In a shocking move, the CWHL is suddenly down to six teams. The Vanke Rays have been discontinued, leaving Kunlun Red Star as the sole CWHL team in China.
“The decision to move to a six-team league for the upcoming season has been made with a lot of thought and discussion between all parties involved, including the players, our league administrators, and the Kunlun organization,” commentated CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress in the league’s press release.
The decision was made in part to make the travel schedule easier for players than it was last season; teams typically played four games on short rest. Having one team in China should make for less demanding travel.
Last year, the addition of the Vanke Rays was a bit abrupt. At first there was no formal announcement of the second Chinese team, just a logo on the website. But by the time the 2017-18 season began the CWHL had two new teams in China that both featured some exceptional talent.
The Rays had a strong start to the season before falling out of the playoff race to the eventual Clarkson Cup champions. Like Kunlun, Vanke relied heavily on its international imports on the ice. It was also evident that the Rays leaned too much on rookie goaltender Elaine Chuli, who looked more and more exhausted as the season wore on.
“Our travel to China last season was an incredible experience,” Lix Knox shared in the release. “From the players perspective, this change will mean even better competition when we make the trip over the Pacific this season.”
The CWHL losing a team in China also means that there will be less spots for player-ambassadors, which means less women making a living wage to play professional hockey. We have already seen Zoe Hickel, who played with Kunlun last year, sign with Calgary and Brooke Webster, who played with Vanke last year, sign with Markham. So, it looks like we should expect some more standouts from Vanke and Kunlun’s rosters last season to sign with North American clubs.
We will have more for you on this story as it develops.