Like everyone else upon seeing the news Sunday morning that the CWHL was shuttering in May, Sami Jo Small, GM of the Toronto Furies and one of the original founders of the CWHL, was blindsided.
“I think when the news came out, we were all in shock.” Small said not even 48 hours after the initial stunning press release came out Monday on Prime Time Sports.
Still in an seeming state of shellshock, Small expressed confusion over the recent events as she, nor any of the other CWHL GMs in the league, were made aware of this decision coming down beforehand.
“The week previous we had our Clarkson Cup and everything was positive there,” said Small. “We had great viewership numbers, we had a five-hour GM meeting with [CWHL commissioner] Jayna Hefford there and talked about best practices, how we’re gonna improve for the next season. This was less than two weeks ago that this all happened.
“And in that time frame they had a board meeting, decided this, had their vote on Friday night – which is why we found out on Sunday morning – and here we are.”
In the press release the CWHL sent out announcing the league was ceasing operation, it stated that it wasn’t “sustainable financially,” something Small has had a hard time believing because of the way the league is set up.
“Having sat on the board initially for the first six years of the league it was never not financially sustainable,” she said. “It’s a not-for-profit so all the money that comes in we then spend every year. The reason why we set it up that way is each team gets the exact same amount of money and it was sort of a failsafe. It was supposed to protect any team from having more than the other, but also if we brought in less money in a year then we’d disseminate less money.
“So we just felt as GMs that if this was the case, if there wasn’t the financial stability at any point in the season, you could’ve asked us to spend less money or bring in more money.”
Even more confusing for Small, is that she appears to be told that the CWHL closing down might actually be a positive for women’s hockey in the long run.
“There’s a lot of unknowns along the way, a lot of things I think that should’ve been done differently. In the end, is this the right thing for women’s hockey? Maybe. And maybe this is exactly what needed to be done.”
Small might be saying this in speculation that a proper NHL-involved women’s league could be coming as Gary Bettman has stated in the past that as long as existing women’s leagues are operating in North America he won’t step in.
However, the NWHL intends on operating for another season, that can’t possibly the reason, can it?
“What does that mean for our future? We weren’t privy to those conversations between the NWHL and CWHL board prior so we don’t know what was agreed upon. Were they both supposed to disband at the same time? Who knows? I don’t know the undercurrents there.”
The confusion and frustration Small expressed Monday mirrors many of those who were both a part of and followed the CWHL as answers haven’t been too forthcoming in the immediate aftermath.