The city of Montreal is entering their second season without a team in a women’s hockey league, but the National Women’s Hockey League, who just added a team in Toronto — their first Canadian team — still has an interest in the city.
“With the right partners and leaders, the NWHL would love to be in Montreal. We know it would be another tremendous step for women’s professional hockey,” said a league spokesperson.
Eyes on the Prize has confirmed that there has been contact from the league with individuals about putting a team in the Montreal market. However, the players and coordinators of the group working towards putting a high performance training centre for women’s hockey players in the city say that there is no interest in joining the league.
“We’re focused on what we want to make happen regionally and we have all the people and resources to do what we want to do here,” said Meg Hewings, the former general manager of the CWHL’s Canadiennes. “I don’t think that we would need help with that.”
Players for their part have said that the NWHL is not providing what they want in a women’s hockey league as they continue their fight with the PWHPA.
The Montreal organization is working hard to build an organization to provide resources for all levels of hockey. The city has become a hub for some of the top talent in women’s hockey, with 15 national team members training in the city last season on top of other club team players who make the Montreal chapter the biggest non-GTA chapter in the PWHPA.
Last year, Hockey Canada hosted mini camps in the city. While there wasn’t an official Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) showcase, the city hosted several games including at Place Bell, the home of the Laval Rocket. The Montreal chapter of the PWHPA had a significant presence at every showcase and having a full roster allowed for them to have a busier schedule than most other chapters.
Even before national team members from outside the province came to the city, there was a solid base of players who provided a lot of success to the Montreal club team. Noémie Marin, Emmanuelle Blais, and Cathy Chartrand, among others were all huge parts of Montreal teams that had success. The presence of players who are outside the national team picture is why the group is working hard to provide resources to all players in the city.
The connections to the feeder league system run deep in the city. Former Canadiennes forward Kayla Tutino was recently named the head coach of the Dawson College CEGEP program. Marin is the head coach at John Abbott, another CEGEP team, and has coached Team Quebec’s Under-18 team. Current and former Montreal players have presences at Concordia, McGill, and the University of Montreal.
“We know that Montreal is kind of a pillar in whatever iteration of what is going to happen,” Hewings said. “And certainly, there’s not going to be a pro league like the one we want to see that doesn’t have a Montreal franchise.”
The Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket are still supporting women’s hockey in the city, even if they aren’t always visible supporters.
“Geoff [Molson] and [Shauna Denis, Director of Content Strategy for the Canadiens] have been integral to sort of building the partnership,” Hewings said. “[Molson] really has the best interest of women’s hockey at heart. It’s not obvious what the next step will necessarily be. But we really do have a great supporter in him. He’s very conscientious about what’s happening.”
The team also has worked with the Laval Rocket, who provide the team with office space and ice time. A major part of that partnership was Mark Weightman, the former president of the Rocket who has since left the organization. Hewings confirmed that Weightman’s departure has not had an affect on the partnership and the team still plans to have a presence at Place Bell, where they hosted several games over the last two years.
“They’re great supporters, obviously Mark Weightman was key to that but a full team of people at the Rocket were invested in those games and really wanted to make them a success,” Hewings said. “There are a lot of people behind the scenes that that make those kind of marquee events.”