April 2, 2019 / 8:36 PM / 7 months ago

Ice hockey: U.S.-based women's league approves plan to expand into Canada

(Reuters) - The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) said on Tuesday its board has approved an investment plan to expand into Canada with the goal of having teams in Toronto and Montreal in place for next season.

The news comes two days after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which included teams in Toronto and Montreal, said its business model had proven to be economically unsustainable and that it would cease operations on May 1.

“We expect to have teams in Toronto and Montreal this upcoming season and we’ll be pursuing opportunities to work with current stakeholders and partners,” the NWHL said on Twitter.

“The NWHL is moving quickly to ensure those teams have a place to play this fall. This does NOT preclude us from looking into expansion in other markets in Canada and the U.S.”

There had been a consensus for a long time that two women’s professional leagues in North America could not thrive as separate entities even with the women’s game gaining in popularity.

The decision to discontinue the CWHL, which was founded in 2007 and had four teams based in Canada, one in the United States and another in China, left the NWHL as the only professional hockey league for women in North America.

When news of the CWHL’s demise surfaced, the NWHL was quick to offer reassuring words to players affected by the shutdown of the Canadian league.

“We will pursue all opportunities to ensure the best players in Canada have a place to play,” NWHL Founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan said. “Those conversations have started already and have quickly become a priority.”

Adding Toronto and Montreal would take the NWHL up to seven teams with franchises currently in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New Jersey and Minnesota.

The 2018-19 NWHL season, which ended last month, had an average attendance of 954. Of the 46 games during the campaign, a league-record 16 were sell-outs.

The CWHL boasted some of the game’s biggest names, including American Hilary Knight, whose Montreal team lost to Calgary in the championship game nine days ago.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis

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