Written by Ramina Shlah
One of the greatest perks of being an athlete is that with competition comes an ability to travel to new and unique destinations.
When the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) expanded to China this season, it turned that travel dream into a reality for many.
The additions of two teams based out of Shenzhen, China, the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays, gave CWHL veterans like new Inferno alumna Jacquie Pierri the privilege to see the league grow on an international scale right before their eyes.
“Any opportunity to bring hockey to a new market is always a good thing,” said Pierri. “There is a whole new generation of kids in China who will have the opportunity to play now.”
Growing up in New Jersey and playing on all men’s teams until university, it’s also quite a dream come true for Pierri to be able to travel to places and meet people from all over the world, not only because of hockey but because of a professional women’s hockey league.
“Traveling for hockey is such a great experience because you get to meet someone from a completely different culture with this shared passion and shared micro-culture,” stated Pierri. “You can always talk about the NHL or what the latest equipment is and differences in availability of brands overseas.”
For someone like Brianne Jenner: two-time Olympian, four-time World Championship team member, and three-year Calgary Inferno veteran; she has seen first-hand how much the sport is growing in non-traditional hockey markets.
“Growing up, I wouldn’t have guessed that I would have the opportunities to travel that I have had through hockey,” remarked Jenner. “I certainly didn’t expect to play hockey in Asia. It’s exciting that our game is developing globally and that there’s interest from countries that are newer to the sport.”
Jenner did not travel with the Inferno to China this season as she was centralized with Team Canada for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games but competing in China this past season was not the first foray for the CWHL and the Inferno in Asia. Two years ago, Calgary had the opportunity to travel to Japan mid-season and play exhibition games against the Japanese National Team. Jenner already had a few international tournaments under her belt, but still found herself experiencing the excitement as an athlete abroad.
“I never thought [Tokyo] would be a city that hockey would bring me to,” reiterated Jenner. “It was an amazing experience spending the day there, touring and trying the local cuisine.”
While traveling is a great benefit for athletes, it can also be quite challenging — especially since most of the athletes in the CWHL still maintain full-time jobs or are students. Traveling back-and-forth around both the continent and the world won’t always leave time for players to recover and let their bodies rest.
While playing in North America, there isn’t a significant amount of change when it comes to culture or time-zones, going to China is a much different experience. However, it already appears as though some players have somewhat gotten the hang of it, like Inferno forward Dakota Woodworth who just completed her first season with the Inferno following a rookie campaign with the Boston Blades last year.
“When we’re traveling, things like hydration, nutrition, and sleep are super important,” said Woodworth. “I’m lucky that I never have a problem sleeping anywhere, you can ask Lou [Warren] how long I slept on our flight home from China. But I try to drink a ton of water and stick to my normal diet as best I can to stay on top of everything.”
“On the flip side of that, I also think it’s important, especially in new and different places, to kind of be able to say ‘OK I’m going to really fully immerse myself in this place.’ I think a lot of us did in China, which only added to the experience. Dumplings for breakfast? Sure.”
A wealth of international experience means thinking about travel and time-changes for Inferno players has all become part of the routine.
“It’s important to be organized and have a plan,” stated Jenner. “With Team Canada, we go through our jet lag plan before we travel, so we are ready for competition.”
Even though traveling can be a challenge, there is still one word most athletes use when it comes to being able to travel because of doing something they love: Luck.
“When I stop and think about it, I feel really lucky to have been able to go to so many different parts of the world just doing what I love,” said Woodworth. “Our trip to China this year was one of the coolest experiences of my life and to be able to do it with such an amazing group of people was so incredible. It was such a bonding experience for us all and being able to play our sport in a brand-new place, so different from home, was unbelievable.”
Year-after-year the league continues to grow, and much like the CWHL’s introduction to competing in China, there is no way to predict where the game of hockey and the CWHL will take the next generation of athletes.