Talk of a single women’s professional hockey league has accelerated, but the two North American organizations don’t appear close to a merger.
That the championship games of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League are both Sunday is evidence enough the two leagues aren’t yet interested in working together.
But powerful people in hockey and prominent players are talking about the need for a unified women’s league.
Former Canadian Olympic team captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall has resigned from the CWHL’s board of governors to speak publicly about it. It’s awkward to be critical of the two leagues while serving on the board of one, so Campbell-Pascall stepped down this week.
“I believe in something that’s bigger and better than what we have right now,” Campbell-Pascall told The Canadian Press. “I’ve gotten to a point where if I don’t say something, I believe it’s going to take longer to get where we want to go.
“I’m not at odds with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and I’m not at odds with the National Women’s Hockey League. I’m at odds with why we haven’t become one.
“I understand there’s issues, I understand a different governance structure in both leagues and I understand there’s legalities of how difficult this is to become one, but it’s not impossible. It’s time. Just make it happen. To me, it’s about two weeks of meetings.”
The CWHL turned down a request by The Canadian Press to speak to commissioner Brenda Andress ahead of Sunday’s Clarkson Cup in Toronto.
NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan did not return a message seeking comment. The Isobel Cup is Sunday in Newark, N.J.
Rylan recently told The Associated Press “if anyone has a formal plan or ever wants to discuss how we can take the business of professional women’s hockey to the next level, the NWHL will always engage with them and do what’s best for the game, the players, our supporters and fans.”
The 11-year-old CWHL became a seven-team league in 2017-18 with the addition of two Chinese teams. The league paid its players for the first time this season at a rate between $2,000 and $10,000 per player.
The four-team NWHL, established in 2015, paid players from the outset, although players took a pay cut after one season to keep the league financially viable.
NHL commissioner chimes in
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman roused the attention of the women’s hockey community when he said recently two leagues makes it difficult for the NHL to get involved as a partner.
Prominent players on the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams then began posting on social media under a oneleague hashtag.
“With women’s hockey front and centre following the Olympics we believe the best players in the world should be able to compete under one banner. We hope that banner can one day be the NHL,” Canadian goaltender Genevieve Lacasse said on Twitter.
Bettman told the Calgary sports radio station the Fan 960 earlier this month that “I think there probably isn’t enough talent for two leagues right now. Having two leagues makes it more difficult for us to get involved.
“If there were no leagues, we’d probably start one under the NHL umbrella. I’ve told both leagues that, but I have no interest in competing with the existing leagues.
“Women’s hockey need to get stronger, particularly if there’s going to be a meaningful pro league. Fragmentation doesn’t help in that pursuit.”
Campbell-Pascall will be working at Sunday’s Clarkson Cup as a television commentator. She hopes Andress and Rylan will start talking about what needs to be done to create one league.
“At this moment, they have the power,” Campbell-Pascall said. “It’s going to be a difficult transition, but I believe it’s time and we’ve had the time to do it.”