You might have heard CTV commentator Cassie Campbell-Pascall, during the women's hockey gold-medal game last night make reference to the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
The CWHL, which had 11 current or former players skating for the U.S. and Canada last night, has talked to the NHL about partnering. Alison Korn of the Toronto Sun related as much from an interview with former Team Canada goalie Sami-Jo Small, a driving force behind the three-year-old league.
"Small contends that if women’s hockey is going to advance, it needs a professional North American league, one that partners with the NHL.
" 'Ideally, we would like to start a professional league this coming season, to keep the momentum going from this (gold-medal) game,' Small said. 'It would allow girls from various different countries to dream of playing in what would be a women’s NHL, and would encourage a lot more people to put their kids in hockey when they see the opportunities and what the kids could get out of it.'
"Last month, Small — who’s vice-chair of the existing women's league — and its executive director, Brenda Andress, met with Gary Bettman in New York City. They pitched their vision of a professional women’s league, which would pay the players $35,000 and be based in cities within driving distance of each other, including Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and New York.
" 'We’re just waiting to hear back from them,” Small said. 'Hopefully we can get some sort of answer to move forward together in some sort of partnership.'
"In the meantime, she contends that if women’s hockey were to be removed from the Olympics, then the men’s should go with it."
This is all very preliminary, but it's better to look at the potential. Pratfalls can be trouble-shooted. It's a welcome respite from the usual "Women's hockey must improve or else" and "IOC issues women's hockey warning" headlines. Those are written to fire up both the supporters and preach to the choir of critics, but it doesn't tell a full story.
(About that: IOC president Jacques Rogge's comment in one Canadian newspaper was reported, "We cannot continue without improvement." It was a different tone in the Chicago Tribune:
"There is a (talent) discrepancy. This is the investment period in women's ice hockey. I would give them more time to prove (themselves), but there must be at a certain stage an improvement. There is an improvement in a certain number of nations, and we want to see this wider.
"Women's hockey is a young sport, but the sport has to grow. The Games themselves will do a lot to help the popularity of the sport, but you need a couple of years to get to the stage. I have no doubt that in the future, women hockey will be a hit."
The full comment sounds a little more measured.)
The NHL has a lot to deal with in terms of the Olympics, since it's part of Gary Bettman trying to win the next labour negotation and get Russia to sign a player-transfer agreement.
Still, it might be worth keeping the notion of a pro women's league on mental file. It's funny how it's worked out with major international sports events and start-up leagues in North America. The U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994 and Major League Soccer was started. The WNBA came into being after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. After the '99 Women's World Cup, there was first WUSA and now Women's Professional Soccer.
There have been two Winter Games held in North America that had women's hockey and no pro league. Why is that?