Women’s hockey could discover how much is too much
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Jan 22, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Women’s hockey could discover how much is too much

CWHL thrilled by growth of its all-star game, but rival NWHL might prove there aren't enough stars for two leagues


Friday night hearkened back to the days of shinny for Natalie Spooner.

It was up to the Toronto Furies forward to name one of the two starting lineups for Saturday’s Canadian Women’s Hockey League all-star game, after fan votes catapulted the Scarborough native to captain of Team White.

“It’s a little stressful,” Spooner said with a laugh Friday, hours before team selection began.

But her teammates come puck drop didn’t much matter to the Scarborough native. “I feel like there are so many good players in the league you could probably pick anyone.”

Thirty-three of the best in the Canadian women’s league — made up of players from the Toronto Furies, Brampton Thunder, Calgary Inferno, Boston Blades and Les Canadiennes de Montréal — will lace up with Spooner at the Air Canada Centre Saturday afternoon (the game is at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast at 3 p.m. on Sportsnet)

Commissioner Brenda Andress expects a crowd similar to the almost 7,000 fans that showed up for last year’s inaugural all-star game.

That number is “totally exciting,” she said, because of this year’s $10 admission fee. Last year, the event was free.

“The fans are making a clear statement that women’s hockey is important and the game belongs to everyone.”

The CWHL also has added competition this year. An American counterpart, the National Women’s Hockey League, is hosting its first all-star game Sunday in Buffalo, NY.

Many of the names on that game’s roster will be familiar to CWHL fans. More than half of this year’s 28 NWHL all-stars played in the CWHL in the last five years; eight of those players were CWHL all-stars last season.

The exodus of players to the start-up league this season was largely prompted by one factor: money. Backed by a core investor group, the NWHL offers its players a salary, between $10,000 and $25,000 (U.S.); the CWHL does not.

For the players who jumped to the paying league, the idea of setting a precedent of taking a paycheck had a lot of personal significance, said Jake Duhaime, the NWHL’s director of media relations.

But there’s little animosity between the two leagues, he said. Women’s hockey is simply becoming a business. The NWHL and the CWHL are operating two different business models.

The worry, said University of Toronto women’s hockey coach and Brampton Thunder alum Vicky Sunohara, is two separate leagues weaken the calibre of hockey, which could hinder enticing fans.

“I don’t think that we have enough talent to put together the product on the ice that we need to,” she said.

Spooner, who says every player in the CWHL had the opportunity to jump ship this season, sees little change in the quality of her team or the opposition this season.

To her, the CWHL is home. And the all-star game will be one of the pinnacles of her season.

If Saturday’s game is anything like last year’s, Spooner will be happy, even though her Team White lost the game 3-2.

“I scored in that game, so that was really fun.”

Toronto Star

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