Just a few days after the Calgary Inferno captured the 2019 Clarkson Cup Trophy in the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), the league announced that it was folding as a result of financial troubles.
This came as a surprise to many, as the CWHL was seeing solid growth in recent years, with pay for players being introduced, new sponsorships, as well as expansion teams being brought into the mix.
Women's hockey was showing more signs of life than ever, and this news was completely contrary to what many believed to be the plan in place for women's hockey for the foreseeable future.
Before this news broke, a merger between the two professional leagues in North America, the CWHL and the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), seemed inevitable. Both sides had expressed an interest in women's hockey operating under one united league, which would be great for the growth of the game as it would consolidate talent, viewership, sponsorship, financial support, and direct all the interest in women's hockey to one place.
The CWHL's folding takes this off the table, and has huge implications on the world of women's hockey.
This leaves many professional women's hockey players unemployed with nowhere to go, with the only possible solution being the NWHL's plans to expand to Toronto and Montreal for the upcoming season. While this would be helpful, it would still leave several players from former CWHL teams with nowhere to go.
The National Hockey League (NHL) has also stepped in, increasing their contribution to the NWHL from $50,000 to $100,000, but is this enough to sustain profitability long-term, or is the NWHL destined for the same fate as the CWHL?
Can women's hockey only continue to exist short-term and long-term by operating under the NHL's umbrella, similar to how the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) operate?
It goes without saying that the next few months for women's hockey are crucial. How the NWHL, led by Commissioner Dani Rylan (pictured below), as well as stakeholders and key figures in women's hockey react to recent developments is going to be key to the sport's long-term success.
Where do the now unemployed coaches, players, executives and staff from the CWHL end up? Can the NWHL avoid similar financial issues and find long-term success? Are the NWHL's expansion claims valid or simply to ease the pain of fans who lost their team?
We'll soon find out. But we'll never stop rooting for women's hockey.