The Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) will have four of its games broadcast on Sportsnet 960 The Fan this season.
According to the Fan’s Oct. 15 press release, they are “the first commercial radio station in North America” to do live play-by-play of the CWHL.
The first broadcast was on Oct. 21. The other three broadcasts are Dec. 1 against the Markham Thunder, Dec. 16 against the Toronto Furies, and Feb. 10 against the Worcester Blades.
According to Inferno play-by-play voice Sandra Prusina, the broadcasts had been in the works for about a year.
Prusina and Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg both singled out longtime Fan host Rob Kerr for helping make them happen before Kerr left the station in August.
Prusina had started doing play-by-play on Inferno webcasts a few years ago.
“[Kerr] tuned into a couple broadcasts and just was impressed by the quality of play.
“You realize that there’s so many Olympians and world-class athletes on the ice – why wouldn’t it be a good idea to get something like this broadcast?”
Fans are thrilled to see athletes “who you see every four years at the Olympics, and now you can see them on a weekly basis or a monthly basis,” Prusina added.
The Inferno count nine players from the 2018 Olympics on their team this year, including four from the Canadian silver-medal team and three from the U.S. gold-medal team.
Prusina noted the feedback was especially remarkable considering the Fan’s listeners are predominantly male.
This appears to have been a simple bias, however. According to Prusina, those in the front office “have been craving for this for so long, because the product is that good.”
She relayed an anecdote about a young Rogers Sportsnet assistant becoming an instant CWHL fan after the inaugural broadcast.
“He said to me after the game, ‘I can’t believe how good they are’, because that’s the first time he had seen them in person.”
The team and league has seen remarkable growth the past few years. The first year, Prusina said there were only ever “a couple of hundred” people watching on YouTube.
“For people within the game, there’s some people who say, why is this [radio broadcast] a big deal, because they should be on TV,” said Hagg.
“But on the inside, we know that it’s going to take some time, and this is a big first step.”
Prusina said that the addition of two CHWL teams playing in China last year caused the numbers to go “through the roof.” Fittingly, the first game on the radio was against the Shenzhen Krs Vanke Rays.
Prusina and her colour commentary partner Jenna Cunningham faced a challenge as broadcasters, knowing many listeners would not know the players or teams very well.
“We had to be descriptive in terms of who plays for what team. We had to do a little bit of storytelling.
“At the end of the day, it’s about telling the stories of these ladies who work Monday to Friday and have full-time jobs, and they still play professional hockey at the highest level in the world,” Prusina added.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to get more fans to attend the Inferno’s games, which are held at Winsport.
Hagg noted that while the last few years have seen a growth in “the players being treated more like professionals,” it hasn’t translated to more fans attending the games.
Prusina encouraged fans to check out the Inferno’s home-and-home series against Les Canadiennes de Montreal on Nov. 24 and 25. As of Nov. 5, the Inferno and Canadiennes were the top two CHWL teams, with identical 5-1-0 records.
“That is the best of the best of the world.”