By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
The Canadian Women's Hockey League is expanding to Calgary and the Western Women's Hockey League has decided to disband.
The CWHL, made up of teams in Toronto, Brampton, Burlington, Montreal and Boston, announced Tuesday it plans to have a team in Calgary operating for the 2011-12 season.
The Calgary team will be made up of players from former WWHL clubs in Edmonton, Strathmore, Alta., Winnipeg and Minnesota.
Those players who aren't on the Calgary will have to find another place to play. The CWHL's business plan is to add more western teams when it can afford to do so.
"There will only be one league now across North America and that will be our leagues together," CWHL executive director Brenda Andress said.
"In the past year and half, we've looked around and said, how can we make ourselves stronger? One of the ways we've done that is to combine us into one league."
Former Strathmore Rockies player and governor Samantha Holmes says there will be short-term pain in the creation of one league.
"With the dissolving of the WWHL, we have a lot of players to take care of. We'll be working with the CWHL to try to figure out the best route to take on that," Holmes said. "The reality of it is, women's hockey is at a spot where we're either going to move ahead or stay where we are. This is our opportunity."
There was a single women's league in Canada earlier this decade called the National Women's Hockey League. Western teams broke away because of high travel costs. The NWHL suspended operations in 2007 and the current CWHL rose from the ashes, driven by the players themselves.
The CWHL owns its teams in a model similar to Major League Soccer. The league is in the process of raising money via sponsorships and fundraising to pay for the new team, which will have higher travel costs than its eastern counterparts.
Andress says operating Calgary as a pilot project next season on an abbreviated schedule will cost at least $200,000.
"Really what we're looking for is a lot more than that," she said. "To do it the way we want to do it requires close to half a million dollars."
The team has a manager, but not a coach or a home arena yet. The CWHL is looking at the new WinSport ice complex at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park as a possibility.
"I think it's a good move, but you have to do it the right way and we need really good corporate support and interest in Calgary," said Canadian national team captain Hayley Wickenheiser. "It would be nice to have a team that's housed and plays out of WinSport in the facility where Hockey Canada will be and maybe play some satellite games outside the city.
"I think we can draw some of the best players in the world to Calgary."
Wickenheiser still intends to play hockey a second year for the University of Calgary next season, but says she could play for the CWHL team in the future.
"I'm helping them as much as I can when they've asked me," she said.
One league might be more attractive to the NHL, as there have been rumblings the league is considering getting involved in women's hockey. Andress says she has been receiving advice from the NHL.
"The NHL has made statements over and over again that they believe in the women's game, support the women's hockey game," she said. "
"They're still working with us and I truly believe they will do what's right. They'll support the women's game in a way that allows us to move forward with providing a professional league. What way they're going to that, I don't know."
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