Boswell: What to name the prize women’s pro hockey players compete for – news today

  • November 21, 2023

Both the Clarkson and the Isobel Cups have storied histories in Canadian hockey. The creation of the PWHL is a chance to honour them.

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As excitement builds around the January debut of North America’s new Professional Women’s Hockey League — and its six teams in Ottawa, Toronto, Minnesota, Boston, Montreal and New York lace up at their first training-camp skates — a key question lingers: What prize will they be playing for?

League spokesman Paul Krotz told the Citizen: “There have not been any decisions made yet regarding PWHL trophies.”

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That’s not the only unknown. The clubs’ rosters won’t be finalized for weeks. And the teams’ names haven’t been revealed yet.

But there is one box PWHL executives could tick if they want to honour the historical roots of women’s hockey and the two main professional predecessor leagues — the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Premier Hockey Federation — that made the birth of the PWHL possible.

PWHL execs should negotiate the rights to award the PHF’s Isobel Cup to the new league’s top regular season team and the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup to the PWHL’s playoff champion.

Each trophy has a venerable history linked to the origins of the women’s sport and to the laudable achievements of the two earlier leagues that helped bring women’s pro hockey to this landmark moment.

The new league rose from the ashes of the PHF, which folded in June after awarding its last Isobel Cup (the seventh since 2016, the first to a Canadian team) to the 2023 champions Toronto Six.

The pioneering CWHL had an earlier and longer run than the PHF, awarding its Clarkson Cup 11 times from 2009 to 2019 before the league disbanded. As with the Isobel Cup, both Canadian- and American-based champs took home the hardware: teams from Minnesota, Boston, Montreal and Calgary are among those honoured in the annals of Clarkson Cup history.

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The Clarkson and Isobel cups share significant connections to Ottawa’s Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada’s governor general and a well-known incubator of the emergent sport of ice hockey (for both men and women) in the late 19th century.

It was also, of course, the place where Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada’s vice-regal representative from 1888 to 1893, lived when he donated a certain silver bowl that eventually became the world-famous championship trophy of the National Hockey League.

In fact, the “Isobel” honoured in the name of the PHF trophy — officially the Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Cup — was Lord Stanley’s daughter, an early hockey enthusiast who was pictured chasing a puck at Rideau Hall in the oldest known photograph of women playing the game.

Earliest known photograph of women playing hockey, taken at Rideau Hall
Earliest known photograph of women playing hockey, taken at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, circa 1890. Lady Isobel Stanley, Lord Stanley’s daughter, is wearing an ankle-length white dress on the Rideau Hall rink. She became one of the first women photographed playing shinny. (Source: Proud past, bright future : One hundred years of Canadian women’s hockey) Postmedia

The Clarkson Cup is named for — and was commissioned by — Adrienne Clarkson, the former broadcaster who occupied Rideau Hall as Canada’s governor general from 1999 to 2005.

She presented her namesake cup in July 2006 to Team Canada captain Cassie Campbell in recognition of the team’s Olympic gold that year. But Clarkson made it clear that she intended it be awarded to the best team in the world’s best women’s hockey league.

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There were once plans to award the cup to the champs of the former National Women’s Hockey League (1999-2007), but a two-year legal dispute over the cup’s ownership meant it was never formally presented before that league folded. The CWHL formed two years later and its teams — along with clubs, for a brief time, from the former Western Women’s Hockey League (2004-2011) — competed for the Clarkson Cup for more than a decade.

It’s worth noting that the PWHL partly owes its existence to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, which grew out of the collapsed CWHL and organized high-level competitions in recent years with a trophy of its own: the Secret Cup, donated by the eponymous deodorant company.

It’s a fine firm with many fine-smelling products, and hats off for supporting elite women’s hockey with a fine-looking prize. But PWHL: please don’t go there.

The Isobel and Clarkson cups represent continuity in the growth of women’s professional hockey at the highest level and are looking for a renewed purpose. They are deserving trophies that would bring rich legacies to what promises to be the world’s best women’s pro hockey league for many years to come.

Randy Boswell is a journalism professor at Carleton University and a hockey enthusiast. In February 2005, he wrote a Citizen column urging then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson to lend her name to a championship trophy for elite women’s hockey — which she announced in September 2005 that she would do.

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