The switch from Les Canadiennes de Montreal was a process that began shortly after the March 19 announcement of an affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens, and in the end, from the logo, to the name, to the jerseys, everyone involved was thrilled.to
"I wish you could have seen these girls put on their jerseys," Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of the Montreal Canadiens, Kevin Gilmore, said at Thursday's press conference. He went on to say that he felt the same sense of pride that Max Pacioretty mentioned the first time he put on his jersey with the captain's C.
The players were brought into a secret room to put on their jerseys before they were officially unveiled, the official announcement not even preceded with a press release. The name wasn't officially announced until Gilmore said it in the conference.
But it was that sense of pride that was evident among every player in attendance.
"It felt like we were part of the Canadiens," said Les Canadiennes forward Noémie Marin. "You dreamt about being a Montreal Canadien and that’s what we are now. I was super excited. More than excited; a dream come true.
"Now when you think about the Canadiens, being 'Les Canadiennes' we’re part of the same team," Marin said. ". So the name to me ... it means we’re part of the Canadiens family."
Goaltender Charline Labonté echoed her sentiments, "I love it. I didn't know what to expect so I was really excited with what they came up with. It's us. It's not complicated, it's not fancy — it really represents what we are."
The name and rebrand was a project that had input from a lot of people, including surveys of the public in the summer. Gilmore said one name kept coming back.
"It was one of the four, five names that we looked at," he said. "We asked around, we did some surveys and it kept coming back.
"In terms of the name it was important for us to create a link between the two organizations," Gilmore said. "From a branding standpoint, you could come up with a name, you could come up with a logo, but unless there’s a story behind it in our collective opinions, it’s meaningless. There has to be a story behind the brand. And there is a story here. Not only with the Canadiens but a women’s hockey team that played here in the 1930s.
"There was the francophone team [Canadiennes] that competed against the English team [Maroons], very similar to what we saw in men’s hockey. That came and went and we felt it would be great to resurrect that name because, one, it clearly drew a line between our respective organizations, but it told a story about the tradition and history of women’s hockey in Montreal, which is in part what these girls are here to do for the future generations," he said.
"It entrenches us in the history of the NHL and in our league," said CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress. "We’re in our eighth year but now we’re entrenched in the history and historical part of hockey throughout Canada. Geoff Molson said they would do it right, and they did it right."
General manager of Les Canadiennes, Meg Hewings, talked about the process of rebranding, something that began right after the partnership with the Canadiens started. The two teams worked closely to decide on a new name and logo.
"We looked at what the team represented, what it meant to people, what the values of our club were, and how people were attached to it and then put feelers out for new names. We cast the net pretty wide, actually. It was really, I think, one of the best ways to begin a partnership because it was a candid way to talk about where we come from, where we are, and where we want to go.
"It just felt like the best all round option. It felt right."
Les Canadiennes now bear the Canadiens brand and support, even more proof that the Canadiens are not holding back in this partnership.
"We wouldn’t attach our name and our look and our colours to something if we weren’t all-in," Gilmore said. "We have to be all-in. It’s important to us not because it’s women’s hockey but because it’s hockey. Hockey is a great sport and we’re all lucky enough to work in this business and be associated with the sport, and if we can do what we do on the men’s side for the women’s sport — even a fraction of that — it will accomplish our goals and we’re definitely all-in."
Les Canadiennes merchandise will be available in Canadiens stores and there were young girls in attendance. Both Gilmore and Andress were thinking not only about the Canadiennes players in attendance, but also the future.
"We’re hoping it adds jet fuel to what is a great sport," Gilmore said. "You’ve got players on this team that we’ve watched at the Olympic level, we’ve seen them win gold medals in the most amazing fashion like in Sochi, and there’s no reason why these girls have to get a job and play on the side. It’s an exciting sport and we hope that our association makes people realize that this is very exciting hockey and we want to see them play, and ultimately that will create an environment where a business model exists that helps support the girls financially."
Part of the partnership means more focus on promoting girls hockey at the grassroots level. For example, Les Canadiennes players will be participating in some of the off-ice clinics, camps, and events that the Canadiens run.
"We want to be involved as much as possible," said Labonte, with regard to the camps. "They’re supporting us so we want to be a part of everything they’re doing and make a statement that women’s hockey is here and we’re trying to build something really strong and I don’t think we can be associated with a better association than the Habs."
The team also wants to partner with Hockey Quebec and play more of a role in encouraging young girls outside of the Montreal area to play hockey. All of this means that the hockey landscape in Quebec is much different for girls playing the sport now than it was only a decade ago.
"I look at the players in the front and the little girls behind them in those chairs and they’ll have a whole different story to tell," said Andress.
The next chapter begins when Les Canadiennes de Montreal see their first game action in their free-to-attend pre-season opener. That gets underway at 3:00 PM this afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.