeted one fan. “The ladies in the CWHL shape the lives of many every day. They inspire women, young and old, to be the best they can be!”

Fans celebrate a goal by the Markham Thunder as they face the Kunlun Red Star during the 2018 Clarkson Cup final in CWHL hockey action in Toronto, March 25, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Donovan

But some suggested that the development could result in more players moving to the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League, which would be strengthened as a result.

There were also offers of help for players left in limbo and stressed about their future.

“I’m offering my full support pro bono to any CWHL athletes that may want additional support during this unexpected time of transition,” tweeted Ottawa-based sports psychologist and NHL consultant Chantale Lussier. “Please see website for contact info or simply send a DM.”

— With files from Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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