Q&A with Ramina Shlah

The Inferno social media manager talks about her time with the CWHL and the team

The Calgary Inferno had perhaps one of the best Twitter accounts in the CWHL. They balanced engaging, fun, and lighthearted posts with sharing news and game updates. The account had a consistent voice and reliably loved the same jokes, including hating the triple overtime of the 2017 playoffs.

We caught up with the person behind the account, the one who helped fans feel connected to their team, the Inferno’s social media manager Ramina Shlah.

How did you get into hockey as a fan?

I’ve been into sports for as long as I can remember. Everyone in my family really liked soccer and my dad and a few uncles/older cousins were into hockey, so I basically grew up watching it with my dad and things of that sort. I was always a fan but I got really into it and was keeping up with the standings/watching as many games as I could when I was about 15 I think.

How did you get into women’s hockey?

Similar to growing up watching hockey, I always watched the gold medal women’s hockey games at the Olympics since that’s really the only time they were shown. I remember watching the 2002 game where Hayley Wickenheiser was giving that post-game interview about the Canadian flag on the floor of the Americans’ locker room. I think when I got more into it was around 2013-14 when I realized there was a women’s hockey team in Calgary and I’d go to a couple of games here and there over the next couple of years whenever I could.

How did you get involved in the CWHL?

In 2017, I had a friend (shout out Ari) who was at a Hockey Calgary event that Jeff (former Inferno GM) was at. Ari had volunteered with the Inferno for a couple of years at that point I believe, so she knew Jeff already, and he mentioned they were looking for more volunteers in their PR department. She somewhat name dropped me, and Jeff gave her the Inferno media coordinator to give to me. I emailed her, and the rest is history.

What were your roles with the league/team?

I was the Inferno’s social media manager. It was funny how I got that role. After a few months of contacting Tammy [the Inferno’s media coordinator], we were talking about volunteering in their media department. I was running a Flames blog for a season already where I also ran their socials. Tammy asked me if I wanted to be the Inferno’s social media manager since I had some experience in that, and I blurted out, “Do you really trust me to do that...?” She responded with, “Uh, do you not want to...?” and I knew I messed up and I’m like “NO, I DO.”

On top of running the socials which involved a lot of marketing for the games (since the league doesn’t exactly get much coverage otherwise besides blogsites), I also did the odd press release when needed and helped with the production of videos whenever we made some sort of fun video. I also helped with game-day duties (along with the other media volunteers), which you don’t generally see in the NHL or any pro men’s league.

What did the CWHL mean to you?

I loved every second of it. While it was uncompensated, as are many roles in women’s hockey, it was still extremely rewarding. I didn’t want to do it for the money, I genuinely wanted to help grow the game, and I hoped I did that. I would see some people reply to our Tweets saying they got into the Inferno or the CWHL because they saw our Tweets and thought they were entertaining, and that meant so much to me. If I was able to even get one person in the game by basically being an idiot online, it’s everything.

For selfish reasons, I also know that my role with the Inferno opened so many doors for me. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to specifically do, career-wise; I was taking communications in university and just knew I wanted to work in sports. After doing what I did with the Inferno, I really loved it and I’d like to think I’m decent at it and it’s definitely something I want to pursue. Having “social media manager for a professional hockey team” on my resume looks quite good, and I really do have Ari, Jeff, Tammy, and Kristen (Hagg) to thank for that.

Tell me about a specific moment or game that specifically stands out to you. Why does it stand out to you?

I think it was triple OT in the CWHL semis between the Inferno and the Kunlun Red Star in 2017.

I’ll get into the game in a second, but I think why it stood out to me, besides the game itself, was from the behind-the-scenes events. As many people may remember, I believe the league was initially going to stream the game from their site, but in the morning put out a post saying they weren’t going to anymore.

I woke up on a Sunday at 8 a.m. to texts from Jeff trying to coordinate what we could do. We were working with the Red Star folks as well as Nico (the play-by-play guy) to see what we could do. Kristen was going to try and live Tweet as much as she could, we were even going to potentially have Nico call me to basically give me a play-by-play as I live tweet it.

The Red Star folks were going to go buy stuff from Best Buy to try and live stream the game for the fans. Finally, the league decided to stream it on their site after seeing our efforts (good thing they did, it was a memorable one). Just seeing the efforts of everyone involved trying to get some sort of streams for the fans, you could tell everyone was extremely passionate about women’s hockey and making it as accessible as possible. People were willing to spend their own money on devices so others could watch it. If it wasn’t for those efforts, I really don’t think it would have been streamed.

Alright, now on to the game itself. As many people know, I don’t travel with the team for their away games, so I was literally watching that from my bedroom all by myself. Both goalies put up tremendous efforts and it was such a nail-biter. The arena looked full and everyone was into it, despite being almost twice as long as a regular hockey game. I think that game also somewhat put the Inferno’s socials on the map.

I was, obviously, freaking out on Twitter about the game and tweeting things like “please wait for us @westjet” and many people followed us that night and a few people found out I ran the socials that night as well which got me more into the women’s hockey community on Twitter.

As we know in the NHL, they don’t allow three games in three days. However, not only did both those teams play three games in three days, with the third going to triple OT, that’s basically four games in three days. And after that heartbreaking loss for the Inferno, they missed their flight (Westjet I told you to wait for us), didn’t really get any sleep, had to get ready in airport bathrooms the following morning, and head right away to work. It just shows their passion and dedication for the game and I really don’t think many people realize just how much work and commitment is required. I have a tremendous amount of respect for every female athlete and it’s insane how they do this every day on top of having full-time jobs or being full-time students.

What do you hope the legacy of the league is?

It’s hard to say. Right now, it isn’t looking good. You see the players publicly angry at the league, many players tweeting out the auction with captions along the lines of “help us get the money we were supposed to be paid”. On top of that, with the trophies, unfortunately, being auctioned off, it’s a part of history just being auctioned off. I really don’t know how this all went down, but the players and the GMs/coaches really deserved so much better than all of this. I think people will forever know the CWHL as the first pro women’s hockey league in North America, started by players for the players, but I don’t think anybody foresaw how it was going to end, and I think more people will remember how it ended than how it began, unfortunately.

What do you see the future of women’s hockey?

I definitely see female hockey players earning a livable income doing this. We already see it happening in some countries. WNBA players and female soccer players in the States are making statements with how they deserve to be treated. It makes sense for women’s hockey to follow that path.

If you asked me this last year, I probably would have told you that they most likely won’t be earning livable wages for maybe another 10 years. But the sport has been growing so much faster than I could have anticipated, especially within the last three years, and people are (finally) starting to realize just how entertaining women’s hockey is.

Kristen Hagg said it really well in a CBC interview the other day, where she said: “We live in a society where people do not value women’s sport. Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sport as dominant and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society internalizes falsehood, it’s not easy to correct it.” In order for the sport to truly grow, the media needs to start paying attention year-round, not just when something major happens, and these big corporations need to step up and give women’s hockey the coverage it deserves.