May 2019 was a time of uncertainty in women’s hockey. That’s when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) folded, leaving some of the world’s best female hockey players without a league to play in.
Liz Knox stepped up. She helped found the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) to help create a sustainable women’s hockey league in North America.
Her hockey journey has taken her around the world. After an outstanding university career at Wilfrid Laurier University, Knox spent the majority of her pro career in the CWHL with the Brampton and Markham Thunder, where she won a Clarkson Cup in 2018 and served as a co-chair of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Players Association (CWHLPA).
But all of a sudden, it looked like other women would not have the same opportunities. When Knox retired, she found herself needed behind the scenes to build the PWHPA.
“(I) fell into that role — happily though,” Knox said in an interview with the Toronto Observer. “It gave me a great sense of purpose to make sure that the game moved forward and that the dreams of young athletes continued past the college level.”
Knox became one of its founding board members, took on a role as a colour commentator for the PWHPA’s games, and has a podcast that shares the untold stories in women’s hockey.
Watch Liz Knox discuss how she supports women’s hockey:
Growing the game after her playing career
Knox focuses on growing and advocating for women’s hockey. Her podcast The Knoxy & Kax Show, which she co-hosts with fellow PWHPA member Karell Émard, gives fans a new look at women’s hockey through storytelling and analysis.
“The show offers an intimacy that is hard to come by in women’s hockey just because there’s a lack of resources,” said Knox. “My life has been touched by these people and I want the world to know who they are.”
As a colour commentator for the broadcasts of the PWHPA’s Secret Dream Gap Tour she provides fans a perspective on the players that shows their lives beyond what we see on the ice while pulling from her own experiences as a player, much like she does on The Knoxy & Kax Show. Her podcast has educated people in the media as well, including Cassie Campbell-Pascall — a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada and current broadcaster for Sportsnet and ESPN.
Campbell-Pascall reached out to Knox before her first national broadcast to give her a bump of confidence. Something that meant a lot to Knox, who grew up idolizing Campbell-Pascall. She also recommended Knox to Sportsnet.
“They called me and asked me who’s a current player that could potentially do colour commentary and the first person I thought of was Liz Knox,” Campbell-Pascall said.
“I knew she was talented, and fun, and she would know the players. I believe in her skills.”
Along with her work in the media, Knox is the goalie coach for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. “She’s a great hockey player but also a great person,” said Erica Fryer, one of the team’s goalies.
Fryer talked about the dream gap that exists in women’s hockey and that people like Knox give young girls a sense of hope. “We’ve got people like Knoxy that are helping form these leagues that can give young girls a future and something to strive for.”
Involvement in players’ unions
Knox has been advocating for better treatment towards women’s hockey since she served as a co-chair of the CWHLPA. It was a call to action that put Knox on the board. In 2017, the CWHL announced the league would be expanding to China with a team in Beijing. Many CWHL players were “career hockey players” because they had a career on top of being a professional hockey player.
“I remember seeing girls on my team using their entire vacation pay to go to the other side of the world and play hockey,” she said. “It’s an incredible experience but they’re sacrificing their down time. They don’t have vacation time to go away, or recharge, or spend time with their family.”
Knox said that the CWHLPA was vital to the PWHPA after the CWHL folded due to financial reasons. “Truthfully we needed it without knowing the CWHL would fold because that was a good foundation to start the PWHPA.”
“Pro hockey didn’t exist. It was the league that the pros played in,” said Knox. She represents the players that don’t play for the National Team to be able to make a living playing professional hockey.
What’s next for women’s hockey
Women’s hockey is at a pivotal point to continue growing outside of the Olympics. “There’s a great need in our society right now to feel connected to people and feel a part of something,” said Knox. “That’s what sports is.”
While the product is what’s on the ice, there’s much more that goes into growing the game and one of the big things is connecting to the players, especially those who aren’t showcased on the grand stage at the Olympics.
Four years ago the PWHPA didn’t have what they needed but now they’re hammering down on what they need for a viable women’s hockey league. “A lot more goes into it than a living wage and a professional environment,” said Knox.
Read more from the Toronto Observer:
- How women’s hockey has grown since the PWHPA launched
- Here’s what the Premier Hockey Federation’s salary cap increase means for women’s hockey
- How the Toronto Six revived pro women’s hockey in Canada
The PWHPA’s goal is still to have a viable professional hockey league and thanks to people like Knox, it’s closer to being a reality. Knox continues to grow the sport through her work in the media and as a player. She represents the players who can’t play hockey full-time.
“We’ve lost a lot of really great potential in athletes that had they been able to do this full-time – I think about how far the game would be by now.” Knox goes to the table representing those players.
“I know who I represent so I go back to that when we’re in these discussions. Finding that purpose and making sure I represent them,” she said.