Sophie Shirley to play in CWHL for 2017-18 season, retain NCAA eligibility

Offensive standout will suit up for the Calgary Inferno this season, but could still play for the Wisconsin Badgers

Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal reported on Friday what some in women's hockey were expecting to hear - Sophie Shirley will not be suiting up for the Badgers this season, instead playing for the Calgary Inferno in the CWHL.

Shirley was drafted by the Inferno in the third round with the 19th overall pick. Normally, players have to be at least 20 years old to be registered for the draft, but exceptions can be made.

It's not great news for the Badgers, who lost more than half of their goal-scoring with the graduation of their senior class and Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark to centralization. But the Inferno, who lost nine players of their own to centralization, will be a perfect landing spot for Shirley, who should slot right into the starting lineup and will likely see significant minutes.

Shirley may still rejoin the Badgers at some point; despite playing for a pro team, she will retain her NCAA eligibility. Kristen Hagg, the Inferno's GM, says that Shirley will only accept "actual and necessary expenses" as defined by the NCAA, which include meals, lodging, apparel, equipment, instruction, insurance, transportation and medical treatment.

Currently, the CWHL does not pay its players a salary, though players can receive monetary bonuses if they win individual or team awards. It is also expected that the CWHL will pay its players in some way this season, though how much players would make and how that money would be distributed is not yet known. If it is a salary, Shirley won't be able to accept it and still play in the NCAA.

Shirley isn't the first player to play in the CWHL before going to college, though it's an unusual route to go for women's hockey players; Marie-Philip Poulin played the then-Montreal Stars before she went to Boston University, and Ann-Renee Desbiens, another Wisconsin standout, also played with the Stars before playing for the Badgers.

Shirley has twice been on Team Canada's U-18 team. Most recently, she tallied two goals and four assists in five games at the 2017 U-18 World Championships, which led Team Canada's offense.