Two Saskatchewan hockey players are advocating for fair pay in women’s professional leagues.
Kaitlin Willoughby and Emily Clark are members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), which was formed in 2019.
“We weren’t creating a league, but we were creating a stance. We deserve better and we all want better for the future,” Willoughby, a former Saskatchewan Huskie, said.
Willoughby won a Canadian Women’s Hockey League title with the Calgary Inferno in 2019. Days later, the league folded due to financial challenges.
“In the back of our minds, I think we all knew that we weren’t getting what we deserved,” Willoughby said.
Players earned a small sum but had to work full-time jobs to afford to compete at the same time. The PWHPA emerged in the wake of the CWHL’s dissolution, but players are still forced to find other employment until the association can find sponsorship and create a fair-wage league.
“In Montreal last season, we’d practice at 8:30 at night so the girls that work full-time can come to practice,” Clark said.
The PWHPA currently has three hubs, in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
“We just want a better future for the sport, we want a viable and sustainable league and it’s honestly been inspiring being a part of it,” Clark said.
Some of the best players in North America, including Clark – who is a 2018 Olympic silver medalist – make up the PWHPA.
The 25-year-old participated in Hockey Canada’s training camp in Calgary last week. Clark will return to practice in Montreal, where restrictions have added challenges to the practice.
“It’s gone from full team practices to nothing to getting to skate with two players on each half of the red line,” Clark said.
Thus far, the PWHPA has only played in showcases, trying to raise awareness of the women’s game. Earlier this week, the NHL’s New York Rangers announced that on Feb. 28, Madison Square Garden will host its first-ever professional women’s game.
“I never would have dreamed that,” Willoughby said. “That’s the biggest thing. Allowing younger girls now to look at that and they’re going to be like, wow, I can do that.”
“It’s historical, it’s amazing, honestly being on the Canadian side of the border I’m a little jealous I’m not in the game,” Clark said.
The showcase in New York will only involve American players, but the PWHPA said it will add more games, including a stop in Canada.