Come closely Calgary, I'm gonna let you in on one of this city's best kept secrets. We have a professional women's hockey team. Well, kind of. You see, these women which contain Olympians, All Stars and elite players from around Canada and the U.S aren't actually paid a dime.
The Calgary Inferno is in its forth year of playing in the Canadian Women's Hockey League; the first two the team was simply know as Team Alberta. During year two however a partnership was struck with the Calgary Flames and the Inferno were born. The team largely has remained a mystery to many Calgarians but to those passionate few that have learned the secret have become hooked.
Now I know I said the CWHL is a professional league and for all intents and purposes it is just that. But the league is still in its infancy with five teams: Calgary is the only western based team. Toronto, Brampton, Montreal and Boston comprise the rest of the league. League Commissioner Brenda Andress has steadily grown the league, landing a deal with Sportsnet to be able to hold and broadcast the league's first ever All Star Game, as well as televising the Clarkson Cup Final.
The goal is simple: the league wants to be able to pay its players and provide a league where little girls can dream of making a living playing a game they love. As it is now the league operates on a yearly budget of around $1.25 million dollars. So while players are not paid to play, they don't pay to play. Travel, hotel, ice time and equipment are covered by the league and its sponsors.
Now, this means that most players need to work a day job to earn ends meet, while training and practicing and traveling for road games. Their seasons may only include 24 games but try to balance all that out making sure you don't get fired and continue to succeed at the job that pays your bills while competing at the highest level in your sport.
Olympic athletes have been doing that for years but thankfully they are able to receive some financial relief. Most of the players in the CWHL, however, do not.
So by now you're probably asking why am I harping on this? Well that answer is simple. Because of the harsh financial reality of the CWHL the five teams are compiled with players that want to play hockey at any cost. It's one of the unique factors of the CWHL that may only be around for a few more years before money and contract disputes dominate headlines like in the NHL.
That's why it's one of Calgary's best kept secrets and if you've never head of the Calgary Inferno or been to a game before you're not alone, but you are missing out. After two seasons in the cellar the Inferno made their first playoff birth last season after finishing third in the league. This season, after several key acquisitions including two-time Olympic Gold Medalists Rebecca Johnston and Haley Irwin, the Inferno find themselves sitting in first place, three points up on the Boston Blades.
You've probably heard about some of the Blades players, too, as their roster sports many U.S. National team players including Hillary Knight and Meghan Duggan. It just so happens that the Inferno's next home action and last chance to get in on the secret this season is Feb 13/14/15 at Winsport against those very Blades.