Les Canadiennes players filed into the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard Saturday morning, hockey bags slung over their shoulders, for the first time since the end of last season.
The women were in good spirits, laughing as they signed in.
"It was great to see everyone," said forward Caroline Ouellette. "It made me realize how much — yes, I missed hockey — but I missed the girls. We have so much fun together and it seems like we have a great bunch of rookies. I think we're going to have a very solid season."
Among the returnees was Emmanuelle Blais. Already one of the strongest players on the team, she appears to have bulked up even more over the course of the off-season. Blais is a CrossFit competitor when she's not playing hockey with Les Canadiennes. During the push-ups portion of the fitness testing, Blais stopped at 47 before her time was up, because that's her jersey number.
There were several new faces at selection camp, including Sarah Lefort, Montreal's 2016 first-round pick. Lefort is a Boston University alumna, where she broke Marie-Philip Poulin's scoring record. She'll no doubt be an excellent addition up front, bolstering an already explosive offence.
"Today, everybody's focused, but we're also here to have fun. We're also here to meet new people. The atmosphere is pretty light today. Yeah, there's physical testing, but it's also fun to be back in a group. It's fun to be back on a team, especially for my first day here," Lefort said.
One of the newest members of the organization, Nachi Fujimoto, made the trip to Montreal from Japan, where she has been playing hockey at Sapporo International University. She is the sister of Nana Fujimoto, who played goal for the NWHL's New York Riveters in the 2015-16 season.
Women's hockey has long been considered a sport that belonged to Canadians and Americans, but a growing number of women from France, Japan, and Russia are making the jump to play elite-level hockey in North America.
"When we make those players better, we make our game better," said Ouellette. "It was great to meet our new Japanese player. She's so excited to be here. She's very fit; she's ready. I think it's great, making friends from all around the world. It's part of why this is a great experience."
A few girls won't be returning this year, including backup goaltender Sydney Aveson, who has gone on to pursue other options in Europe (Montreal retains her CWHL rights). But that leaves an opening between the pipes, which means the four other goaltenders invited to camp this weekend will have to battle for the job of backing up Charline Labonté, who remains Montreal's starter. Labonté is coming off her second straight season as the CWHL's goaltender of the year.
"I want to make sure that there are people that are going to be ready to take the [starting] spot when I'm ready to move on and hang the pads," Labonté said. "It's fun to see that now we have five goalies trying out, and the position is good. It's a bright future."
2016-17 season tickets for Les Canadiennes are on sale now and can be purchased here.