Founded in 2007, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was created with two goals in mind— to create a place for the highest-level women’s hockey players to continue to compete and hone their skills, and to create a future for the sport of women’s hockey.
Players including Jennifer Botterill, Lisa-Marie Breton, Allyson Fox, Kathleen Kauth, Kim McCullough, and Sami-Jo Small worked with a group of volunteer business people to create the league after the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) dissolved. Using the National Lacrosse League as an example of a sustainable business model, they established the league as a not-for-profit enterprise, formed a Board of Directors, and drafted a constitution. The league would be responsible for costs of travel, ice rental time, uniforms, and equipment.
In its first season, the CWHL consisted of 7 teams in Ontario and Quebec: the Ottawa Capital-Canucks, Montreal Stars, Quebec Phoenix, and four teams in the Greater Toronto Area: the Brampton Canadettes Thunder, Mississauga Chiefs, Burlington Barracudas and Vaughan Flames.
The first CWHL champions, decided in the final playoff series of the 2007-2008 season, were the Brampton Canadettes Thunder, who won over the Mississauga Chiefs. Lori Dupuis was named Most Valuable Player of the championship. That same season, a 16 year old Marie-Philip Poulin began her CWHL career with an 8-game scoring streak totaling 15 goals, and was named Outstanding Rookie at the end of the regular season.
At the end of the 2008-2009 season, the Clarkson Cup was awarded for the first time, going to the Montreal Stars. The Stars also recorded a league-record 25 regular season wins that season. Jayna Hefford became the first CWHL player to record 100 career points, notching number 100 in a January 2009 game against the Montreal Stars. Hefford also won the Angela James Bowl with 69 points, and was named the CWHL’s Top Forward.
The Montreal Stars repeated as the top team in the CWHL during the 2009-2010 regular season, but were defeated by the Brampton Thunder in the Clarkson Cup semi-finals. Brampton subsequently lost in the Clarkson Cup Championship game to the Minnesota Whitecaps of the WWHL. The Clarkson Cup was held at the Elgin Barrow Arena in Richmond Hill, Ontario thanks to a donation from the city of Richmond Hill. The CWHL also participated in a series of four charity games against NHL alumni in March 2010.
On August 12th, prior to the beginning of the 2010-2011 CWHL season, the first CWHL Draft was held at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Olympic gold medalist Tessa Bonhomme was drafted first overall by Toronto. It was also announced that Boston, Massachusetts would receive an expansion team – the league’s first official United States presence.
The Montreal Stars topped the CWHL standings for the third year in a row, and for the second time in three years, won the Clarkson Cup. Sarah Vaillancourt was named both Clarkson Cup MVP and the CWHL’s Outstanding Rookie. Caroline Ouellette was the CWHL’s regular-season MVP, and also won the Angela James Bowl with 68 points.
In the 2011-2012 season, the CWHL expanded once again, adding Team Alberta (currently known as the Calgary Inferno), which would combine former WWHL teams the Edmonton Chimos and the Strathmore Rockies under a singular CWHL banner. Canadian Olympian Meghan Agosta was selected first overall by the Montreal Stars in the 2011 CWHL draft. Agosta was recognized as the 2011-12 regular season CWHL MVP, as well as the Angela James Bowl for scoring a league-record 80 points in 27 games. The Montreal Stars claimed their second straight Clarkson Cup with a 4-2 victory over the Brampton Thunder. The Clarkson Cup took place Niagara Falls, Ontario, with 5,000 fans attending the championship game.
Prior to the 2012-2013 season, the CWHL announced it would fold its Burlington team in order to strengthen the league. The Toronto Furies announced a partnership with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, with the Maple Leafs providing funding for coaches, equipment, and travel expenses. Team Alberta of the CWHL (now the Calgary Inferno) announced a similar partnership with the Calgary Flames.
Meghan Agosta-Marciano became the first CWHL player to win back-to-back Angela James Bowl titles, securing her second with 46 points. Rookie Hilary Knight helped lead the Boston Blades to a top-place finish in the regular-season CWHL standings, unseating the Montreal Stars after a five-year first place streak. Knight was also named regular season MVP. The Blades defeated the Stars with a 5-2 win for their first Clarkson Cup title.
In 2013-2014, CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton registered her 100th career point with the Montreal Stars. Other players to reach 100 points that season included Vanessa Davidson of the Montreal Stars and Meagan Aarts of the Toronto Furies. Ann-Sophie Bettez took home both the regular season MVP title and the Angela James Bowl, scoring 40 points.
Though the Montreal Stars regained their seat atop the regular-season rankings, the Toronto Furies became the first fourth-place CWHL team to win the Clarkson Cup, earning the 2014 title in a 1-0 overtime win against the Boston Blades.
Prior to the 2014-2015 season, Olympian Laura Fortino became the first player to be drafted first overall by the Brampton Thunder. In February 2015, Caroline Ouellette broke Jayna Hefford’s CWHL scoring record as she recorded her 235th point against the Brampton Thunder. Ouellette would finish the season with 246 career points. Rebecca Johnston of the Calgary Inferno finished the regular season with 37 points, winning the Angela James Bowl.
This season also marked the first CWHL All-Star Game, held at the Air Canada Centre with almost 7,000 fans in attendance. Team captains were goaltender Charline Labonte of the Montreal Stars and forward Jessica Campbell of the Calgary Inferno. The Boston Blades won the 2015 Clarkson Cup, their second, by defeating the Montreal Stars in overtime on a goal from Janine Weber, who became the first European-born player to score a Cup-winning goal. Her stick was later donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Prior to the 2015-16 CWHL season, the CWHL announced a third NHL partnership, this time with the Montreal Canadiens. As part of this relationship, the Montreal Stars were rebranded Les Canadiennes de Montreal to bring them into the extended Canadiens family. Three members of Canada’s gold-medal winning Sochi team were selected in the 2015 CWHL draft: Marie-Philip Poulin by Les Canadiennes (formerly the Montreal Stars), and Brianne Jenner and Hayley Wickenheiser by the Calgary Inferno. Poulin took home the Angela James Bowl, scoring 46 points, and was also named regular-season MVP and CWHL Top Forward.
The second CWHL All-Star Game was held at the Air Canada Centre on January 23, 2016, with Natalie Spooner of the Toronto Furies and Julie Chu of the Les Canadiennes serving as team captains. Toronto Furies defender Sena Suzuki became the first international player to appear in a CWHL All-Star Game.
A fourth NHL partnership as announced in 2016 as the Ottawa Senators partnered with the CWHL to bring the Clarkson Cup to Ottawa and to host it for the first time in an NHL arena. The Calgary Inferno won the 2016 Clarkson Cup, defeating Les Canadiennes 8-3 in the championship game. Goaltender Delayne Brian was named Clarkson Cup MVP.