This weekend, Les Canadiennes de Montreal and the Calgary Inferno will travel to Ottawa for the second straight season to face off against each at the Canadian Tire Centre for the highest honor in the CWHL, the Clarkson Cup.
It’s a game that’s sure to be exciting to watch; the Inferno have an opportunity to become the first back-to-back Clarkson Cup champions since the then-Montreal Stars did it in 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile, Les Canadiennes will surely have revenge on their mind after a stunning 8-3 loss in last year’s final.
But while both teams prepare for the puck drop at the Ottawa Senator’s home rink, the CWHL will have something else to think about: where will the Clarkson Cup be hosted next year?
Moving the game to the Canadian Tire Centre was the first time that the Clarkson Cup was played in an NHL rink. The All-Star Game was held in the Air Canada Centre and several games have been played in other large arenas before, but before the Ottawa Senators partnered with the CWHL, there had never been a Clarkson Cup Final game in an NHL rink.
The league’s two-year deal with the Senators ends after this season, which means the CWHL will need to find a new place to host the Clarkson Cup. Will it return to the Canadian Tire Centre? Or will it move somewhere else? That hasn’t been decided yet, CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress told media before the league’s All-Star Game.
“We’ve got to get through this season….We’ll take a look at many different options for next year, for where to go, for where to grow the game. Montreal’s Bell Centre game had 6,000 fans in it, from that point on, the Montreal games have been sold out. So that’s one of the partnerships where you see partnering with the Montreal Canadiens has benefitted Les Canadiennes hugely,” said Andress. “So these are opportunities where we take a look and say, ‘Where do we grow the game next?’”
Andress’ comment about looking at many different options seems to suggest that the league will be looking to move somewhere new. The Canadian Tire Centre was a perfect venue for the CWHL in more than one respect: hosting the game there is more professional than a smaller venue and has more seating for fans. Playing in Ottawa also allows different fans to watch a game they might not have access to normal. This seems to be an important factor in deciding where the game is hosted.
“We’ve always moved the Clarkson Cup,” said Andress. “We went from Barrie to Niagra Falls to Markham to Ottawa. We take a look and we have a set committee that looks at what’s the best and where to move our game…and also what’s best for the CWHL and how to grow our fan base.”
There are several different options that the CWHL will have to consider before this time next year.
So far, the league has had success playing in NHL rinks - last year’s Clarkson Cup brought in over 4,000 fans, this year’s regular season game attendance in Montreal near 6,000, and the All-Star Game had a record 8,122 fans attend. After two years in the Canadian Tire Centre, it seems best if the league continues that trend and partners with another NHL team to host the event. But where should they go?
Would the league consider hosting the final in an American market? Because the CWHL has only one American franchise in Boston (and one that likely won’t qualify for the playoffs next year), the league’s main fanbase is in Canada, but the opportunity to play in a place like Minnesota or maybe even Buffalo would catch the attention of a new audience.
But that might not be likely, especially when the league has deals with Canadian media companies like Sportsnet. So where else could the league turn to in Canada? If they want to continue partnering with NHL teams, Edmonton is a potential option, as is Vancouver, though that’s awfully far out of the way for everyone involved. Returning to an existing CWHL city is also a possibility. With the success of the Montreal/Calgary regular season game hosted at the Bell Centre this year, it’s not unlikely that the CWHL might decide to return there or venture out to Calgary. The Air Canada Centre has also been home to three CWHL All-Star Games, and is another venue that would make a prime spot for the Clarkson Cup.
It’s not likely that the league will have a plan in place by this weekend. Andress didn’t have an answer at the ASG in February and she likely won't this weekend. But this is the same Brenda Andress who dropped an NHLPA partnership announcement at the ASG Frozen Fantasy Draft and who has a history of making big announcements at key league events, so who knows?