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PHF in early stages of Montreal expansion team

The long-rumoured confirmation has arrived but details remain limited.

Toronto Six Vs. Boston Pride At Warrior Ice Arena Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Premier Hockey Federation announced a $25 million investment to its players over the next three years on Tuesday, and in the same press release was confirmation that the league — currently in its seventh season — plans to expand to Montreal and another American market for season eight.

“Montreal has been at the top of our priority list for the last couple of years, for obvious reasons,” said John Boynton, the chairman of the PHF Board of Governors. “You’d normally want to get there as soon as possible. And so it will happen next season. Montreal is obviously one of the best, most important hockey markets in North America and the PHF absolutely has to be there.”

The rumours for Montreal expansion started several years ago, but really heated up in March of 2021 with reports an announcement was imminent. One month later, the league announced plans to delay expansion to the Montreal market.

“We just think next season is the appropriate time when we can put the right infrastructure in place up in the Montreal market,” Boynton said. “To make that successful, we will recruit the right leadership, the right partners, the right rink, etc. So there’s a lot of work to be done. And so we’ve been doing a lot of research and in the country laying the groundwork for a successful launch.”

Boynton, who is also the Governor of the Metropolitan Riveters, is part of BTM Partners LLC. The firm owns three of the six PHF teams (Toronto and Boston are the others), but Boynton would not say whether he will be part of the ownership group in Montreal.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” Boynton said when asked about the team’s ownership. “We haven’t talked explicitly about the ownership group but I will be involved in launching the club.”

Last March, The Victory Press reported paperwork had already been filed with Boynton among the leadership group.

Boynton was also not able to comment on the next steps for the expansion franchise, but did say that conversations have been had with connections at the business and player levels. Research has also been done in terms of looking at facilities but no details were provided.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association has a hub in Montreal, where the players train out of the Centre 21.02, the only high-performance women’s hockey facility in Canada. On top of the team training there this year, eight members of Canada’s Olympic team trained in the city before being centralized for the Olympics. The PWHPA was formed in 2019 when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League shut down.

Montreal is also home to three of the top university women’s hockey programs in Canada, however there are no Quebec-born players in the six-team PHF this season. Recruiting local talent, where the PWHPA footprint is large, may be an issue for the league that has failed to convince some of the best players in the world.

Boynton is confident.

“What we’re trying to do is buy an opportunity for professional players to truly earn a living playing the game they love,” Boynton said. “That’s what we believe we’re offering in the package that we’ll be rolling out in Montreal, so we think we’ll be able to attract the talent and put together a very competitive team.”

After a shortened 2020 season that saw the league play a round robin tournament to decide a champion, which had to be postponed due to a COVID outbreak among several teams, the 2021 season is more normal. The Toronto team has played their first games in Canada, and the league’s All-Star Game was scheduled to take part in the Ontario city before it was moved to Buffalo due to the province’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Boynton believes that while each market has its unique needs, the pattern that Toronto followed can be successful in Montreal.

“I would expect Montreal is going to be very similar in terms of its trajectory,” he said. “Canada is the home of hockey, right? I mean how can a team in Montreal not become a fan favourite?”

So while the what and when are clearer, there remain more questions than answers as to what the return of professional women’s hockey in Montreal will look like.