I remember I used to take the bus down to Centre Etienne Desmateau to watch women’s hockey and cheer for les Canadiennes of the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League). The games were fast-paced and high-scoring as the team were constant contenders — hardly surprising as they had Hockey Hall of Famer Caroline Ouellette, Julie Chu and others who competed in the Olympics and World Championships in their ranks. When the CWHL folded in 2019, I pondered what the future held for women’s hockey in Montreal.
A new chapter awaits this Saturday afternoon in front of a sold out crowd at Verdun Auditorium as Montreal women’s hockey returns with the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).
The PWHL is the latest women’s hockey league after years of rival leagues and business models that didn’t benefit the players. The goal had always been to grow the sport while offering enough stability to give the players the opportunity to focus on hockey.
Thanks in part to investment from the Mark Walter group (part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers) and a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the player’s association, the PWHL has finally provided the stability and benefits that these players have been seeking for a long time.
The PWHL has gotten off to a great start with their own Original 6, with teams in Montreal, New York, Boston, Minnesota, Toronto and Ottawa. There have been sold out games, with attendance records being broken twice in one week. Ottawa and Minnesota had crowds of 8, 318 and 13, 316, respectively, both with Montreal as the visiting team.
Verdun Auditorium will be home to Montreal games, with four of this season’s games taking place at Place Bell in Laval. Interest in the new league has been promising as the home opener against Boston was sold out within minutes. Maybe the PWHL will break the attendance record at Place Bell? Montreal has set a women’s hockey attendance record before (5,938 at the Bell Centre in 2016), so why the hell not?
PWHL hockey has been exciting so far, and it’s equally affordable. There has been plenty of ticket interest in the inaugural year, so I’d advise getting your tickets now. The PHWL secured broadcasting deals with TSN, CBC and Sportsnet, meaning it’s easier to watch regular season games on your TV, phone or the way I normally watch hockey: at a sports bar in the city. But you’ve got to get the arena experience, as it’s something special — the game itself is only enhanced by hearing the loud cheers from young girls and women who can truly dream of one day becoming professional hockey players. Judging by how Montreal is with their sports teams, I’m certain local fans will want to be the loudest in the league.
There are plenty of familiar faces on this team from previous Montreal teams, such as forwards Ann-Sophie Bettez, Sarah Lefort and goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens. But do show love and get to know Laura Stacy, Catherine Dubois, Maureen Murphy and the rest of the team. We can boast having the greatest player in hockey today in Montreal forward Marie-Philip Poulin. Team Canada’s Captain Clutch continues to light the net up as Montreal’s captain. Her Montreal legacy grows more as she previously played for the Montreal Stars and les Canadiennes. She’s also a player development consultant for the Montreal Canadiens. There will always be success for any team she plays with.
I will be at the home opener soaking it all in and cheering hard. Poulin vs. Boston captain (and ex-Canadiennes teammate) Hilary Knight gives some great Canada vs. US Olympics Gold medal hockey vibes. I will be seeing a few games this season, including the game against Toronto — I’ve always wanted to see Sarah Nurse play — and a road trip to Ottawa as a friend of mine wants to take his young daughter to a women’s hockey game. Hopefully she will one day become a hockey player herself, or a die-hard hockey fan.
The future of women’s hockey looks bright, but we must always remember where we came from. I still have my memories of seeing the best Olympians and world champions at Centre Etienne Desmateau (and, once, the Bell Centre). I hoped for the day when the women’s hockey team would get the same attention and support that other Montreal sports teams enjoy. Come this weekend, Montreal women’s hockey and professional women’s hockey as a whole will finally get to shine. ■
For more on the Montreal PWHL team, please visit their website.
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