The journey of women's hockey has been remarkable– a story of grit, determination, and passion that makes your heart beat a little faster. At STÄRK Hockey, we're celebrating the struggles that paved the way for the game's success today. Join us in our "Beautifully Brave" story as we unpack the past, explore our role in supporting women's hockey, and get pumped for the incredible future that's right around the corner.
A Historical Odyssey: From Ottawa to Title IX
Surprisingly, the roots of women's hockey go way back to 1891, when the first-ever women's hockey game was played in Ottawa, Ontario. By the 1920s, universities began offering the opportunity for girls to play while pursuing higher education. However, despite the early successes of these teams from universities like Queen's, University of Toronto, and McGill, women's hockey struggled to garner the respect it deserved.
In the heart of the struggle for women's recognition in sports, Abigail Hoffman emerges as a true trailblazer. In 1956, at just nine years old, she confronted gender norms head-on when denied entry into a boys' hockey league. Undeterred, she boldly decided to cut her hair and adopt the name 'Ab' to pursue her passion for the sport. Despite shining as a star player, her dreams were shattered when the league discovered her true identity. Unfazed by adversity, Abigail pivoted to track and field, only to encounter similar barriers dictated by her gender. Abigail's parents, Roy and Jean, challenged the Ontario Athletic Commission's gender-restrictive policies in pursuit of change. The court ruled in favour of the Hoffmans, dismantling the discriminatory policies and declaring them unconstitutional. This decision marked a pivotal moment in the journey toward Title IX.
In 1972, Title IX was implemented in the United States, stating that no one can be excluded from or discriminated against in sports on the basis of sex. Regardless of being an American law, the enactment of Title IX heavily influenced Canadian law and revolutionized women's hockey, mandating equal opportunities for female athletes. It dismantled barriers and fueled the growth of women's hockey programs, fostering increased participation, skill development, and competitiveness.
This historical narrative, embodied by figures like Abigail Hoffman, perfectly captures the resilience and courage that shaped the growth of women's hockey. Their struggles became catalysts for change, influencing the trajectory of all women's sports.
From Adversity to Triumph: The Rise of Pro Women's Leagues
In the late 20th century, women's hockey hit a milestone, earning a spot in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Women's hockey was starting to be recognized by the public as a legitimate competitive sport. We thought the 2000s was a new start when we saw the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) in 2007, but financial instability led to its closure. In 2015, the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) took the reins, rebranding as the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) in 2021, signalling a renewed commitment.
However, the PHF also faced challenges, and in June 2023, the league underwent changes as the Mark Walter Group and BJK Enterprises acquired its intellectual property. This shift left athletes without teams, contracts, and paychecks. However, as the saying goes, one step back, two steps forward.
The Dawn of a New Era: Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL)
Amidst the uncertainties, a new league has emerged—the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL). Owned by Mark Walter, and with Billie Jean King on the board, we expect that the PWHL has learned from the challenges faced by its predecessors. Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford emphasizes the importance of a collective bargaining agreement for the league's success, providing certainty for athletes and ensuring sustainability.
With player salaries ranging from $35,000 to $80,000 US, the PWHL is committed to sustainable support for teams and players, setting standards that prioritize the well-being of athletes. Not only are these salaries a source of stability for those currently involved, but they are the beginning of a cultural shift in the sport, allowing young athletes to dream of playing professional women's hockey and pursuing this career with confidence, passion and direction.
STÄRK Hockey: Supporting the Future of Women's Hockey
At STÄRK Hockey, we stand alongside the beautifully brave women who have shaped the history of hockey. Our commitment to designing female-specific hockey gear is rooted in the belief that every player deserves equipment that empowers them to perform at their best. As the PWHL embarks on its journey, we look forward to supporting the league and contributing to the continued growth and success of women's hockey.
The story of women's hockey is one of perseverance, resilience, and the pursuit of dreams against all odds. We are on the cusp of something huge—a new era that promises stability, growth, and boundless opportunities for the next generation of female athletes. Together, let's celebrate the beautifully brave journey of women's hockey and the exciting chapters yet to unfold.