Calgary Inferno players excited for potential growth of game

Almost a year after a 12-year, $5.2-billion deal that gave Rogers Communications exclusive Canadian television rights to the NHL, the ever-expanding company made another hockey deal.

On Sept. 30, Rogers Sportsnet and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced a four-year partnership (financials undisclosed) that will see Sportsnet broadcast three games of the Clarkson Cup Playoffs each season for the next four years, along with several special events each season.

Brenda Andress, the commissioner of the CWHL, said she is excited about the impact of the deal.

“The more times publicly we’re seen, the better our game is viewed by different people. They see the game for what it is – pure hockey. We’re very different, anybody who watched the games during the Olympics will see, it’s all about talent, it’s all about skill.”

During last year’s Olympics which saw Canada defeat the US in both men’s and women’s hockey for gold medals, the viewership was huge, especially for the female side.

“It definitely makes a very strong statement that girls’ hockey can get a strong following, and now all we need to do is to move from the Olympics to watching us so they don’t have to wait every four years and they can still watch this great hockey game played right in front of them,” Andress said.Two-time Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Johnston says she is excited for the TV deal between Sportsnet and the CWHL and hopes that it will influence more young girls to play the game.

Photo by Neil Hilts

Members of the Calgary Inferno, the only western team in the CWHL, weighed in on the deal with Rogers. Olympian Rebecca Johnston, who starred for Canada in both Vancouver and Sochi and is in her first season with the Inferno, welcomed the spotlight.

“It’s good to get our league out there and I know a lot of people don’t realize where girls play after college. It’s nice to get that exposure and hopefully we get some good games on TV so people can come out and watch,” Johnston said.

Another Canadian Olympian, Haley Irwin, said she wants people to take notice of the games on TV.

“It has an opportunity to showcase our game to those who haven’t seen the game, or those who have and love to watch it and have the chance to watch it on TV,” Irwin said.

Last year’s CWHL Goalie of the Year Delayne Brian added she’s pleased for families of players who otherwise rarely get to see them play.

“None of the girls are really from around Calgary so having our parents to be able to watch us in different venues is great too,” Brian said.

Team captain Kelsey Webster said the TV deal doesn’t necessarily change her feelings towards the game, but she wants to see it grow.

“I play the game because I love the game, but I want to see it develop as much as possible while I’m still playing,” Webster said.

“After some people get the access to it at their own homes it might draw some people out. It’s a stepping-stone, so you can only hope for the best.”

Delayne Brian, last year’s CWHL goalie of the year, says more exposure will give players’ parents who live far from the team a great chance to watch their daughters in action.

Photo by Neil HiltsAdam Proteau, a columnist for The Hockey News since 1999, has been a big advocate for women’s hockey. He said it’s a big first step, but the league has a long way to go.

“I think the challenge is rather stark and it’s an uphill battle, but at the same time, it wasn’t that long ago that people really turned up their noses at the idea that women could play in the Olympics and people would care,” Proteau said.

“I think there will be some appeal, but again in this country especially, we compare it to the NHL or junior hockey, I think that’s kind of unfair to them because they’re really still in their early, early days and not just of a league, but as a sport in general,” he continued.

The CWHL season starts in the middle of October and ends on March 1 before playoffs start right after. The Clarkson Cup is a four-team event (similar to the CHL’s Memorial Cup), meaning the bottom team in the league does not qualify. Each team will play each other in the round robin.

Boston, Brampton, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal make up the league, which consists of many Olympic stars including Americans Hillary Knight (Boston) and Megan Bozek (Toronto), and Canadians Laura Faurtino (Brampton), Natalie Spooner (Toronto), Tessa Bonhomme (Toronto) among others.

While the CWHL does not pay their players, they do cover all travel, equipment, ice rentals and other costs. Commissioner Andress said she hopes televised games will translate into fans buying tickets, attending games, and tuning into great hockey.

Commissioner Andress said: “When it’s on TV and it’s live and people are watching the game, it sends a message to our girls that everything they’re doing as ambassadors of the league, everything they’re doing to ensure that those that come after them will be paid, has a meaning.”

The Inferno play out of the Joan Snyder Arena in the Markin McPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park. Tickets cost $15 per game and can be purchased on the Inferno’s website, where the schedule can also be found.

From Nov. 21-23, the Brampton Thunder come to Calgary, while in December, the Inferno head out east for a three-game set with the Boston Blades.

nhilts@cjournal.ca

Do you think the viewership numbers will be high enough to help grow the league?