Pucks in Deep: One-on-One with Ailish Forfar '16
Pucks in Deep: One-on-One with Ailish Forfar ’16
For this week’s Pucks in Deep, we have an exclusive interview with Dartmouth’s own Ailish Forfar ’16. After graduating from the College, Forfar went on to attend Ryerson University in Toronto. There, she studied sports media and played two more seasons of hockey. After her eligibility ran out last year, she spent the 2018-19 season playing alongside Laura Stacey ’16 for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s Markham Thunder. After the CWHL announced its folding earlier this spring, Forfar focused on her budding career in media. She recently began working for Yahoo! Sports Canada, covering hockey. In this interview, we discussed her work at Ryerson, getting an opportunity in the CWHL, her reaction to the league’s folding and life in hockey media. This column is the first of two parts of the interview; see next week’s column for the second half.
After leaving Dartmouth, you went to Ryerson. Can you tell me about the balance between playing hockey and studying and where you saw yourself heading after graduating from Dartmouth?
AF: Basically, after I graduated, I still had that one year that I redshirted when I played for the Big Green (Forfar took a medical redshirt during her sophomore year in Hanover). So in terms of my hockey career, I knew that if I moved back to Canada, I could use that one year of eligibility to go to a Canadian university, and they actually have five years of eligibility up here, so you could add another one. Being able to play two more years of college hockey was definitely something I was interested in, so I looked into that. During my junior spring, I worked at TSN — that’s the big media network in Canada. I did a six-month stint there, which was when I realized I really wanted to be involved in this. I didn’t want to be away from home, and I’m from the Toronto area, so Ryerson was a really good fit. Ever since then, I’ve been lucky to pursue my career in Toronto because it’s such a great market for up-and-coming media professionals. Everyone wants to be involved, and everyone wants to create content in this city, so it’s a really great place to work and go to school because you get a lot of opportunities with that program. I was really lucky to be able to continue playing hockey because I wasn’t really ready to give that up yet.
So after two seasons playing at Ryerson, you go on to the CWHL. You’re a pre-draft signee with the Markham Thunder. How did that opportunity come together, and what was the process of being a CWHL prospect like?
AF: After my eligibility ran out, I was influenced by another Dartmouth player. I’m sure you know Laura Stacey. She was my best friend at Dartmouth, and two years before Dartmouth we played together. She had been playing in the CWHL; she’s an Olympian; she’s a big deal. She told me I should really consider the CWHL. I reached out to the GMs of the Ontario teams. I basically said I’m interested in signing up for the draft, I don’t know if you know anything about me, but I told him about myself, about my community service, and the things I’m interested in in media. Markham was really interested in what I could bring that wasn’t just being a hockey player, on the media side and in the community. It was a really cool honor, and I didn’t expect them to do that. They’re mostly looking at NCAA players, so me coming out of the NCAA and then going to the U Sports league, I thought I might get overlooked. I’m not naive. It worked out perfectly.
At Ryerson, you produced a show called CWHL All-Access. Can you tell me about how that came about and what it took to put together?
AF: Ryerson is probably the number one school for this type of sport media program. I’m in my third year, and you get to pitch your own show. Everything from doing the graphics to the on-air to the audio to creating the graphics — you do the whole thing yourself. Basically, I talked to a few of my classmates and said, “I’m playing in a really cool league that gets no coverage at all. I think it would be awesome to showcase this league and interview some players.” It was a wide open canvas because no one had ever really done anything, so we pitched that idea, and everyone was into it. The whole idea was to showcase the stories of the players because we don’t really get much coverage, and now our league is gone, so I’m especially glad that we did it because we have something that lives on.
To that end, I have argued in this column that this was a huge year for women’s hockey in terms of becoming a more central part of the hockey conversation. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
AF: I think if you would have asked me this the day before the closing of the CWHL, I would’ve had no idea at all that this was going to happen. I thought that the year went positively, and we were getting the most coverage I’d ever seen for women’s sports. Every chance that females had to represent themselves on TV or to talk about their sport was going very positively. I felt like the conversation was just starting, and I was excited and proud of all the work that we’d done in a few years there. Definitely a shock when everything happened, and it was sad because I think you’re right in saying that it was picking up momentum. Maybe these conversations will continue and have more of a positive outlook, but it’s hard to see where things are now given that we’ve been left with no answers. I do think it was going well. That’s why I was more shocked than anything because it didn’t seem like this was bound to happen.
So how did you actually find out that the CWHL was going to close its doors. It wasn’t just on Twitter, was it?
AF: Luckily not, I would’ve been so upset. The day before it happened, our general manger sent us a note saying there’s going to be a conference call tomorrow. I just assumed something good was going to happen. Like you said, we had just had the Clarkson Cup, and everything was going well. I jumped on the call the next morning, and within five minutes, they were like, “This is what it’s about: we’re sorry to inform you that there’s not going to be a league anymore ...” It kind of just went downhill from there. It was tough to find out on the phone and also tough because all the national team players are over in Finland. They just got off a trans-Atlantic flight, and honestly, it affects them the most. I’m playing for fun and because I want to further the sport; they’re playing for their careers, and, for them to find out that their livelihoods are in jeopardy — I felt awful for them. They have a world championship in front of them. I haven’t had a chance to let it sink in, and they didn’t give us any guidance on media or what our next steps were, so I thought that was poorly performed.
How do you feel about the role of the National Hockey League in all this? It seems, from a financial perspective, the NHL could have stepped in and prevented this. Is there any resentment there or were you mostly just disappointed in the CWHL?
AF: It’s a bit of both. It’s easy to be disappointed and say, “It could’ve been or should’ve been this.” I truly do think if the CWHL decided to post this kind of announcement while the season was going, the NHL could have stepped in and said, “This league is about to fold. They’re having their most successful year — what can we do to step up and help make something happen?” Instead, they waited until the season was over, which sucks because at this point it’s a decision done. As players, we’re trying to think about what we can do. We can’t control the financials. I don’t know the budget. We’re definitely owed money still, and that shows there must be some financial issues. I think that everything they said is accurate and true, but I wish that the way they dealt with it might have been a little bit different.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.