11/13/2012 12:12 EST | Updated 01/13/2013 05:12 EST

Leafs, Flames give boost to women's hockey teams

Despite winning Olympic gold medals and winning world championships, the best female hockey players in Canada still have to fight to grow the women's game.

They play in front of sparse crowds, receive no money and get very little media attention plying their trade in the Canadian Women's Hockey League.

That may change now that they have added support from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.

Both NHL teams have partnered with a team in the CWHL to help offset the costs of running a franchise.

Under its five-year agreement with the Toronto Furies, the Leafs will invest $30,000 annually towards the cost of coaching, equipment, uniforms and travel. The Leafs also say they will offer support via their website, at Leafs home games and on their television station Leafs TV.

The Flames have committed $20,000 for the next four years.

"This partnership isn't only an essential development step for the Toronto Furies, but for the female game as a whole," Furies general manager Rebecca Davies said in a release issued by the Leafs.

It's hoped the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will soon enter into similar arrangements with the CWHL teams in their cities. A team in Brampton, Ont. is still looking for a financial partner.

Now in its sixth season, the CWHL is a five-team league that operates on a budget of about $700,00 per season. The league, which includes many past Olympic gold medallists such as goaltender Sami Jo Small, is a place for top female hockey players to compete after U.S. or Canadian college.

To celebrate the new deal, the Furies are hosting a free game, open to the public, at the Air Canada Centre against Team Alberta on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Leafs alumni Wendel Clark, Johnny Bower and former Olympians Jennifer Botterill, Geraldine Heaney, Cheryl Pounder and Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James are expected to be on hand for a pre-game autograph session.