Canadian Women’s Hockey League to pay its players

Bison forward Venla Hovi says paying women's hockey is a step in the right direction.Bison forward Venla Hovi says paying women's hockey is a step in the right direction.

Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) players will finally be paid, starting in the 2017-18 season.

The league announced the move on its website Sept. 1, following the approval of a pay structure by the CWHL Board of Directors. The minimum compensation is $2,000, climbing to a ceiling of $10,000. Compensation rates are based on the number of years a player has been with the league.

“It’s great news and something that had to happen and what women deserve,” Bison forward Venla Hovi said. “But we’re still so far from equality and this is just a start to a greater future.”

Hovi, who has built an impressive résumé with both the Bisons and the Finnish National Team, was excited about the future of women’s hockey, and the role compensation would play in it.

“It’s a great chance and dream for girls coming into the sport to know that maybe one day they will be professional hockey players,” she said. “I grew up with that thought myself, until I was old enough to understand that it’s not really possible for women.”

Hovi was quick to point out that compensation is not the sole determinant for women’s hockey gaining legitimacy as a professional sport, but is optimistic about its place within the game.

“Getting money will give women’s hockey more visibility in media and that way the sport will only keep on growing,” she said. “For people to see the sport on TV is a way to understand and realize how skilled and [what] high-level athletes women’s hockey players truly are.”

The announcement of payments for players came a few months after the CWHL revealed it is expanding overseas to the untapped Chinese market with two new franchises.

The Kunlun Red Star were rolled out with much fanfare back in June, during a press conference held at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The team will join the Kontinental Hockey League’s franchise of the same name, but will play in Shenzen. This will allow the CWHL to not only reach potential fans and players in the Chinese market, but opens up greater sponsorship and broadcasting opportunities for the league.

The second team, the Vanke Rays, saw much less attention given to its rollout. The CWHL did not make any formal announcement, but accidentally tweeted about the team, only to delete the post soon after.

The league has since issued a press release announcing the appointment of Shirley Hon as the team’s general manager. The CWHL now also has the team’s logo and name on their website, but no other information has been revealed.

Due to the expansion, the CWHL season will be extended from 24 to 30 regular season games. In order to include the new Chinese teams, each CWHL franchise will venture overseas for a three-game series.

Hovi expressed her excitement about the expansion, albeit with some apprehensions.

“Expansion is a good thing as long as they’re building something that’s meant to last,” she said. “I do wish that expansion was happening in Canada and North America and really putting together a league with all the best players from the whole world.”

For young players starting, or continuing, their professional careers with the Chinese franchises, Hovi tapped into her own experiences as a transplant player to offer wisdom.

“For young players, I would advise them to enjoy this special chance they have and to have an open mind,” she said.

“Not just enjoying hockey but everything that a new culture can offer.”

The two new franchises will be mainly comprised of nationally derived talent, but will also include some North American players. A focus will be to grow Chinese talent in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics.