Women’s hockey, and specifically the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, have meant a lot to me.
The league folding has nothing to do with me, but the years I spent covering it made it clear to me that the league was more than the board of directors who decided to shut down the league’s operations. The group of staff, volunteers, and players made the teams themselves as strong as the league as a whole. That’s the reason I’m not worried about the future of professional women’s hockey. It doesn’t look good right now, but it will persevere.
I feel for those who are affected by this decision. There are a lot of people who put a lot of work, effort, and passion into this league, and it’s not in vain.
Specifically in this city, Les Canadiennes as an organization is too strong to not go on. With or without the CWHL, women’s hockey in Montreal will bounce back.
Women’s hockey has a history in Montreal that is unique and deep. In 1994, Cammi Granato, one of the best women’s hockey players in history, was playing for Concordia University alongside her Team USA teammate Karen Bye. The coach of that Concordia team was Les Lawton, who also coached Canada at the World Women’s Hockey Championship that year.
That team had 16-year-old Hayley Wickenheiser making her National Team debut. Also on that team were Cassie Campbell, Danielle Goyette, and Geraldine Heaney, among others. Campbell and Goyette would end up playing with Caroline Ouellette. Ouellette spent a semester at Concordia University in 2002 before going to the NCAA. She later became an assistant coach at the school. Julie Chu, who looked up to Granato and Bye, is now the head coach.
McGill University has alumni like Kim St. Pierre, Charline Labonté, and Catherine Ward, among others. Peter Smith took the mantle from Concordia as the dominant program in Quebec. The University of Montreal has won National Championships and built a perennial contender despite not having a program until the 2009-10 season led by a group that includes 1998 Canadian Olympic assistant and 2002 head coach Danièle Sauvageau.
The passion for hockey is strong among the players, not just in Montreal, but around the league — or the regions it used to cover. Like it was in 2007 when players were similarly blindsided by the original NWHL folding. The players can mobilize to create an environment that works. The good news is that the last 12 years moved women’s hockey to a much stronger place despite this setback.
In the end, the CWHL was just four letters. The people behind the teams and Les Canadiennes were the lifeblood, especially the players. They are still here and they are still working to grow the game, even if we don’t know what the deep-rooted seeds will grow into.