CWHL receives lifeline offer from former backer

Venture capitalist Graeme Roustan, who had a falling-out with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League over internal finances a year ago, says he’s ready to rescue the league.

The board that oversees the not-for-profit organization announced Sunday that it would shut down after 12 seasons, but Roustan is offering to find replacements for the current board and run the CWHL — on his own if necessary.

The Calgary Inferno celebrated last Sunday at Coca-Cola Coliseum after becoming perhaps the last Clarkson Cup champions with a 5-2 win over Les Canadiennes de Montreal.
The Calgary Inferno celebrated last Sunday at Coca-Cola Coliseum after becoming perhaps the last Clarkson Cup champions with a 5-2 win over Les Canadiennes de Montreal.  (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“The most important thing is that there is professional women’s hockey in Canada,” said Roustan.

Roustan issued his press release on Friday afternoon after a week of turmoil in the women’s game, while the best players compete in the world championship in Finland. There was no immediate comment from CWHL board chair Laurel Walzak, interim commissioner Jayna Hefford or the league’s PR department.

The rival NWHL, a U.S.-based league that operates for profit, recently announced it would expand next year with teams in Montreal and Toronto.

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“We will pursue all opportunities to ensure the best players in Canada have a place to play,” NWHL commissioner and founder Dani Rylan tweeted this week. “Those conversations have started already and have quickly become a priority.”

Roustan, who owns The Hockey News, had been one of the CWHL’s biggest backers until Walzak took over as chair a year ago. Roustan withdrew his support saying he had been denied access to the board’s full financial statements. But he also says the women’s league has been a financial success.

The CWHL announced that a record 175,000 viewers tuned in to watch the Calgary Inferno down Les Canadiennes 5-2 and win the Clarkson Cup final on March 24 on Sportsnet.

“It’s a business that is 12 years in the making,” said Roustan. “In the first year, it was $100,000 in revenue and the last year it was $3.7 million. It’s grown in revenue, it’s grown in visibility, it’s grown in credibility, it’s grown in every single way possible. So it make no sense to me to shut down a business that has grown year after year. It makes no sense whatsoever. I really cannot understand what caused them to make the decision they made.”

Walzak and Hefford have said the league was shut down because the business model is unsustainable. While that raised plenty of eyebrows, some believe there’s more going on than meets the eye.

The NHL has wanted to be more involved in the women’s game, but has said there’s only room for one league, not two, and didn’t want to pick sides.

“The NHL has a huge platform to say whatever they want to say. The NWHL have to figure out what they’re going to do,” said Roustan. “But if there is an NHL solution, then they should step forward right now. If anyone has a solution, step forward. Get to the table.

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“I”m saying I’m willing to take it over. I’m willing to continue the league. Anybody else out there?”

Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran

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