One of the first conversations Mark Weightman, the vice president of development and operations of the Laval Rocket and Place Bell, had with Les Canadiennes general manager Meg Hewings was asking why they didn’t play at Place Bell.
And now, a little over a year after Weightman was hired, he and Hewings were at Place Bell announcing a new partnership.
“As far as the quality of the venue goes it will help elevate their brand and make people say ‘I have to go see this,’” Weightman said.
“It’s hockey. If you’re a hockey fan and there’s good hockey going on, you’re going to like it.”
There were logistical reasons the partnership didn’t happen sooner. Place Bell’s Aréna du Rocket’s priority, obviously, was the Laval Rocket and the scheduling just didn’t work in the building’s first year. But Weightman had a will. And Place Bell’s main arena along with its community rink, run by La Cité de la culture et du sport de Laval, could work together to fill in the gaps.
So Place Bell was announced as the home of the daily operations of the team, they will also host most practices at the main Rocket rink, and play two double headers right after Rocket games on the main rink. Then, they will have four games at the smaller community rink.
“It’s super exciting,” said Canadiennes forward Marie-Philip Poulin. “It’s a brand new building, we have new faces coming in, the Olympians are coming back, we have the veterans who have been there so all this together with a new rink in Laval, a new community [...] it’s going to be fun.”
Weightman is the former president of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes and after that went to Linköping Hockey Club where he was the senior marketing advisor before coming back to Montreal in his current role.
His time in Sweden opened his eyes to how a relationship could work between a men’s and women’s team under the same umbrella. Linköping’s men’s and women’s teams are among the top organizations in Sweden.
“There’s a lot of synergy between the two and it makes sense to combine the two,” Weightman said. “Women’s hockey is growing exponentially and deserves to be supported.”
“You can’t have something just fall off the map after the Olympics,” he said.
“This legacy we have in Montreal [...] we see it as our birthright in a way as Montrealers to want to set the example globally for what is possible for women’s hockey and women’s professional hockey,” said Hewings. “We want to be the best club in the world.”
The Rocket are using this to add to their value of tickets as well. People who buy a ticket to the Rocket game on October 13 and February 23 will have the option of staying after the AHL game for free to watch the CWHL game. People will also have the option to buy a ticket for just the Canadiennes game.
The game on February 23 is the team’s annual “Pink in the Rink” breast cancer fundraiser and is against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder.
Part of the challenges that the CWHL team faces is to increase the visibility of the organization and to get people to give it a try. This partnership, along with what the Canadiennes have with the NHL’s Canadiens, checks both of those boxes.
Place Bell is located steps from Montreal’s Metro system, and is easily accessible from the city.
The remainder of the Canadiennes schedule is scattered among two other arenas. They will have four games at the Complexe Bell in Brossard and three at the Michel Normandin arena. Two other games have locations to be announced.
Part of the fun is that the season opener is going to be at the big arena at Place Bell on October 13 against the Calgary Inferno, and it will be the first time that Marie-Philip Poulin and American superstar Hilary Knight will be teammates.
“It’s going to be unbelievable, to be honest,” Poulin said. “Having her on our team is going to be exciting and we finally have the chance to wear the same jersey so it’s going to be fun.”
“We’re entering a new era with the Canadiennes,” Hewings said. “It’s incredibly exciting to imagine what’s going to be possible when you see Poulin and Knight play together. If you’re a fan I can imagine you’re incredibly excited to see what that can be.”
Season tickets for the Canadiennes - which does not include the two Place Bell doubleheaders - are available here. Single game tickets will be available shortly.
Single game tickets for the Laval Rocket, including the two games which earn you entry into the CWHL game on October 13 and February 23, are available now.