Adrienne Clarkson stood before a glass case at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday, smiling for a long while, proudly admiring the trophy she created in a crusade for female hockey players.
The Clarkson Cup, awarded each year to the team that wins the Canadian Women's Hockey League championship, and widely recognized as the Stanley Cup of women's hockey, was given a permanent home at the Hall of Fame, placed among the collection of other major hockey cups and trophies.
Clarkson, the former Governor-General of Canada, had the Cup made five years ago, some time after having been laughed at for suggesting women should compete for the Stanley Cup while men were sitting out during the 2004 NHL lockout. She stood among women's hockey supporters Thursday to see her trophy enshrined, signalling another small step for the CWHL and the women's game.
"This is important because it acknowledges what women are doing in this sport, and not just as cheerleaders and fans, but the women who care about hockey and are the best in the sport," Clarkson said. "Winning isn't everything, but it means a lot, and this is a big win for women's hockey."
The Clarkson Cup had been kept at the homes of CWHL organizers since its inception five years ago. Now it has a permanent home.
"Hockey is played in some 75 countries around the world, and there are so many trophies out there," said Phil Pritchard, the well-recognized white-gloved Hall curator who travels with the Stanley Cup. "We do get so many requests from people offering artifacts and we only have so much space, but we thought it was very important to have the Clarkson Cup here."
There have been a few breakthroughs for the five-team CWHL this season. After years of approaching the NHL to discuss possible partnerships, this season the CWHL finally got funding and marketing help for its Toronto and Calgary teams from the Maple Leafs and Flames, respectively. The women's pro league, which has struggled to put fans in the stands, has seen a small boost in attendance this year – especially by holding some signature games in NHL venues. It has brought some new sponsors on board, too. The league still battles toward someday being able to pay its players.
"This is only one step in our process toward building our league, but it's a big one," said CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress. "It recognizes the worth of what we're doing, legitimizes it and says we're arriving."
The trophy will be awarded for the fifth time later this month at the CWHL's championship tournament in Markham.