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First women up: Some potential female candidates for Montreal’s front office

The Canadiens have mentioned hiring a woman in hockey operations. Here are some options.

Ice Hockey - Women’s Gold Medal Game Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens stated that they wanted to hire a woman in hockey operations, and Jeff Gorton said that they aren’t scared of a different background. We will have closer looks at many people who have been mentioned in the general manager search, but this article will focus on potential women that the Canadiens can bring in to their hockey operations department.

It is possible, if unlikely, that the Canadiens hire a woman as general manager. The candidates for this job are few and far between simply because of the lack of women who have any front office experience in the NHL.

It is more likely that women will play a part in a larger front office. Some of the women listed below will have more of a claim to a top job than others, but they would all be an asset to the organization should they join it.

The inside track

Émilie Castonguay

Castonguay is an interesting name, and one that became more interesting as soon as Gorton said that he wanted someone with a different background than he has, naming players and agents specifically as possibilities.

Castonguay is one of the growing names in sports management, and as an agent, representing Alexis Lafrenière and Marie-Philip Poulin, among others. She moved into player management after some advice from former Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier, who mentored her when she showed an interest in hockey management.

The question with Castonguay is not whether she is qualified. She has worked with Momentum Hockey, starting in their hockey operations department where her tasks included contract preparation, litigation, NHLPA arbitration, interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, negotiating endorsement deals, NHL contracts, recruitment of potential clients, preparing insurance contracts and overseeing player development.

It should be mentioned that she would have dealt with Gorton before and after the Rangers drafted Lafrenière.

The question becomes whether she would want to go on the management side or if she wants to stay a player agent.

Florence Schelling

Schelling has one thing no other woman in the world has: experience as a general manager of a men’s professional hockey team. Schelling had that role with SC Bern in her native Switzerland.

She lasted one year in the role, but she definitely could be an intriguing addition to any NHL front office. Europeans have had a hard time breaking through to North American coaching staffs and front offices, but Schelling provides a mix of playing experience, and management experience that would make her an inspired choice for any front office.

Hard to pull away

The next category are qualified individuals, and names you will likely hear but who may be hard to hire because of their current commitments.

Danielle Goyette

The amount of women in key NHL roles are few and far between, but the Hockey Hall of Famer is one of them. Goyette was hired as the director of player development with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

She has coaching experience at the University of Calgary as well. Geoff Molson mentioned player development as a priority. Considering she was just hired by another NHL team, it may be a little too soon to consider her.

Danièle Sauvageau

Had Sauvageau not made the switch from QMJHL assistant coach to Hockey Canada’s head coach prior to the 2002 Olympics, she might already be in an NHL front office or behind an NHL bench. She was the first (and remains the only) woman to coach in the QMJHL with the Montreal Rocket under head coach Gaston Therrien in the 1999-2000 season.

She ended up coaching the first Canadian team to win an Olympic gold medal, and committed her life afterwards to growing women’s hockey. Her management experience includes helping the French national team, being part of the group that grew the University of Montreal Carabins women’s hockey program, and most recently starting the Centre 21.02, the first and only high performance centre for women’s hockey players in the country.

She may be one of the most respected hockey minds in the world, even hosting a Coach’s Corner segment on Radio-Canada in French. Her commitment to the Centre where she is CEO may be an issue, but her qualifications are not.

Caroline Ouellette

Ouellette is a future Hall of Famer, and has said numerous times that she is committed to growing women’s hockey when asked about opportunities in men’s hockey and the NHL, but any list that does not at least consider her is incomplete.

On top of being a great hockey player, she has grown into a leader and coach in the CWHL as well as the next generation of women’s players at the Quebec Pee Wee tournament, and Concordia University.

Asking her to leave Concordia mid-season, where she is associate head coach with her partner Julie Chu, could be a non-starter, even if she has interest in making the jump to men’s hockey.

Having said that, if her hometown team comes calling, it may be hard to say no.

Thérèse Brisson

I mentioned the lack of leadership opportunities for women in hockey, and Brisson fits that mould as the president and CEO of Alpine Canada, Canada’s high performance skiing program. Before that she was on the board of directors of the Canadian Olympic Committee for 12 years after an illustrious hockey career that saw her play in two Olympics and six World Championships.

She is one of the few that combines management experience with a high level hockey career.

Like others in this section, asking her to leave in a Winter Olympic year isn’t ideal.

Gina Kingsbury

Kingsbury was born in Saskatchewan, but was raised in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. Kingsbury is currently in charge of Canada’s women’s hockey program, making her one of the few women who have hockey team managing experience. She led Canada to their first World Championship gold medal since 2012 earlier this year.

She also played for Canada’s national team, but just months from the 2022 Olympics, it is unlikely that she would be available for the job.

Inexperienced but inspired options

Kim St-Pierre

The most recent Hockey Hall of Famer has stated how she wants to pave the way for women in hockey, and earning a job with the Montreal Canadiens would be a great step towards that. She doesn’t have the experience that would mean a general manager job, but she definitely has the knowledge and playing experience to be an asset to the organization.

Charline Labonté

Since retiring from the CWHL, Labonté has stepped away from the game, but she remains one of the most interesting thinkers I have crossed paths with. On top of her playing career, she has a master’s degree in psychology from McGill University and has been a consultant in sport psychology.

With Geoff Molson saying that the Canadiens want to implement more resources for mental health, Labonté could combine her vast hockey experience with that side of things.

Outside the box

Catherine Raiche

When you think of women in male-dominated front offices, Raiche definitely fits the bill, only not with hockey. Raiche has been a fast riser in the football world, and is currently the vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles. She previously worked for the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes as well.

There are a lot of caveats with Raiche. Obviously the NFL is the pinnacle of the football world. She might not even have the slightest interest in working in hockey, but if she does, her hometown team might just be the opportunity to get her to make the switch. She wouldn’t be the first executive to switch sports, after all.

Katerine Aubry-Hébert

This name might be the first one on the list that may surprise you. Aubry-Hébert is a rising star in the hockey world. She recently became the first woman to become a scout for QMJHL central scouting. Before becoming a scout, she was the league’s coordinator of hockey operations.

On top of that, she is the coordinator of women’s hockey for Hockey Quebec.

Considering she just got her new job with the QMJHL, the 29-year-old may be a few years away from an NHL job, but she is definitely one to keep an eye on.

The possibilities are endless

This list is only a handful of potential candidates. The reality is, there are tons of women more than qualified for NHL front offices. Almost every high level women’s hockey player has a college degree, and whether it is business or management related or not, education has its value. There are countless others who didn’t play the game who could be assets to any organization. Due to the lack of opportunities for women, we truly don’t even know who the interested parties are and how many left, or never even tried to enter, the sport.

It will only continue to grow as the current generation of players develop. Marie-Philip Poulin could absolutely forge a path like Hayley Wickenheiser did with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mélodie Daoust is already on television as an analyst on TVA Sports. Karell Emard works at Sportlogiq and has provided analysis on RDS and Sportsnet.

The above list, for obvious reasons, is focused on French speakers, but Julie Chu and Angela Ruggiero are two Americans who have been linked to NHL jobs in the past. Kendall Coyne Schofield is among a growing number of women who have begun coaching men. Canadian women’s national team assistant coach Kori Cheverie has been on the staff of Ryerson University’s men’s hockey team. Blake Bolden and Cammi Granato are among a growing number of scouts. The good news is that it’s getting a bit harder to name every single woman in the men’s game.

With Jeff Gorton emphasizing an analytics team, there are surely women who can follow in the footsteps of Alexandra Mandrycky, Namita Nandakumar, and a growing number of other women who are or have been in NHL front offices.

Hockey is slowly looking at new ways to think the game, but those in charge increasingly turn to the same people to get there. It makes it hard to break into the industry, and doubly so as a woman.

So many women who didn’t have high level playing careers lay in the weeds. Quite frankly, if you don’t think a woman is qualified for a hockey operations position in the NHL, it’s because you aren’t looking hard enough.