Hovi joins professional champion ranks

Former Bison wins first professional championship in CWHL

Venla Hovi celebrates her national championship win with the U of M Bisons women's hockey team in London, Ont.

Former U of M Bisons women’s hockey player Venla Hovi has another addition for her already-stacked mantel.

With multiple international medals, a national championship and numerous individual accolades to her name, Hovi is now a professional champion.

With a 5-2 win over Les Canadiennes de Montreal, Hovi and the Calgary Inferno captured the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) championship — the Clarkson Cup.

The win was the second in franchise history for the Inferno and the first for Hovi.

“Honestly, it felt so great,” Hovi said.

“I’m very grateful to have been part of that team and winning was a cherry on top.”

The win comes on the heels of a whirlwind 2018 for the Finnish forward. Hovi won bronze at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, flew home to Winnipeg right after for the Canada West conference finals where she was a key difference maker for the Bisons, then helped the program win its first national title.

The following summer she was drafted by the Inferno and began her professional career.

While the league did not publish official attendance numbers for the final, watching on television it was hard to find an empty seat.

Fans from across the country filled Coca-Cola Coliseum to watch the CWHL final, which featured some of the world’s premier women’s talent, including Team Canada star Marie-Philip Poulin who dressed but never left the Montreal bench.

After playing in multiple Olympic winter games and women’s ice hockey world championships for Finland Hovi is used to large crowds, but she said she could not compare those experiences to the Clarkson Cup.

“Every moment like that is so unique,” she said.

The “CWHL is by far the best league I have ever played in, in terms of level of hockey, so the final was really fast and so many skilled players on both teams.

The atmosphere was good and I was so happy to see so many little girls at the game.”

The CWHL and its primary media rights holder Rogers did a lot to make the final a day for women and girls in the sport. The television broadcast featured an all-female broadcast team and the players were given treatment normally reserved for their male peers.

“Makes me feel so happy how far we’ve come,” Hovi said. “And how great it is for [the kids] to be able to have female idols in sports.”

Also sharing the ice with Hovi were the likes of USA Hockey star Hilary Knight, Manitoban Halli Krzyzaniak and the first Indigenous woman to play for Team Canada at the Olympics, Brigette Lacquette.

Although the response by fans and some media gives women’s hockey players hope their sport is finally getting the respect they feel it deserves, Hovi knows there is still work to be done.

She said she has always “known that female hockey will keep growing and developing, but obviously there’s still a long way to go.”

This growth will unfortunately have to happen without the CWHL, as the league announced in a press release Sunday it will cease operations in May.

This leaves the Inferno as the last Clarkson Cup champion, and the future of Hovi’s professional career uncertain.

Now, though, at what may seem to some as the pinnacle of her career, Hovi has little else to prove on the ice as a player, so while she wants to continue playing, the Tampere-born forward has other places in life she wants to conquer next.

She said she wants to “find a job I enjoy.”

“I want to start teaching ESL, coach, write about women’s hockey, keep growing the game and, obviously, enjoy life and keep busy.”