CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress stepping down

Brenda Andress, the first commissioner and builder of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, is stepping down on July 31, ending a 12-year tenure that saw her league grow in status and stature.

"It has been an incredible honor and privilege to lead this league," said Andress. "I am proud to have had the opportunity to build the organization into what it is today. While it's time for me to move to the next stage of my career -- I leave the league both viable and operationally strong, and at an extremely exciting time in its development. I have every confidence that the CWHL will continue to attract the world's best players and deliver an exceptional and competitive hockey experience to fans on and off the ice."

The CWHL was founded in 2007 and has featured dozens of Olympic stars including Marie-Philip Poulin, Tessa Bonhomme and Jayna Hefford of Canada as well as Julie Chu and Hilary Knight of the U.S. national team.

Andress was instrumental in forging partnerships between CWHL teams and NHL teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. She also oversaw expansion of the league to the U.S. with the Boston Blades and into China for the 2017-18 season with the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays, who will not return to the league next season.

While they lagged two years behind their competitors in the National Women's Hockey League in paying their players, the CHWL began compensating players in 2017 with stipends between $2,000 and $10,000. Players on the Chinese franchises made more of a living wage as "player ambassadors" last season.

Andress steps down as pressure is mounting on the CWHL and the NWHL to merge into one league, despite an acrimonious history between them. An email to the NWHL seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.

Canadian hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser recently said that the NHL would support a united league. "I know the Canadian Women's Hockey League would be happy to fold and hand it over to the NHL. They seem to be the reasonable people in all of this. The NWHL wants to make a go of it -- or if they are going to hand it over to the NHL, want a lot of money to do so, and that doesn't make any sense. So, I question the motives there," she told The Athletic.

The CWHL expects to name a new commissioner shortly, and the 2018-19 season hits the ice in October with six teams.