Founded in 2007, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was created with two goals — create a place for the highest-level women’s hockey players to continue to compete and hone their skills, and to create a future for the sport of women’s hockey.
Players including Jennifer Botterill, Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, Allyson Fox, Kathleen Kauth, Kim McCullough, and Sami-Jo Small worked with a group of volunteer business people to create the league after the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) dissolved. Using the National Lacrosse League (NLL) as an example of a sustainable business model, they established the league as a not-for-profit enterprise, formed a Board of Directors, and drafted a constitution. The league would be responsible for costs of travel, ice rental time, uniforms, and equipment.
The First Seasons (2007-2010)
In its first season, the CWHL consisted of seven teams in Ontario and Quebec: the Ottawa Capital-Canucks, Montreal Stars, Quebec Phoenix, Brampton Canadettes-Thunder, Mississauga Chiefs, Burlington Barracudas and Vaughan Flames.
The first CWHL champions, decided in the final playoff series of the 2007-08 season, were the Brampton Canadettes-Thunder, who won over the Mississauga Chiefs. Lori Dupuis was named Most Valuable Player of the championship. That same season, a 16-year-old Marie-Philip Poulin began her CWHL career with an 8-game scoring streak totalling 15 goals and was named Outstanding Rookie at the end of the regular season.
At the end of the 2008-09 season the Clarkson Cup, which was donated by Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson, was awarded for the first time, going to the Montreal Stars. The Stars also recorded a league-record 25 regular season wins that season. Jayna Hefford became the first CWHL player to record 100 career points, notching number 100 in a January 2009 game against the Montreal Stars. Hefford also won the Angela James Bowl with 69 points.
The Montreal Stars repeated as the top team in the CWHL during the 2009-10 regular season but were defeated by the Brampton Thunder in the Clarkson Cup semi-finals. Brampton subsequently lost in the Clarkson Cup Championship game to the Julie Chu led Minnesota Whitecaps of the WWHL. The Clarkson Cup was held at the Elgin Barrow Arena in Richmond Hill, Ontario thanks to a donation from the city of Richmond Hill. The CWHL also participated in a series of four charity games against NHL alumni in March 2010.
New Players and New Teams (2010-2012)
Prior to the beginning of the 2010-11 CWHL season, the first CWHL Draft was held at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on August 12, 2010. Olympic gold medalist Tessa Bonhomme was drafted first overall by Toronto. It was also announced that Boston, Massachusetts would receive an expansion team – the league’s first official United States presence.
The Montreal Stars topped the CWHL standings for the third year in a row, and for the second time in three years, won the Clarkson Cup. Sarah Vaillancourt was named both Clarkson Cup MVP and the CWHL’s Outstanding Rookie. Caroline Ouellette was the CWHL’s MVP and also won the Angela James Bowl with 68 points.
In the 2011-12 season, the CWHL expanded once again, adding Team Alberta (now the Calgary Inferno), which would combine former WWHL teams the Edmonton Chimos and the Strathmore Rockies under a singular CWHL banner. Canadian Olympian Meghan Agosta was selected first overall by the Montreal Stars in the 2011 CWHL draft. Agosta was recognized as the 2011-12 CWHL MVP, as well as the Angela James Bowl for scoring a league-record 80 points in 27 games. The Montreal Stars claimed their second straight Clarkson Cup with a 4-2 victory over the Brampton Thunder. The Clarkson Cup took place in Niagara Falls, Ontario, with 5,000 fans attending the championship game.
Continued Changes (2012-2014)
As the 2012-13 season began the Toronto Furies announced a partnership with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, with the Maple Leafs providing funding for coaches, equipment, and travel expenses. Team Alberta announced a similar partnership with the Calgary Flames, beginning the transition to the current Calgary Inferno moniker.
Meghan Agosta became the first CWHL player to win back-to-back Angela James Bowl titles, securing her second with 46 points. Rookie Hilary Knight helped lead the Boston Blades to a first-place finish in the regular-season, unseating the Montreal Stars after a five-year first place streak. Knight was also named CWHL MVP. The Blades defeated the Stars by a final of 5-2 to win the 2012-13 Clarkson Cup, their first Clarkson Cup title.
In 2013-14, CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton registered her 100th career point with the Montreal Stars. Other players to reach 100 points that season included Vanessa Davidson of the Montreal Stars and Meagan Aarts of the Toronto Furies. Ann-Sophie Bettez took home both the CWHL MVP and the Angela James Bowl, scoring 40 points.
Though the Montreal Stars regained their seat atop the regular-season rankings, the Toronto Furies became the first fourth-place CWHL team to win the Clarkson Cup, earning the 2014 title in a 1-0 overtime win against the Boston Blades.
The All-Star Game (2014-2017)
Prior to the 2014-15 season, Olympian Laura Fortino became the first player to be drafted first overall by the Brampton Thunder. In February 2015, Caroline Ouellette broke Jayna Hefford’s CWHL scoring record (234) as she recorded her 235th point against the Brampton Thunder. Rebecca Johnston of the Calgary Inferno finished the regular season with 37 points, winning the Angela James Bowl.
This season also marked the first CWHL All-Star Game, held at the Air Canada Centre with almost 7,000 fans in attendance. Team captains were goaltender Charline Labonte of the Montreal Stars and forward Jessica Campbell of the Calgary Inferno. The Boston Blades won the 2015 Clarkson Cup, their second, by defeating the Montreal Stars in overtime on a goal from Janine Weber, who became the first European-born player to score a Cup-winning goal. Her stick was later donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Prior to the 2015-16 CWHL season, the CWHL announced a third NHL partnership, this time with the Montreal Canadiens. As part of this relationship, the Montreal Stars were rebranded Les Canadiennes de Montreal to bring them into the extended Canadiens family. Three members of Canada’s gold-medal winning Sochi team were selected in the 2015 CWHL draft: Marie-Philip Poulin by Les Canadiennes, and Brianne Jenner and Hayley Wickenheiser by the Calgary Inferno. Poulin took home the Angela James Bowl, scoring 46 points, and was also named CWHL MVP and Jayna Hefford Trophy winner as the players’ voted MVP.
The second CWHL All-Star Game was held at the Air Canada Centre on January 23, 2016, with Natalie Spooner of the Toronto Furies and Julie Chu of Les Canadiennes serving as team captains. Toronto Furies defender Sena Suzuki became the first international player to appear in a CWHL All-Star Game.
A fourth NHL partnership was announced in 2016 with the Ottawa Senators partnering with the CWHL to bring the Clarkson Cup to Ottawa to host it for the first time in an NHL arena. The Calgary Inferno won the 2016 Clarkson Cup, defeating Les Canadiennes 8-3 in the championship game. Goaltender Delayne Brian was named Clarkson Cup MVP.
Les Canadiennes exacted revenge the next season, defeating Calgary in by a final of 3-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. Marie-Philip Poulin was dominant yet again, taking home the CWHL MVP, Angela James Bowl, and for the second consecutive season, the Jayna Hefford Trophy. Brampton Thunder forward Jess Jones also laid claim to the Angela James Bowl with the pair tying with identical 37 point seasons.
Grow the Game
During the offseason, huge strides were made with the introduction of two expansion teams based out of Shenzhen, China, the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays. The teams were introduced as part of China’s goal to grow the game of hockey within the country leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games hosted in Beijing.
In addition, the Thunder made a move from Brampton to Markham. The Thunder were immediately accepted with open arms by the Markham community and city council, basing themselves out of the Thornhill Community Centre.
Inroads were also made financially, as for the first season in CWHL history players received professional salaries. A team salary cap of $100,000 was established, with players earning between $2,000 to $10,000.
On the ice, Red Star forward Kelli Stack showed an exceptional scoring touch winning both the Angela James Bowl and CWHL MVP following a 49 point season. Markham forward Jamie Lee Rattray also delivered a spectacular effort which included a 16-game point streak to end the regular season, receiving the Jayna Hefford Trophy as the player’s voted MVP.
Montreal veteran Caroline Ouellette (131) also surpassed Brampton alumna Jayna Hefford (130) for most career goals, before being passed by teammate Noemie Marin (132) in the final game of the season. Red Star defence Baiwei Yu became the first Chinese-born player to record a goal in the CWHL during the team’s 15-game win streak in the middle of the season. Goaltenders also shined, with Red Star netminder Noora Raty and Les Canadiennes goalie Emerance Maschmeyer tying a new CWHL record for shutouts in a season with 6, while Yuqing Wang of Kunlun recorded the first win for a Chinese-born player in a victory over Montreal in the Bell Centre.
After upsetting the 2017-18 regular season champion Les Canadiennes in the first round, the Markham Thunder met the Kunlun Red Star, who defeated Calgary in an incredible triple-overtime Game 3, in the Clarkson Cup Final. Winning 2-1 in overtime with a game-winner from Laura Stacey, Markham won their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history. Thunder goaltender Erica Howe was named Clarkson Cup MVP.