Saying business model is “financially unsustainable,” the CWHL is folding

A record-175,000 fans tuned in to watch the Clarkson Cup finale in Toronto

<!— Photo: CPT101539460.jpg, Caption: Calgary Inferno’s Zoe Hickel (left) and Tori Hickel celebrate with the trophy after beating Les Canadiennes de Montreal 5-2 to win the 2019 Clarkson Cup game in Toronto, on Sunday, March 24 , 2019. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is no more. The CWHL’s board of directors have decided to discontinue operations May 1 of this year, the league has announced. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is no more despite a recent surge in the visibility of the women’s game.

A week after the Calgary Inferno won the league championship and hoisted the Clarkson Cup trophy, the CWHL announced Sunday morning in Toronto that the 12-year-old league will discontinue operations May 1.

“Unfortunately, while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable,” the league said in a statement.

A record-175,000 fans tuned in to watch the Clarkson Cup finale in Toronto.

READ MORE: Hayley Wickenheiser says women’s hockey has ‘come a long way’

The CWHL was founded in 2007, and had six teams in North America and China this past season.

The league included national team players from the United States, Canada, Finland, Japan and China.

“I’m heartbroken at the news of the #CWHL folding,” Calgary Inferno forward Brianne Jenner said on Twitter.

“Hard to process this after our most successful season to date. Thank you to the builders, players, coaches, GMs, fans that made it possible for 12 seasons. We will rebound from this.”

Sami Jo Small, who co-founded the league in 2007, was named general manager of the Toronto Furies last summer.

“I have no idea what this means for the future, but this is heartbreaking,” Small tweeted. “We will work hard to ensure there is still women’s hockey in Toronto.”

Inferno forward Blayre Turnbull and Les Canadiennes de Montreal forward Marie-Philip Poulin posted identical reaction on Twitter:

“This morning we were informed the #CWHL is folding. As players, we will do our best to find a solution so this isn’t our last season of hockey but it’s hard to remain optimistic. #NoLeague.”

The CWHL operates like the MLS in that the league owns the teams.

Former player Jayna Hefford was appointed interim commissioner last year when Brenda Andress stepped down.

The CWHL began paying its players salaries in 2017-18 ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, out of a total budget of $3.7 million.

The addition of two expansion teams in China that season — since amalgamated into one — was believed to have injected hundreds of thousands of dollars into the CWHL.

But the CWHL lost a major financial backer in November when longtime supporter Graeme Roustan withdrew the sponsorship of his venture capital firm Roustan Capital.

And the new coach of the Chinese women’s team hinted recently that he hopes the players soon won’t have to travel internationally to develop into better players.

“I think the biggest goal now is to have a league or some competitions here in China where we can play good games,” Jakob Kolliker told China Daily.

“It’s important for the future.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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