The future of Canadian women’s hockey still in limbo a year later, but hope remains

By Lindsay Dunn

While many young players on the North York Storm hockey team are optimistic about their future playing a role in women’s hockey, if that role will actually involve them playing hockey, is anybody’s guess.

That’s because since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) folded in May of 2019, there has been a struggle to launch a new league in Canada that showcases the female talent on the ice and properly pays them.

“I would have loved to play professional hockey…but I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” says 18-year-old Ruby Loughton with the Storm. “I wish I had a more clear path.”

Ruby is one of over 100,000 female hockey players in Canada whose dreams have been put on hold after the CWHL suddenly disbanded almost a year ago.  Citing lack of funding and decline in fan interest, the league was around for 12 seasons and had six teams, including four in Canada.

Sarah Nurse helped Canada win a silver medal in women’s hockey at the Olympics in 2018. She played for one season in the CWHL with the Toronto Furies.

“I think as we look back to last year the CWHL folding was a blessing in disguise,” Nurse told CityNews.  “And I think it’s what we actually needed to really propel the game forward.”

‘I think it’s been a very challenging and trying year for sure, it’s been so different than anything any of us ever experienced in the past. We are all used to having a season, having a league, having that structure and now we are flying by the seat of our own pants, but with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) we have put events together and brought hockey to markets that don’t normally get it.”

In May of 2019, 200 of North America’s top players formed the PWHPA in hopes of raising awareness for women’s hockey and keeping the interest of fans in the spotlight. Nurse is part of the association and says the PWHPA offers some optimistic outlook for young players with events like the North American Dream Gap Tour.

The Olympian also represented Canada at the recent NHL All-Star game last month in St. Louis. On Sunday the NHL aired across North America the inaugural Elite Women’s 3 on 3 competition that saw Team Canada beat Team USA 2-1.

“I think the NHL really realizing that there is that void in the professional space for women’s hockey is huge,” she says.

“I think in the past when you look at female sports leagues, being successful they’ve been attached to male counterparts, and so I mean the NHL and partnering with them would help make our sport be legitimate and have that platform that we really need.”

Nurse remains hopeful that there will be a professional league in Canada where women’s hockey is properly showcased – moreover where the players are adequately compensated.

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