When the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was initially established in 2007, nobody quite knew what was in store for its future. For years, there has been no compensation for the players. When the CWHL was started, the players had to pay for basically everything themselves, making it difficult for many women to be successful.
Defenseman and alternate captain for the Calgary Inferno, Jacquie Pierri, knows all about this. Spending her fifth year with the Inferno, she was there during those challenging times for female hockey players.
“My first year we had to pay for the draft, pay for try-outs, pay for sticks, we had to pay for meals on the road and it ended up being quite expensive throughout the season.” Said Pierri. “A couple thousands of dollars spent over the year between equipment, and you really have to have the highest calibre of equipment.”
Pierri, like almost every other CWHL player, has a regular full-time job during the week. The players will have practices before the crack of dawn during the week or during their game-free weekends. With no compensation in previous years, it was nearly impossible for women to be full-time hockey players without some sort of additional income.
At the start of the 2017-18 season, the CWHL announced that they will begin to pay their players. Albeit, it’s only a $100,000 cap for every team, but it’s a huge improvement and just a small sample of the development of women’s hockey and a big foreshadow of what’s to come.
“The biggest difference between when I first started and now is the support of the community.” Said Pierri. “We’re getting a lot more people in the stands and the biggest thing I’ve noticed when I first moved here is I had to really like spell out ‘Oh I play for the women’s professional team in Calgary, we’re the sister team of the Flames, blah blah blah.’ Now I just say Inferno and people recognize the name. They recognize the brand. That’s huge for us, especially for the little girls to know that we exist and everything like that. It’s really big.”
With two new teams this season in China to give a total of seven CWHL teams with players getting anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 salaries, this has been a great year for women’s hockey. But not only are the women getting compensation, there have been more sponsors over the last couple of years and more volunteers that have been making a substantial difference.
“Now, not only the salary and the compensation, we’re also getting sticks from Bauer, and some discounts on other equipment and everything is just a bit more organized.” Said Pierri. “Those dollars go a really long way. Like I feel like I can spend it on things like the gym, where you don’t think anything of it, but my first year, just to stay competitive, I was hiring a personal trainer or like little group training. That adds up to so much money. But now we have JJ who runs our training for us and we’re doing it as a team and everything is just really falling into place where it should be.”
Like I mentioned, most of these women have full-time jobs. Is there a point in the near future that they can see themselves quitting their jobs and becoming full-time hockey players? Pierri seems to think so.
“You can definitely see it building in that direction. And even where we’re at right now, I can see it in two, three years, people dropping their hours a little bit. And those sorts of things allow you to be a lot more competitive.
“I think it really shows the gap between the Olympians when they’re playing, and they can train full time. They just have a bit more energy and a bit more time to, you know, eat properly and repair their bodies properly where we don’t really have time for that when we’re working full time.
“And I can see it, you know, right now as a fifth-year player, I’m making a pretty solid stripe like I considered going down to a four-day week for the season. So I think you’re going to see a lot more of that in the next couple of years.”
It’s a minor change that’s making a big difference in these players’ lives and careers as successful pro athletes. After years and years of hard work and dedication, it’s finally starting to pay off.