The 2019 Women's World Hockey Championship starts today in Espoo, Finland. In fact, due to the time zone difference, we can already report that as we write this Germany has upset Sweden 2–1 in a shootout, while Canada has beaten Switzerland 6–0. Neat!
Of course, this annual gathering—which also includes the United States, Czech Republic, Russia, Japan, France, and Finland—is the biggest focus of women's hockey. Except when it isn't...
Don't get us wrong—all of those players are stoked to be on the ice and are giving it their all for their country. But for star players like Canada's Natalie Spooner and Marie-Philip Poulin, or America's Hilary Knight, there's a bigger question on their minds.
Will they have a league to play in next year?
The CWHL shuts down
For the past 12 years, the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) had been one of the world's top women's hockey leagues. Its six teams included four in Canada (les Canadiennes de Montreal, Calgary Inferno, Markham Thunder, Toronto Furies) one in the United States (Worcester Blades), and one in China (Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays). These teams—like the NHL's are for men—were loaded with some of the best players in the world.
Then, on Sunday, March 31st, the league announced that it was shutting down.
The Board of Directors of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) has made the decision to discontinue operations effective May 1, 2019. Please refer to press release at the https://t.co/iy7b1CjE0v for more information. pic.twitter.com/SxzctlWusB
— CWHL (@TheCWHL) March 31, 2019
For the women who play in the league—and the fans who came to the games and admired the players—it was devastating news. Only a week earlier, Calgary had beaten Montreal 5–2 to capture the Clarkson Cup, the league's version of the Stanley Cup.
And now it was all over?
The NWHL steps in
This where things get really interesting. In 2015, a rival league—the National Women's Hockey League—NWHL was formed in New York. It features five teams—Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Minnesota Whitecaps, Metropolitan Riveters, and Connecticut Whale. And it also features a bunch of the best players in the world, like Canadian star goalie Shannon Szabados, and Americans Amanda Kessel and Hayley Scamurra.
Only days after the CWHL made its announcement, NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan made her own announcement:
After the sad news on Sunday, the NWHL went to work - for the betterment of not just our league, but the game and players. Women’s hockey must be a sustainable business. This article details the work 48 hours in, but there’s much more ahead.
— NWHL (@NWHL) April 3, 2019
Currently, the NWHL is looking to expand into Canada by adding Toronto and Montreal teams. If you're a fan of women's hockey, it's a lot to take in. What does it all mean for the sport?
What is the future?
Since the NWHL arrived, it and the CWHL have had a tense relationship. The main reason is because a lot of people feel that the sport needs one strong league— not two smaller leagues competing for the same fans. Though this is a sad way for this to happen, perhaps a stronger NWHL will end up being a step in the right direction?
Many people are calling on the NHL to invest more money and time into developing the women's game (like how the NBA has in the WNBA). To be fair, they are doing more stuff like this at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game:
Can the NHL take things even further? Will this tragic story about the CWHL raise awareness and frustration enough that fans get more behind the NWHL? Will those Toronto and Montreal teams really happen in the end?
As the best female hockey players battle it out in Finland, you can bet that questions like these are on their minds.