Women's hockey is tremendously popular in Canada ... every four years.
Until very recently, Canadians only jumped out of their seats to cheer for women playing hockey during the Olympics. Perhaps it's easy to get swept up in the excitement of the tournament. Perhaps there's something novel about watching a sport you don't usually watch (in my case, it's moguls). Perhaps it's because Team Canada is so incredibly dominant on the international ice. Whatever the reason is, record-breaking audiences tuned in to watch Team Canada defeat the Americans in overtime in Sochi in 2014.
After the Olympics were over, and Marie-Philip Poulin became a household name, fans came out to watch the (then) Montreal Stars play at Etienne-Desmarteau Arena in Rosemont. Stands were filled to capacity, as families filled the rink to watch Olympians play Olympic-calibre hockey. But the lustre on the gold medals hanging from the players' necks would far outlast the interest from fairweather fans.
Attendance dipped back to normal, and it wasn't until this season that interest began to surge yet again. Interestingly, this isn't an Olympic year.
The newly rebranded Les Canadiennes have the marketing machine that is the Montreal Canadiens behind them now, and the two professional North American women's hockey leagues (the CWHL and the NWHL) received a huge boost when the NHL hosted the first ever outdoor Women's Winter Classic in Foxboro last week.
While the game wasn't televised, or even streamed online, the interest was there.
Fans binged on Periscope streams, devoured content written about the historic game, and turned to social media to find out what was happening at Gillette Stadium.
This weekend, the Canadiennes returned home to host the Boston Blades in Brossard. Fans lined up as early as an hour and a half before puck drop to get tickets. The stands were filled to capacity, the ring of seats around the rink was full, with standing room-only entry available. Big crowds there to not only take in women's hockey, but to meet their favourite athletes, get their autographs, and buy their jerseys.
"To come back here to a sold out house, it's really amazing, and I think it's good for our organization to be able to reap what we've sown and worked for," said Canadiennes forward Katia Clement-Heydra.
Little girls wearing Canadiennes jerseys took to the ice after the game on Saturday to skate with the team, telling players that one day, they want to play in the CWHL. The road has been paved; little girls now have something to aspire to when they take to the ice. They don't have to accept at a young age that they'll never make it to the big show, that they'll never be the next Sidney Crosby. Now they can dream of making it to the CWHL or the NWHL or of being the next Caroline Ouellette, the next Julie Chu, or the next Charline Labonté.
"People were already there for warm up and I think it was really huge for us to see that people were coming to support us and maybe realizing that women's hockey is actually good hockey to watch," said Poulin. "It's fun to see the girls coming to watch and we want to grow the game for their future".
The message here is clear; women's hockey is a product that fans want to consume. Women's hockey is here to stay. There's plenty of room on the bandwagon. Hop on.