After more than a decade as one of the world’s premier professional women’s hockey leagues, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced Sunday that it is shutting its doors.
In a release, the CWHL cited economic instability as the reason the league will cease operations as of May 1, 2019, stating the despite efforts by interim commissioner Jayna Hefford and the league’s Board of Directors, “the business model that has been the foundation of the League is not sustainable financially.”
News of the league’s shutdown comes one week after the Calgary Inferno defeated Les Canadiennes de Montreal to become the 2019 Clarkson Cup champions. The game, which was broadcast in Canada and the United States, set a viewership record for the CWHL as roughly 175,000 people tuned to watch the league’s championship contest.
Established in 2007, the CWHL has operated as a not-for-profit organization in which each team was provided equal funding. Last season, after the introduction of two Chinese expansion franchises in Shenzhen and Kunlun, the league paid players for the first time. Ahead of the 2018-19 season, Shenzhen and Kunlun amalgamated to become the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. They joined the Inferno, Les Canadiennes, Markham Thunder, Toronto Furies as members of the five-team circuit.
The CWHL is home to some of the game’s most elite talents, including Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin and Team USA stars Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight. This season, all but four of the women competing for the Canadian national team at the World Championship – which begins this week in Espoo, Finland – competed in the CWHL. Six of the members of Team USA called the league home, as well, including Decker, Knight, defender Kacey Bellamy and goaltender Alex Rigsby.
The CWHL was one of two professional women’s leagues in North America. With its closure, the National Women’s Hockey League, established in 2015, becomes the only remaining women’s league.