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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Yue

Markham Thunder hope to continue to grow Women's Hockey.

Updated: Jun 19, 2018

Markham Thunder
Markham Thunder taking women's hockey beyond the Olympics, growing the game in Markham. (Photo: Jonathan Yue)

Parliament Hill welcomed the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup when the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1993. On Monday, the Markham Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League made history visiting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the Clarkson Cup, marking the first time that the CWHL champions are honoured in Ottawa.

It is one of the many steps the CWHL is doing to promote and build the women’s game, especially in Markham ever since the Thunder moved there from Brampton. Thunder general manager, Chelsea Purcell hopes that this is just the beginning of growing women’s hockey in Canada and beyond. With the support from the city and City of Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Purcell says it makes a difference for the overall experience.

“The girls bought in so much more because the city had bought in,” Purcell says. “The city supported us whenever we needed it from the start of the season to the end, and it really brought another level to the team.”

With the visit to Parliament, the Thunder helped spread women’s hockey at the national level. “Our players do so much within our communities to work with youth and grow the game, but today provides another level of reach. Young girls from across the country have an opportunity to see professional women’s hockey players being recognized for their incredible achievements beyond the national program and it is an amazing thing to see,” Purcell stated in the Thunder’s press release on Tuesday.

After spending the team’s first 19 seasons in Brampton, the Thunder relocated to Markham in hopes of a new market and opportunity to grow the game. Taking on the duties of general manager during the relocation process, Purcell also saw the opportunity with the two Chinese teams joining the league.

“The timing with the China teams was really good for us, with the large Asian market in Markham,” Purcell recalls. “Finding new ways of reaching them so that they’ll come out and support when China is in town or even supporting us, and getting their kids into hockey.”

Winning the Clarkson Cup in March, Purcell and the Thunder believe that there is still work to be done. With their primary target audience being girls that play hockey, Purcell sees the challenge of conflicts in the schedule, and is looking to adapt and find new audiences to attend and support the game.

With the possibility of the Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League stepping in to run a professional women’s league, there is hope that it could one day give the women’s game the support and structure to succeed, but it doesn’t seem favourable if the National Women’s Hockey League and Canadian Women’s Hockey League remain separate leagues.

“If somebody is willing to take over the league and pay players professional wages, that’s what the goal for women’s hockey is, to become a professional sport where girls can play and not have to work to play,” Purcell says.

Players like goalie Liz Knox also hopes that they will one day see a league where players can just focus on the game and not have to worry about anything else but the product on the ice.

“At some point when I’m an old lady I can watch a pro women’s league where they make enough money or get by enough that they can have part-time jobs or no jobs even and just focus on that part of their lives (hockey). It does make a difference, not only for individual players but for the product that goes on the ice too.”

But in the meantime, the celebration continues with the Thunder. And with the CWHL Draft coming up in August, the Thunder hope to add to their championship team, looking for more reasons to celebrate and spread the women’s game to next levels.

“The celebrations’ going to continue all summer long,” Purcell says laughing. “Continue it into the season.”

© Jonathan Yue
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