By Paul Harbridge
In 2016, my son Dan texted me a photo of him wearing a cap with the crest of a hockey team I had never heard of: Les Canadiennes. They’re Montreal’s CWHL team, he said. The CWHL? I asked. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League, he said. He told me he had been to an early season game and was so impressed that he bought seasons tickets.
Like most people from Ontario, I grew up watching the Toronto Maple Leafs and dreamed of going to see them play but had only been three times in my entire life. Why? Because the tickets were just too darned expensive!
In September 2017, Dan suggested I check out the Toronto Furies, the CWHL team in Toronto. They play out of the Mastercard Centre in Etobicoke, not far from your house, he said.
My first pleasant surprise is there’s no traffic on the way to the rink and I’m there in ten minutes. The second? Free parking! Then I buy a ticket and – wow! – only $15! I buy a hotdog and Coke and – am I hearing the woman at the counter right? – only $5 for both, not the $20+ I’d shell out at other pro sporting events in the city.
The Toronto Furies warm-up prior to their game against the Markham Thunder in Oakville, ON on November 25, 2018.
I get in there and they drop the puck and – Holy Mackinaw! – these women can play! I watch the first period sitting three rows above the penalty box. In the second I move right behind the Furies bench and in the third, three rows behind the Furies goal, with pucks smashing off the plexiglass in front of my face. How cool is that?!
I was sold. The next day, I bought seasons tickets for my wife Isabel and me. By the end of that first season, I had a Furies cap, toque, sweatshirt and scarf. I was really getting into it! And it was SO NICE for us to see all the young girls who come out to cheer for their heroes – real, live, professional female hockey players who would dazzle them on the ice and then stay after games and chat and sign autographs.
Honestly, it is remarkable how dedicated the players are in the CWHL. They move the puck clean and fast, battle tirelessly in the corners, and drive the net hard. It’s a game every bit as intense as men’s hockey. But these amazing women also have day jobs as well – teachers, accountants, architects, financial advisors, etc. – because the league cannot yet afford to pay them a living wage. On top of that, they dedicate time to talking to schools, holding skills clinics and going anywhere needed to grow the game. Some even have young children. Talk about commitment to your sport!
Toronto Furies players sign autographs after a win over the Worcester Blades on December 9, 2018
One weekend the Furies played one of their “home” games in Sarnia against Les Canadiennes (to help grow the game, of course!) So I hopped on the fan bus and went for the trip. It was great. I got to meet Andrew – the 11-year-old anthem singer. Boy, he really belted it out that day! On the way home, his dad told me how Andrew’s twin sister wants to be a goalie but that Andrew would rather study music. Fantastic! That day, I also got to meet the general manager of both the Furies and Les Canadiennes. When was the last time you got to meet the GM of a sports franchise? Really.
For the annual You Can Play game, I invited a dozen people from my work and we sat in the stands cheering on the teams with a ten-foot long rainbow Pride flag spread across our laps, rooting for the Furies’ own Jessica Platt– the first transgender player in the CWHL!
At the end of the year, Dan and I put on our suits and went to the CWHL Awards Gala and saw all these super tough women dressed up and looking marvelous. It was a great celebration of the year that was. By the way, did you know that the name “Furies” comes from Greek mythology – Furies were the “infernal goddesses of revenge”. So watch out, all you mortals in the stands!
When my children’s picture hockey book When the Moon Comes came out in the fall of 2017, my son Dan started a Twitter account to promote it but before long it was 10% books and 90% women’s hockey – which was fine by me!
We went to the Clarkson Cup to watch the Markham Thunder defeat Kunlun Red Star, and a couple days later, Dan tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggesting he invite the Thunder to Ottawa. Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti and Markham MP Mary Ng got on board and in June the women were indeed invited to meet the Prime Minister!
— Paul Harbridge 🏒📖 (@PaulHarbridge) March 28, 2018
This past September I once again snapped up seasons tickets for only $175 – the best sports deal in town! I went to every game but one and Dan volunteered at a handful of them, manning doors, selling gear, collecting tickets, directing fans, and working at the Chuck-a-Puck. He also attended a couple of Furies adult skills clinics and said it was worth every cent. AND I got to meet the newest member of the team–mascot Kipling, the super-cool, all-round nice bear!
It was exciting to see Sportsnet broadcast a few CWHL games this year and also to see Hockey Night in Canada and Sportsnet giving CWHL updates during their NHL coverage, a definite step in the right direction.
We had a great time at the CWHL All-Star Game (ASG) at Scotiabank Arena, and Matt James, the illustrator of When the Moon Comes, brought his young family too. I bought an ASG cap and got it signed by Natalie Spooner, Renata Fast, Sarah Nurse, and Mellissa Channell… and Kipling the super-cool, all-round nice bear!
“Here’s Matt James (left) and me (right) at #CWHLAllStar2019 game! (We made When the Moon Comes together.) A beauty time was had by all!”
We also went to the Rivalry Series between Team Canada and Team USA. What fantastic hockey! So fast! So intense! We won that game and went on to win the next in Detroit to take the series. Bring on the Worlds in April!
To cap off the season, the Toronto Furies won their last five games to make the playoffs! I have never seen anyone play so hard as Natalie Spooner did in the final game at against the CWHL champions Markham Thunder. At the end of the game, she crashed hard into the boards and was helped off the ice but – thank goodness! – came back for the last shift of the third period.
Dan and I have purchased our tickets for this year’s Clarkson Cup (March 24 at Coca Cola Coliseum in Toronto) and for the CWHL Awards Gala but how we wish we could fly to Calgary to cheer on the Furies in their semifinal playoff series against the Inferno this coming weekend (March 8-10)! Bring it home Furies! We want to see you in the final!
— Paul Harbridge 🏒📖 (@PaulHarbridge) December 3, 2017
To wrap up, in two years I have gone from being unaware of the existence of the CWHL (totally a reflection on me) to a superfan (totally due to the quality of their product.) One day I am positive the women of the CWHL will be playing in front of huge crowds in big arenas which will be great for the game and exactly what these super-talented, exciting women’s hockey players deserve. But then a ticket won’t be $15, parking won’t be free and a hotdog won’t be $3.50. So my advice to anyone reading this is to come out and watch woman’s hockey NOW.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Harbridge is an author of several picture books, including WHEN THE MOON COMES (2018 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award winner, 2017 Governor General’s Award finalist), HELENA’S VOYAGE, and several published short stories.