Home to the greatest women hockey players in North America, the CWHL is promising to improve this year.
The 2012 CWHL Draft has the opportunity to alter the balance of power in the league, while providing every squad with a franchise player. The first five picks of the CWHL Draft were Hilary Pattenden, Rebecca Johnston, Haley Irwin, Rebecca Johnston and Charline Labonte.
Such a strong draft class promises these 10 reasons the league is definitely worth watching.
While many women’s players will acknowledge that their time in university hockey was the best time of their career, the prospect of a CWHL career raises the stakes.
The concept that some athletes in Canadian Interuniversity Sport may have an opportunity to continue their career in the CWHL adds value to a quickly improving sport.
Many players selected in the 2012 CWHL Draft came from CIS schools. The McGill Martlets produced four top picks in 2012 BLG Award Winner Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand, Charline Labonte and Jordanna Peroff.
It means that the quality of coaching will improve (Dan Church, the National Team head coach also coaches for York University). In addition, it may provide motivation for many players to pursue a hockey career past university.
The three-time Clarkson Cup champion Montreal Stars conduct autograph sessions after each game. There is no better way to create memorable experiences for a fans than for them to be able to meet their heroes.
An autograph becomes more than just a great piece of sports memorabilia; it becomes something treasured that makes a fan for life.
While the Edmonton Oilers boast the last three first overall picks in the NHL Draft (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov), the Montreal Stars have three of the finest women’s hockey players in modern history. Hockey fans have not seen a trio of superstars of this magnitude since the Montreal Canadiens dynasty in the 1970s.
Caroline Ouellette is the all-time CWHL scoring leader among players born in Quebec. Julie Chu is the greatest American women’s player in the world. Meghan Agosta is the NCAAs All-Time leading scorer (ironically breaking the record once held by Chu), and shattered the CWHL scoring record as a rookie.
As one of the few women that have appeared on the cover of The Hockey News, a 100-point season cannot be far behind.
While men’s hockey fans have an emotional investment in such NHL rivalries as the Battle of Alberta (Edmonton vs. Calgary) or the Battle of Ontario (Ottawa vs. Toronto), a rivalry in the CWHL is quickly growing in intensity. The Battle of Toronto, featuring the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder boasts some of the finest women’s hockey talent in the world.
The Furies' first five draft picks in the 2012 CWHL Draft (Rebecca Johnston, Natalie Spooner, Jennifer Wakefield, Catherine White, and Jordanna Peroff) have all played for the Canadian National Team in some capacity.
Down Highway 7, Brampton boasts third generation star Gillian Apps, Lori Dupuis and Jayna Hefford. The trio has a combined eight Winter Games medals in ice hockey (six gold, two silver). With a young franchise goalie in Liz Knox (who helped Canada claim gold at the 2011 Winter Universiade), and two prominent scorers from Mercyhurst College (Vicki Bendus and Bailey Bram), the rivalry is set to become one of the most intense in all of hockey.
Although they have not yet played each other in the Clarkson Cup final, such a matchup could easily match the intensity of the Bruins vs. Canadiens Stanley Cup finals from 1977 and 1978. While the Stars are the world’s greatest women’s hockey team, the Blades have become a second home to many members (past and present) of the United States National Women’s Team. On paper, the Blades match respectably close to the Stars, and any match between the two will add an entirely new dimension to the Boston vs. Montreal hockey rivalry.
When one considers that these fearless, frozen females are not compensated for their play, how can a fan not admire the dedication and perseverance? Would anyone in professional men’s sports play at no compensation?
When one considers that every professional men’s sport has had a strike or lockout in the last twenty years, the women of the CWHL jobs juggle jobs, family demands and the competition of hockey.
In addition, all the teams work towards raising money for charity. The imbalance between the genders' sporting lives is astronomical. For the price of one ticket to a men’s sporting event, a family of 4 could attend a CWHL game, meet the athletes after the game, and still have a couple of dollars left.
For fans who believe that Women’s Hockey at the Winter Games is the only women’s ice hockey competition worth watching, said fans could just as easily watch a CWHL game.
The Montreal and Boston franchises boast at least 20 players that have competed in the Winter Games. Any match between these two franchises carries as much intensity as any Canada vs. US contest. Every other franchise can boast at least four players that have participated with the Canadian national team.
The beauty of the CWHL is that its athletes are people that anyone can relate to. From a social and financial standpoint, the women of the CWHL have more in common with the fans than any male professional athlete.
As young women today still endure struggles for ice time and recognition, the women of the CWHL suffered through those same issues as young women themselves. It makes them very understanding and empathic role models.
Sportsnet Magazine once reported that Jayna Hefford struggled through 3 part time jobs so she could play hockey. The thought of such an accomplished player and a world class athlete like Hefford working so tirelessly is a struggle that many working people can relate to.
The women gracing the ice of the CWHL are like any of us, and it makes them highly admirable people.
While many sports fans like parity in their sports (because it means that anyone can win), dynasties also add credibility to a sport. Baseball fans of a generation ago may lament the New York Yankees dynasty ranging from the 1940s to the mid 1960s, but to defeat them was significant. The same was true with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s, the New York Islanders of the 1980s and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.
Although the Stars' time as Queens of the CWHL will one day pass, its current status as a dynasty is crucial to the sports existence. The Stars have such an outstanding roster that they could easily defeat a professional men’s team from Europe.
Its team culture and status as a family is unmatched, and it helps to make them the cornerstone upon which the CWHL can be built.
The most popular women’s ice hockey player in North America, Tessa Bonhomme is in the same league as other notable female athletes like Lindsay Vonn, Natalie Gulbis and Maria Sharapova. She has the potential to become the biggest draw in women’s hockey. A decade ago, Cassie Campbell and Manon Rheaume captured the hearts and minds of hockey fans, and are icons in the sport. Bonhomme has carried their legacies, while proudly building one of her own.
A franchise player for the Toronto Furies, she was the first ever draft pick in the history of the CWHL Draft. Her popularity as a female athlete in Canada may be the catalyst to help the CWHL enter an era of prosperity. Just like Nap Lajoie helped to build the popularity of baseball in Cleveland (and later the American League), and Red Grange helped to set the foundation for the popularity of the National Football League, Bonhomme holds that type of potential.
Quickly emerging as the women’s hockey hero of her generation, fans will one day brag about how they were lucky enough to have seen her play.