It is often assumed that professional hockey players are highly paid. But for women, playing at even the highest level level, professional hockey is a constant battle between attempting to make a living and playing the game.
As the women’s world hockey championship faces off in Kamloops today, it’s worth noting that the world’s elite female athletes are vastly underpaid.
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is the highest women’s ice hockey league in Canada. It is home to some of the best female hockey players in the world, and they’re not paid for it.
The CWHL has been evolving for more than eight seasons now. The league was only founded in 2007 and is only made up of 5 teams:
- Toronto Furies
- Les Canadiennes (formerly Montreal Stars)
- Calgary Inferno (formerly Alberta Honeybadgers)
- Brampton Thunder
- Boston Blades
These five teams are made up of women you’ve seen and rooted for during the Winter Olympics, women who are NCAA Division 1 athletes, as well as other highly skilled and talented players from all over the world.
The price of playing
Unlike male players in the NHL, the salaries for these women are basically non-existent. The salaries for women playing at the top of the CWHL is approximately $1000 per year. But only if they win.
Some of the more fortunate women in the CWHL receive a stipend for top-ranked amateur athletes from the Canadian and American governments, but at the end of the day, it is not enough to live on.
It is rare for women to make a decent living while playing the sport. Finnish goalie Noora Räty, one of the best goalies in the world, and at the age of 24, almost retired from the sport solely because she was not getting paid to play in a competitive league.
A month later, Räty signed with Mestis, one of Findland’s professional men’s league, the same league that Canadian hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser previously played.
But these two are the exceptions.
Ultimately, this means part-time, and sometimes full-time jobs are the norm for these women. Their work schedules are planned around training, practice, and game schedules.
At the end of a hard day of playing, travelling, and arriving home late, they have to set their alarms to go back to work the next morning. This is the harsh and stark reality these struggling female athletes in comparison to their male, NHL counterparts.
The NHL by contrast, has a base salary for their players of roughly over $500,000, and a max salary cap of roughly $14 million. The national Team Canada men’s team includes 23 men from various NHL teams throughout North America.
This means that the entire 2014 Canadian National Men’s team was making roughly a combined NHL salary of over $150 million.
In a nutshell, the annual budget for the entire CWHL is roughly the same amount as a base salary of one average NHL player.
Time for change
The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is the American professional women’s hockey league. This league is also only made up of a measly four teams from the northeastern United States, including Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, and New York.
Last year, the NWHL announced it was going to start paying their players. The league salary cap for each team is $270,000, with a league minimum salary of $10,000 and a max of $25,000 per player.
More recently, the CWHL has now also announced that it hopes to start paying its players by the upcoming 2017-2018 season. This will make them the second women’s hockey league to pay their players.
If it is going to be anything like the NWHL salaries, then there is still work to be done.
How to help women’s hockey
Women’s hockey leagues are trying to make a change. But how can they when they are overlooked and underrepresented in comparison to professional men’s hockey?
The ultimate challenge is getting fans to buy into women’s hockey. Women’s hockey is only appreciated during the Olympic games, and even then, people don’t follow the women’s Team Canada as closely as they follow the men’s Team Canada.
However, audiences can support the CWHL by attending a game, paying $10 for a streaming video, purchasing some merchandise, and by bringing more awareness and talking about the pay gap between male and female professional hockey players.
One thing is for sure, female hockey players aren’t paying their dues in the penalty box.