Around this time last year, the Toronto Furies were hearing the final horn for what they thought was merely their last game of the 2018-2019 CWHL season. After battling the last two minutes with a pulled goalie, they lost the best-of-three semi-final series to the Calgary Inferno. Little did anyone know, that final buzzer was actually the last CWHL horn the Furies would ever hear.
The league, which was founded in 2007, ceased operations on May 2, 2019 due to financial concerns. The players were left with little notice and nowhere to go. The CWHL was the only professional women’s sports league in Canada.
So, what have the Toronto Furies players been up to this year?
Natalie Spooner, Renata Fast and Sarah have been able to continue their hockey careers with the Canadian national women’s team. For the others, the USA’s National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was an option, and some CWHL players made the decision to go, but most didn’t.
“With the closest team being in Buffalo it didn’t seem the most realistic,” Jessica Platt of the Toronto Furies told She Scores.
Most of the Furies have day jobs as their main source of income, making it difficult to relocate for a league that reportedly pays players as low as $2,000.
Another factor is the lack of benefits, such as health insurance and the support for players who are mothers. Defencewoman Carlee Campbell currently raises a daughter, which takes priority after coming home from her engineering job at Salesforce.
“As each day goes by, I get more and more frustrated at the fact that I had to give up playing,” Campbell said in a tweet in support of the WNBA’s announcement about giving an annual $5,000 stipend to their players for child support. “There are not enough hours in a day for me to work full time (with travel) AND raise my daughter/be with my family AND play/train. The only reason I was able to play [for the Furies] after having Khy was because I was on maternity leave and not working, getting compensated by my employer and the government. Mat leave is now done, which means I don’t have the time to practice and go to games in various cities.”
All of the players who sported the blue and white sweater last season have worked hard this past year to speak out about concerns such as low salaries and lack of benefits. Twenty-one of the Toronto Furies participate with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) to address issues that female hockey players face and to work towards a sustainable women’s hockey league. The movement formed last year and has played a significant role in the hockey world since the fold of the CWHL. The members play in weekend showcases to give women’s hockey more exposure and to provide young girls with hockey role models.
“I really believe what they’re about: fighting for a sustainable hockey league for girls to aspire to play in the future,” said Platt, who is a member of the PWHPA. “We shouldn’t work a full-time job and then go to a 9 p.m. practice. It’s not sustainable. Boys have the dream of going to the NHL. For girls it’s to go to the Olympics. It’s not about making millions, it’s about making a living wage, as well as having the resources we need like tape, and a gym to work out in, and a trainer.”
Members of the PWHPA train together about twice a week near Toronto, and although the PWHPA gives the players a regular dose of the level of competitiveness they experienced professionally, the year has been an adjustment. Unlike the CWHL, the PWHPA does not have a set schedule. There also is no home arena, or team locker room, or equipment managers. The showcases provide the players with resources such as tape and skate sharpening, but the members are often on their own.
Some players have side-hustle sports in addition to the PWHPA. Platt plays in Kitchener for their women’s Senior A hockey team. The team practices every other Tuesday and has one or two games a week.
Carolyne Prevost, who played for the Furies from 2013-2019, fills her days with teaching high school students, and she spends most of her evenings at the gym training for international CrossFit competitions. Last year she became the fittest woman in Canada and the 12th fittest in the world. The events are filled with challenges that test strength, agility and endurance.
As if Prevost isn’t already busy enough, the forward has also managed to make time for the PWHPA.
“I wanted to keep playing and continue to grow the game of hockey and create something bigger,” Prevost told She Scores. “It was an easy decision to join them and fight for the future of women’s hockey.”
While all the Toronto Furies are advocates for a brighter future for women’s hockey, joining the PWHPA wasn’t an option for everyone on the roster, for reasons similar to being unable to go to the NWHL. Living and working far away from Toronto, for example, makes it difficult to get to practices and showcases. Brittany Zuback, who was with the Furies from 2017-2019, runs her own chiropractic clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont., where she was born and raised. The University of Vermont alumnae played for the Furies while obtaining her doctor of chiropractic at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto.
Right now it is unclear on when a new women’s hockey league will start. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has refused to offer support from the NHL unless there is no women’s hockey league in North America. Dani Rylan, commissioner of the NWHL, has refused to step down.
The PWHPA will keep fighting into this year to build support and passion for women’s hockey. They state on their website that they “will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”
“I think we took a lot of big steps this year,” said Prevost. “It grew from the CWHL. Every year we had more fans and more support for the league. This year we’ve made some huge strides. Obviously we want it to go faster and have something come September, but it’s also not a good idea to rush things. We want to do things the right way.”
Photo credit: Chris Tanouye/CWHL