The Esso Women's Nationals was the Canadian women's senior ice hockey championship from 1982 to 2008. The winners of the event received the Abby Hoffman Cup. The second place team was awarded the Fran Rider Cup, while the third place was given the Maureen McTeer Trophy. Nine or ten teams (depending on the tournament) qualified for the event, with two from the province hosting the event. The event was sponsored by Esso.
The split between the National Women's Hockey League and the Western Women's Hockey League in 2004, this is the only event in the professional women's hockey calendar that sees teams from the two leagues play against each other. Although an agreement between the NWHL and the WWHL was reached in 2006 to merge the two leagues (wherein the latter would be absorbed as a separate division of the former), difficulty in setting up the Nationals alongside an interlocking playoff format prevented the merger from taking place - the Nationals eventually would take place mere days after the WWHL playoffs and before the NWHL playoffs.
With the collapse of the NWHL soon after and the establishment of the Canadian Women's Hockey League in Eastern Canada, the Esso Nationals, which will also serve as a playoff of sorts between the WWHL and CWHL, received a format overhaul starting in 2008, in which the top two teams from the WWHL (representing British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan) and the top two teams from the CWHL (representing Ontario and Quebec) automatically qualifying for the event. Teams representing the provinces without teams in either league fill out the remainder of the field, due to Hockey Canada requirements that every province be represented. The Abby Hoffman Cup will be awarded to both the club pool and the team pool champions. Similarly, the Fran Rider Cup and the Maureen McTeer Trophy (the trophies awarded for the silver and bronze medalists at the Esso Nationals) will be awarded in both the club and team pool tournaments.
To level the playing field (which in recent years had been dominated by club teams) for 2008, the four club teams play in a separate tournament from the four all-star teams (and thus two championships will be awarded at the Esso Nationals), with the intent that the club pool (with the Clarkson Cup as its championship) will be splintered off into its own tournament at some point in the future. The 2008 tournament also saw the first American team to qualify, with the Minnesota Whitecaps joining the Calgary Oval X-Treme in representing the WWHL in the club pool. The format is the same for both the club and team tournaments: after the four teams play a single round robin pool, the four teams are seeded based on their standings and play a single-elimination tournament for the championship.
This arrangement had lasted for only one year; in 2009, the dispute between Clarkson and the Clarkson Cup's artists was settled, and a new championship, the National Canadian Women's Hockey Championship, was created for the professional teams, under the same format. However, this was not without cost: rumors were abound that the Esso Women's Nationals would be discontinued in favor of introducing a midget championship, which was realized with the Esso Cup.
List of Champions
- Alberta downs Ontario 3-2 in Overtime in Gold Medal Final to win 1998 Esso Women’s Nationals Hockey Championship. Hockey Canada (March 22, 1998). Retrieved on 28 June 2010.