Since she has come into the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, no player has dominated the scoreboard like Ann-Sophie Bettez.
In each of her first five seasons, she has finished in the top five in scoring. She finished behind Hilary Knight in the rookie of the year voting, and won the scoring title and league MVP in her second year. The last two years, she has finished second in league scoring and this year, she led the entire league in goals.
In fact, since she started her CWHL career after graduating from McGill University, she doesn’t just lead the league in scoring — there is nobody even close.
The big difference on that table is the 2013-2014 season which most National team players missed due to the fact that they were centralized, and playing, in the Olympics. But even if you remove her 40 points in 23 games, she still has 136 points in 93 games. That would still be first, and her 1.46 PPG would still be better than anyone not named Marie-Philip Poulin.
She has dominated with and against Olympians. She was dominating before playing with Poulin, and she is still dominant.
The path to greatness
I first saw Ann-Sophie Bettez when she was at Dawson College, a CEGEP team (CEGEP is the Quebec school level that bridges the gap between high school and university), over 10 years ago. Her Blues team came to the Theresa Humes tournament in 2006. That team was stacked and included current Canadiennes teammates Karell Emard and Emmanuelle Blais and former CWHL players like Sara Dagenais and Olympian Catherine Ward.
Their first game was against McGill University, and they won 8-2.
“It was pretty funny,” Bettez said about the tournament, where Dawson finished third against seven other University teams. “We were there because one team had cancelled so they just put us in there and just being the underdog is always easier than being at the top. We had no pressure, we had nothing going in. Obviously they are a university team, they don’t want to lose to a CEGEP team so it was really funny that we ended up winning but that second year we were undefeated and we were such a great team, great chemistry and with all the events that happened at Dawson, it brought us together as a whole and great things can happen when you come up together.”
From there, Bettez went to McGill University where she was one of the best players at the university level. She won Rookie of the Year, and in her final year, she won the Player of the Year award.
Upon graduating, she was Montreal’s second round pick in the 2012 CWHL Draft after they chose her McGill teammate Charline Labonté in the first round.
The right choice
Bettez grew up in Sept-Iles, Quebec, but moved to Montreal in seventh grade. Her parents wanted her to be able to play every sport but once she moved to Montreal, because everything was so spread out, she had a choice to make.
“When I was a kid, my parents decided that they wanted me and my brother to be able to do every sport,” she said. “They threw us in all the possible sports and when I moved to Montreal when I was 12, I wasn’t able to do all the sports because the city is so much bigger than my hometown so I focused more on diving and hockey.”
“The fact that diving you’re on your own, I didn’t like that. I liked the teamwork and the second family and so that really allowed me to be able to choose and it was a simple choice for me.”
Bettez would be involved in the Hockey Canada development program up until the Under-22 team.
A different level
From when Bettez went through Dawson, to her great career at McGill, you knew she was a good player. But it seemed she reached a different level once she started to play in the CWHL.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” she said. “My expectation was to have fun. When you’re able to have success, it’s easier to have fun. At the end of the day, if you’re keeping things simple and you do what you love, and for me that’s playing hockey, the dots align and for me every year the level of the league has increased and also my level of hockey has increased so I’m putting in the effort and I’m having fun.”
What has changed since she joined the CWHL to have her reach another level? Her answer was simple.
“Experience,” she said. “I’ve been playing since I was five but the fact that you’re playing with the best players in the world, I think definitely experience is there. Confidence as well. Being able to play with Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette, those types of players really help you elevate your game to the next level and I think it’s a matter of putting all of those pieces together and this is the result.”
The reality of a part-time player
Like many players in the CWHL, Bettez cannot train full time. She works as a financial advisor to make money as her day job before practicing twice a week with Les Canadiennes and playing two games a weekend. She also tries to get on the ice as often as possible, because sometimes life gets in the way.
She even tries to get in an off-ice workout.
“It’s not easy for me but I really try to put it in my schedule,” she said about the extra training. “I’m a financial advisor but I don’t have an 8-5 job. At times I have to meet clients because clients work during the day so I have to meet them at night. I have to miss practice which makes me angry but at the end of the day, this is what allows me to travel to get to the hockey because we’re not paid. Not every week is the same because it always changes but it’s very busy, that I can tell you,” she said with a smile.
Bettez is starting to get recognized for her skill on the ice. She has been named to the CWHL All-Star game all three years it has been played, and at this year’s All-Star draft she was the second pick after Poulin.
She was also nominated for the Jayna Hefford award which will be handed out Friday at the CWHL Awards. That award is extra special because it is the MVP as voted on by the players themselves.
“It’s voted on by the players and it’s something special. Your teammates and your rivals are able to value you so I think it’s an honour to be a part of the three [players nominated]. It’s cool to be a part of it.”
She is nominated along with Poulin and Jess Jones who tied for the league scoring led this year.
Bettez is one of the few veterans on the team who has not won a Clarkson Cup. She has been a part of three finals, and has yet to win. This Sunday will be her fourth crack at the title in a championship game.
She repeats a theme that many players on Montreal have said. The fact that most of these players have played together for a long time makes them closer than most teams. It goes back to the reason she chose hockey over diving: the second family that hockey allows her to have.
“Emmanuelle... Karell... we were on a line [at Dawson] and we were just reminiscing [about] the old days.” she said. “We live such great experiences at CEGEP and we all went our own ways at University and now that we’re all back together it’s like we all grew but it’s as if we never left. That’s the beauty of friendship and the second family I was talking about because whenever do you meet people and you leave for four years and then you meet again and it seems like I just saw [them] yesterday. We do talk all the time about it.”
“We have chemistry that we built on the ice, we know where we are and then it’s just really fun and I appreciate the fact that we have that chance. I don’t know about the other teams if they have experienced that but we are lucky that we have that CEGEP aspect so we get to know each other and you leave and then come back and this professional league that we’re in right now. It’s really fun and we’re lucky to have a team like that. As a team we’re really close and it goes beyond just being teammates because we’ve known each other for such a long time.”
As one of the pioneers for the game, she knows that things need to improve going forward. Like many other players in the league, she knows what she wants to see for the game to grow, beyond just getting paid.
“[I want] more fans come to our games,” she said. “We’re lucky in Montreal, we have a lot of good volunteers and people that are involved in our community but sometimes we go to other cities and there [aren’t many people] in the stands so just the fact to be more known to the public and that people are aware that women can play hockey.”
“It’s just a matter of time because of the partnership we have with the [Montreal Canadiens], we’ve seen a tremendous growth in the attendance. In order to get paid, that’s what we need. People to believe in the league. People to invest. People to come watch and then with all those aspects will lead us to be able to be paid to do that and if you look at the talent... I have to work - I don’t even know how many hours a week, I don’t even count - but then if we just focused on working out and playing hockey, the league would be so much better so we do what we can with what we have.”
Bettez and the Canadiennes will be playing for the Clarkson Cup on Sunday at 4 p.m. Eastern at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. Tickets are still available here or you can watch the game live on Sportsnet.