Women’s hockey stars across North America have announced that they will stay off the ice this season until a new, sustainable professional league is created for women. Over 200 players across both Canada and the United States are standing together to create a new future for the game.
“We will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves,” the collective statement said.
This statement comes just over a month after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) seemingly folded overnight. On March 31, just one week after the league’s Clarkson Cup trophy was lifted by the Calgary Inferno, the CWHL announced it was discontinuing operations as of May 1, 2019 – an announcement that blindslided its players.
“When I picked up the phone that day to get on that conference call, I had absolutely no idea what was coming,” said Cayley Mercer, a now-former player for the Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays of the CWHL. “One day we’re professional athletes, we have jobs… Then the next day it’s all gone.”
The 25-year-old was in her hometown of Excer, Ont. enjoying her off-season when she heard the news.
“I was expecting good news,” Mercer explained. “I was thinking there’s going to be a big announcement, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be negative. It’s obviously devastating to women’s sports in general.”
The six-team league, founded in 2007, made the decision to fold due to a number of financial issues.
“Unfortunately, while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable,” the CWHL’s board of directors said in a statement.
Markham Thunder’s Jamie Lee Rattray was in Finland representing Team Canada at the IIHF Women’s World Championships when she found out. Like Mercer, she was also surprised by the league’s decision.
“I had assumed maybe that the league was moving forward, maybe it was expanding,” Rattray said.
Though, despite the initial shock, Rattray knew that it would be a good thing.
“Honestly my original thought was okay maybe this is a good thing, we’ve been talking about this one league thing for I don’t know how long and maybe this is the first step towards it,” she continued.
And Rattray was right. The women’s #ForTheGame statement could lead to the creation of an entirely new organization.
— Jamie Lee Rattray (@ratt26) May 2, 2019
Following the CWHL’s demise, the prime option for players was heading south of the border to play in the US-based National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). However, the players’ vow to sit out can put the entire league at risk. It not only threatens putting the NWHL’s five teams out of business, but could do damage to the league’s reputation beyond repair – what could be a necessary step for “fixing” the sport.
“We want to build something that’s sustainable and build something that’s going to be working well for the game moving forward,” Rattray explained. “We’re going to try to do what’s best for us and not let anyone else dictate that.”
The players statement expresses their dissatisfaction with the current state of women’s hockey, while stressing the importance of uniting together as one – not just for today’s generation, but for every generation of women’s hockey players to come.
“We need to think about what we want as female hockey players and what our ideal professional league looks like,” continued Rattray. “The biggest thing I think we need to do is not go backwards.”
As a group, they want to make sure a situation like this will never happen again.
“We’re going to do absolutely everything we can to make sure there’s a place and an opportunity for girls to showcase their talents,” Mercer said. “It’s going to be a group effort to create a better future for women’s hockey and women’s sport in general.”