In the Clarkson Cup Final, the Calgary Inferno achieved the near impossible. Entering the game as the clear underdog, they went on to throttle the top-seeded Les Canadiennes by a final score of 8-3. But if the reigning champions want to repeat their glory, it will have to be done under new management.
Late last month, the CWHL posted a job opening on their website. This is no ordinary job though; the vacancy is for the General Manager of the Calgary Inferno. The GM that led the team to their first Clarkson Cup, Chantal Champagne, is stepping down after four seasons at the helm.
Champagne had quite the four years with Calgary. She became the GM in 2012, after the team’s inaugural season in the CWHL. The team was still the “Alberta Hockey Club” at the time. Champagne saw the team forge a partnership with the Calgary Flames and rebrand under the “Inferno” name. She had a hand in recruiting and drafting numerous Canadian stars, like Jocelyn Larocque, Sarah Davis and – most recently – Hayley Wickenheiser.
According to the CWHL, “Chantal is relocating to British Columbia this off-season and has decided to move on from the CWHL in a GM capacity on a high note with the Clarkson Cup win.”
It makes sense that Champagne would go out on a win. As an expansion team in the CWHL, the Inferno have clawed their way up to where they are now. The Clarkson Cup was the ultimate goal – look at this emotional picture of Jenna Cunningham if you need convincing. Obviously the team will continue to compete at the highest level, but for some who have invested years with Calgary, winning the cup may seem like “Mission Accomplished.”
Champagne is also a successful woman with many interests and pursuits. In the past she has been the GM for the Calgary Ultimate (Frisbee) Association. She is a certified Level VI official with Hockey Canada – making her qualified to referee IIHF tournaments and national championships. The fact that she was the Calgary GM for four years likely means she put some other interests on hold.
Filling the Void
The league is in a lull at the moment, as new players are still registering for the entry draft. Still, Calgary won’t want this position to stay vacant for long. Players whose two-year contracts are up will need to be re-signed, and free agents need to be pursued. The league is “actively recruiting now for the position,” and added that their “ideal time frame would be early June.”
Although the posting states that interviews will be held at the Calgary Flames Head Office, the CWHL clarified that the decision “will involve [CWHL Commissioner] Brenda [Andress] and Jessica O’Grady from Hockey Operations, but not executives from the Calgary Flames.”
Champagne is leaving behind big shoes. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a former player step in to fill them. The GMs of both the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder are former players for their clubs. This isn’t a guarantee though. Being a young club, the Inferno doesn’t have a large pool of alumni.
Marketing is Key
When looking for a new GM, expect the league to look beyond hockey experience and management skills. The CWHL needs a GM who can market the Calgary team.
The Inferno boasts the most Canadian national team players of any team in the CWHL. Hayley Wickenheiser, a Canadian hockey legend, is on the team. If you want to see world-class professional women’s hockey, Calgary has the talent.
What Calgary lacks is the boisterous fan support of, say, Montreal. The average attendance of a Canadian game at the 2016 Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, BC was 4824. Obviously a regular season CWHL match will draw a smaller crowd. The point is, there is interest in the sport to be capitalized on. Especially given that nine of the players on that Canadian roster play for the Inferno.
If the new Calgary GM can market the team well enough, it will be universally beneficial. The team will obviously benefit from fan support at home. It will give Hockey Canada a chance to show off their stars and possibly draw more female talent to Calgary – which is the home of the Hockey Canada Training Centre. Not to mention that the success of the Inferno will be a big factor in deciding if and when the CWHL will expand with more western teams.
Overall, losing Champagne is a tough pill to swallow for Calgary. She brought the team a lot of success in a short period of time. However, if the right person fills her vacancy, the Inferno can expand on this success without missing a beat.