The CWHL is expanding to China, conquering new frontiers and hoping to soon be able to compensate players with reliable salaries to become the destination for professional women’s hockey. Just not soon enough for some.
Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Kaitlyn Tougas recently vacated her position with the Markham Thunder after one season in the CWHL to join MODO in the SDHL, a Sweden’s women’s league. Joining her are former Toronto Furies skaters Jenelle Kohanchuk and Michela Cava, who signed earlier this summer. Tougas played four years at Bemidji State University in the NCAA before her rookie campaign with the Brampton Thunder (now relocated to Markham), in which she scored just one goal in 23 games.
She spoke with The Ice Garden about the motivation behind taking her career overseas, what she hopes to get out of women’s pro hockey, and what frustrated her about her time in the CW.
What prompted your decision to play in Sweden? Was it a difficult one?
Playing overseas has always been something I wanted to do. Being able to see the world and travel, playing the game I love, is an opportunity I couldn't let pass. It wasn't difficult at all; the deal was there and I jumped on it.
What do you know about playing in Sweden, and did it make it easier knowing several other CWHL players are headed there as well?
A teammate of mine, Hanna Moher, played at Bemidji State with me in college, she played in Sweden for HV71 this past season. I heard nothing but great things and I have no doubts that when I land in Sweden that it will be a great experience. Michela Cava signed to MODO a few months prior to me; she is also from Thunder Bay, and we are great friends. Being able to reunite with her once again made it easier for me to make my decision.
Did the CWHL's expansion to China affect your decision? If so, in what ways?
I was excited to hear about our expansion, but my opinion on it remains the same as many of my former CWHL teammates: how can a team join a league, take players they choose, without even doing a draft properly? Where is the money going, and where is it coming from? A lot of questions have been unanswered, and to be honest, the CWHL claims to be a professional league, yet we did not have an expansion draft — one day Team China appeared with a roster and salaries given.
Was playing for a living wage the priority, and was that part of your consideration?
My priority was that I could play in Sweden and not have to work; it definitely came into discussion. As a professional athlete, I want to my job to be the game.
Did you consider any other playing options besides MODO and the CWHL?
I spoke with a few teams in Germany, but they did not have the kind of money or funding that the league in Sweden was able to offer.
What are you looking forward to most about playing with MODO?
I'm looking forward to being on the ice every day and being at the rink like a professional athlete should. Taking the job of a professional hockey player is exciting, and I can't wait to be a part of that atmosphere.