Women's game on right path

STEPHEN SWEET, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

BARRIE, Ont. -- It was quite a sight this weekend. Seven games of high-level women's hockey featuring a bevy of Olympians from three different national teams.

There were even some good crowds, as evidenced by Sunday's nationally televised final.

It's a testament to how much the women's game has grown.

"The games in this tournament have been intense

throughout," said Brampton forward and three-time gold-medal winner Cherie Piper.

Arguably the best contest of the lot was Montreal's 7-4 victory against Brampton on Friday night, a contest that saw a bit of everything.

"That game was a fantastic product and no fan left the rink upset about what they saw," Piper said. "There were lots of goals and end-to-end excitement.

"I think our game has come a long way and it's continuing to grow."

It's through games like Friday night's contest that fans are made and kept, but without money coming in, it's hard to keep the players on the ice.

The leagues have added some major sponsors, like Scotiabank, Gatorade, and Molson, and that's helped cover some of the costs.

"We are completely dependant on sponsorship at this point," Piper said. "We have to respect the fact that some sponsors have stepped up huge and we appreciate it.

"Ultimately, we just need to get more people on board and show them that our game is worth it, and it matters to people."

The sponsorship to this point has allowed for major tournaments such as the Clarkson Cup.

"I feel like we've been pretty fortunate," said Brampton forward Lori Dupuis, a former Olympian who began playing in this league's original existence back in the 1990's.

She's seen the league go from one resembling a competitive rec league to a formalized, attended event.

"For us not to have to pay to play (now) is a huge feat," Dupuis said. "Getting our travel paid for is a big bonus."

The CWHL and WWHL create an opportunity for elite-level competition to play consistently against fellow top-tier talent on a semi-regular basis during the hockey season.

With a draft, full league schedule and a Memorial Cupstyle championship, the league is gaining some respect.

"I think we're really starting to, and it's because we've developed this league," Piper said. "We've taken steps to make it a more professional league, and that's helping us along."

Though things have improved, there's still a long way to go.

"We need more funding, more sponsorship, and more people in the seats," said Jayna Hefford, also a multiple gold-medal winner. "Eventually, we want it to be a pro league.

"There are a lot of small steps to get to the ultimate goal, but we're willing to put in the work."

Having a singular championship title is something that helps their case.

"We've started things off the right way (with the Clarkson Cup)," Hefford said. "It's helping us get recognized and people are starting to pay attention to women's hockey."

And although the days of getting paid to play may not happen until many of these athletes have retired, that's still a goal of theirs on the horizon.

"One day, down the road, it would be great to have all of the young girls be able to look up and say, 'I want to be a hockey player and have that be my job'," Piper said.

"We'll see. It may take a while, but eventually, we'll get there."


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