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Canadian Women’s Hockey League expanding to China next season

Boston, Calgary, Toronto, Brampton, Montreal, and ... Shenzhen, China.

2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Women's Hockey Classic Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is heading to China for the 2017-18 season. The league announced Monday that it’s adding a new team in Shenzhen that will be owned by Kunlun Red Star hockey club.

The addition is part of a five-year deal to expand into China next season. The move had been reported on last month, and now it’s official.

It will be the sixth team in the CWHL, which currently includes the Boston Blades, Calgary Inferno, Toronto Furies, Brampton Thunder, and Les Canadiennes Montreal. You’ll notice all those teams are based in North America, so the move to China is a major expansion of the league’s geographic footprint.

Kunlun Red Star currently has a men’s team that plays in the Russia-based KHL. China’s move into professional hockey is partially based on the team’s upcoming hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics. China will be putting the spotlight on ice hockey in a few years, and it’s cranking the engine to get fans interested. Having men’s and women’s professional clubs based in China should help prepare the country to ice competitive Olympic teams.

The move also gives an opportunity for women’s hockey to tap into a market where hockey is a relatively young sport. “This expansion will have a significant impact on women’s hockey around the world and indeed on women’s sports,” CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress told the New York Times.

As a result of the addition, the CWHL schedule will expand from 24 games to 30 next season. Teams will travel to Shenzhen, China, to play three-game series in order to minimize travel costs and logistics. Traveling to Shenzhen will take a long time.

Sportsnet reports the team has already signed two players: top Finnish goalie Noora Raty and American forward Kelli Stack. You can read more on them from The Ice Garden here.

The big remaining question here is how the finances will work for everyone involved. The CWHL is expected to begin paying its players for the first time next season, but it’s not clear how that will work or how much each player will receive at this point. As the Times notes, having an investment from China in the league could ease its ability to compensate players for their work. The other prominent women’s league, the NWHL, already pays its players, although it cut salaries in November of last year.