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Women's hockey players look to future of sport after season of growth

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2018-02-24 Sarah Rieger
a man smiling for the camera: Erica Kromm, captain of the Calgary Inferno CWHL team. © Andrew Brown/CBC Erica Kromm, captain of the Calgary Inferno CWHL team.

Canada may have settled for silver in women's hockey at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, but the Canadian Women's Hockey League has had a season like no other. 

The league expanded into China this year, and for the first time since it was founded in 2007, the league began paying its players.

It's not in the realm of the NHL yet — players get a minimum of $2,000 and a maximum of $10,000 — but the league is finding new fans and earning a more reliable place in the media spotlight, said Cassie Campbell-Pascal, the former national team captain. 

"You know, not just every four years when the Olympics come around, but if we can get more coverage on a regular basis for the game, I think that helps increase sponsorships and TV revenues and those types of things," Campbell-Pascal said.

Competitive, high-calibre games

Calgary Inferno Captain Erica Kromm has played for the league for six seasons. She said players continue to try and grow the game. 

"At the end of the day, it comes down to the calibre of hockey," Kromm said.

 "So if we can put out there competitive hockey, close games, anything that people would want to watch when they're going to to an NHL game, we've got to be able to bring that. And I think that we are trying to do that." 

Kromm plays two games most weekends, either at Winsport in Calgary or on the road.

But during the week, she's at her day job.

"In my case, I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, every week day. We practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays," she said.

a group of people skiing on the snow: The Calgary Inferno celebrate a goal during the third period of Canadian Women's Hockey League final in 2016. © Justin Tang/Canadian Press The Calgary Inferno celebrate a goal during the third period of Canadian Women's Hockey League final in 2016.

For Kromm, all the work is worth it. Hockey is in her blood. 

Her father, Richard Kromm, played for the Calgary Flames from 1983 to 1986. 

Kromm said hockey fans who enjoyed watching the U.S.-Canada final at the Olympics, should be filling the seats at CWHL games. 

"All those girls that we watched in the U.S. and Canada finals this week, all the Canadian girls are in our league, pretty much most of them are," Kromm said.

The team plays 14 home games per year, and roughly 250 fans attend each game. 

The league is facing some barriers to growth, said Campbell-Pascal. There are two professional women's hockey leagues in North America — the other being the National Women's Hockey League in the U.S. 

For the good of the game, the two leagues should merge, said Campbell-Pascal.

The Calgary Inferno play their  last two home games of the season on Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. against Boston at Winsport. 

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