The Montreal professional hockey scene has not been the most successful over the last few years. The Canadiens and Laval Rocket have been at best inconsistent, at worst outright bad. Through it all, there were always the Canadiennes who were always championship contenders.
But even that bright light has dimmed in the last year.
The Montreal chapter of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), captained by former McGill Martlet and 2018 Olympic MVP Mélodie Daoust, won both of their games at the Secret Women’s Hockey Showcase in Toronto this past weekend. Their statement win was 8-0 in the final game against the team captained by Natalie Spooner, which represented the West Region of the Toronto chapter in front of over 1,000 fans at Mattamy Athletic Centre on Sunday. In all, over 4,300 fans showed up to the weekend event.
With no league for the players to play in as they fight for a long-term, viable league where players can be paid livable wages, there are currently no scheduled games for when the Montreal chapter will play again together against other women. Their next game on January 18 will be against a boys team. The next PWHPA showcase at the end of February in Philadelphia will take on a “USA vs the World” feel, so teams will be mixed.
Montreal played this showcase without Laura Stacey, Jessie Eldridge, and Emma Martin who were on other teams, while Erin Ambrose and Ann-Sophie Bettez were out with injuries.
On Saturday, Hilary Knight scored a hat trick, and her linemates Jill Saulnier and Sarah Lefort combined for five assists in a 6-3 win over Team Bellamy, which represented the Calgary chapter of the PWHPA.
Sunday, the team got off to a quick start and never looked back. While National team members like Hilary Knight, Mélodie Daoust, Emily Clark, Marie-Philip Poulin, Josiane Pozzebon scored goals, two unsung heroes led the way. U Sports alumni Kim Deschênes had four assists and Tracy-Ann Lavigne scored two goals. Maude Gélinas had the team’s other goal.
“It’s rewarding as a team to see them do so well,” Emerance Maschmeyer said after the game about the club team players who are vital to the team’s success and the success of the PWHPA. “You see them at practice every week when we’re in Montreal and they may not have that goal of playing for Team Canada but they still work so hard. Normally when it’s a seventh goal, I’m not tapping my stick in excitement but when it’s one of those players I’m excited for them and I know the bench got fired up.”
It was the type of weekend that would start the second half of the season off right for a team. Contributions from all three lines, solid goaltending, and two big wins. The reality of the situation is, though, that this isn’t an ordinary season.
Caroline Ouellette, who is involved in coaching the Montreal chapter, said after the team’s game at Place Bell in December that what she misses the most is simply the build up to something at the end of the season.
“What I miss is preparing the team for a championship,” she said. “I feel bad for the players because I loved hockey. There was nothing I loved doing more but one of my biggest drivers was the trophy at the end. Every practice, every game, was to build for the Cup. It was to be better as a line, as a team. Now, we lost that a bit and my heart breaks a bit for the players.”
Montreal is in a unique position in that they have a full roster of players to practice with regularly. They have a 25 player roster, which means that they can treat their weekly practices more normally than chapters with smaller rosters, or where players are more spread out. However, there’s more than that needed.
“It’s the aspect of elite sport which is to compete with the best that we don’t have and that’s unacceptable,” Ouellette said.
Montreal’s next game will be on Saturday, January 18 against the André-Laurendeau CEGEP team in a fundraising game for the PWHPA and the André-Laurendeau Foundation at 5:00 p.m. at the Dollard St-Laurent arena in Lasalle. The PWHPA will be also have some celebrities joining their team.