Calling all puck bunnies: The CWHL is open for business

The NHL gave a big boost to the CWHL this week which means you will have plenty of chances to see if asking “Wanna show me your Gold Medal?” works.

What’s the easiest and cheapest way to see an Olympian up close? No, not by buying her a sixer of Labatts, you hoser. Take your butt to a hockey game. You may not realize it but there is a professional women’s hockey league, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and if you’re Canadian you probably have a team near you. All right that’s an exaggeration, there are four Canadian teams and one Boston team , but if you want to see high quality women’s hockey this the place to be.

The league formed in 2007 out of a need for women to have a place to play after graduating from college. The CWHL is built on a model in which each team receives the same funding from the league, which covers basic costs for each team.  Each season the teams vie for the Clarkson Cup and are filled with former college stars and Olympians. For example, the Brampton Thunder boast, Cherie Piper, Gillian Apps, Jayna Hefford. The Boston Blades roster includes Caitlin Cahow, Erika Lawler, Molly Engstrom, and what seems to be half of the U.S. National Team.  Basically, if you hit up a game you aren’t going to be lacking legitimate hockey stars.

Jennifer Botterill and Cherie Piper

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This week, the league got a huge boost from two NHL franchises. Alberta and Toronto announced partnerships with the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. The Maple Leafs, an Original Six franchise in the NHL, will provide both money and marketing support to the Toronto Furies. It will also host the November 17 game between Alberta and Toronto at the Air Canada Centre which it will open to the public for free. The game will feature an autograph session with former Maple Leafs players and former women’s stars Jennifer Botterill, Cheryl Pounder, Geraldine Heaney, and Angela James. The Flames have announced that they will lend their colors to the, as yet, unnamed Alberta team and will provide similar marketing and promotional help to the CWHL team.

The cynic in me wondered if the NHL teams aren’t just a little bored since the league is currently in a lockout but regardless of the reason for the partnerships they are welcome and necessary for the CWHL to succeed and to grow. After a year in which we saw the suspension and demise of the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) here in the United States it heartening to see that a women’s professional sports league can find a way to survive and to build as the CWHL has.

If these partnerships with the NHL prove successful it may be another avenue for women’s soccer to study as it attempts to create a sustainable model for a women’s soccer league in this country. Whether or not soccer ever gets it together, if you are a fan of women’s hockey you should get out to one of these games. The tickets are cheap, the players world class, and the competition fierce. You never know, maybe you’ll get to see one of those Olympians up close after all.

Are you a fan of the CWHL or are you just in it for the players? Do you think the CWHL’s model could work for other sports, like women’s soccer?

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