The PHF’s announcement on Tuesday morning involved a lot of exciting news: an increase in the salary cap, an expanded season schedule, and (scant) details about the upcoming expansions — including the rumored foray into Montréal.
A Brief Timeline
In April of 2019, shortly after the announcement that the CWHL was ceasing operations, the PHF (then the NWHL) announced its intent to expand into two Canadian markets: Toronto and Montréal. While we did see a team materialize in Toronto — the current league leaders in the Toronto Six — in April of 2020, the establishment of a Montréal franchise seemed to sort of...falter.
The NWHL announced today that our Board has approved investment in two Canadian markets. We expect to have teams in Toronto and Montreal this upcoming season and we’ll be pursuing opportunities to work with current stakeholders and partners. pic.twitter.com/iRCxLY51wI— PHF (@PHF) April 2, 2019
The declaration came at an opportune moment for the league, given that there was about to be a dearth of professional women’s hockey in Canada, but the announcement of proposed expansion was quickly followed by joint statements from former CWHLers that would eventually result in the creation of the PWHPA.
This past April, Marisa Ingemi reported that the Montréal expansion had been tabled for the time being, largely in part due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting impact on the NCAA talent pool, along with the difficulties of navigating an Olympic year.
Quick update - league sources are saying there's a good chance NWHL Montreal doesn't happen until after season 7. Cited Olympic year, pandemic, and difficult draft year (many players are returning for 5th year). Nothing in stone but looking like it.— Marisa Ingemi (@Marisa_Ingemi) April 13, 2021
Then, in September, this little Tweet from the official PHF account that went largely unnoticed but hinted at what we now know to be true: the PHF will be expanding to Montréal ahead of season eight, confirmed by the #TodaysPHF video.
Would season 8 be OK for Montreal?!— PHF (@PHF) September 18, 2021
The PHF already has experience with the successful launch of a brand new franchise created from the ground up in the Toronto Six. Whether they follow that blueprint or take this expansion in a different direction remains to be seen, but there are quite a few questions still surrounding the announcement.
What might the franchise be called?
Montréal has a rich hockey history — just between the Montréal Stars and the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes de Montréal, there’s so much context surrounding women’s hockey in the city. As for a name for the team, it’s likely the PHF will stay away from trying to revitalize any past franchises; what’s worked for the league in the past (i.e. with Toronto) is to create something new.
I had not noticed that in 2017 Montreal added a white pine (representing First Nations peoples) to its municipal flag. pic.twitter.com/rWDKVW04mG— Vincent Calabrese (@vpcalabrese) June 20, 2021
In 2017, the city of Montréal unveiled a new flag and coat of arms, bearing five symbols that recognize the contributions of the city’s founding peoples: the white pine, the fleur-de-lis, the rose, the thistle, and the clover. While each represents a different group, I could see the PHF drawing inspiration from one or several to name their newest franchise.
What rink will the franchise call home?
Les Canadiennes competed at Place Bell, the home of the AHL’s Laval Rocket, located about a 25-minute drive outside of downtown Montréal. Meanwhile, Team Harvey’s, the Montréal hub of the PWHPA, hosts practices at Centre 21.02 in Verdun, a borough of the city.
The Toronto Six play out of Canlan Ice Sports in York, the home of York University’s hockey teams. If the league decides to take this route with its Montréal team, there are plenty of university rinks in the area to choose from: McGill’s McConnell Arena, the Universite de Montréal Carabins’ CEPSUM, and Concordia’s Ed Meagher Arena, to name a few.
Whether the PHF opts to bring women’s hockey back to Place Bell, decides to take the tried and true route of playing out of a university rink, or even adopts a different tack, there’s no question that they’ll be drawing crowds hungry for women’s hockey.
Which players will the PHF target?
We’ve already mentioned that Montréal has a rich hockey history, but its present is pretty prolific too. There’s a whole host of players that call Québec home, and that number isn’t limited to those with national team ties.
Think NCAA players like Élizabeth Giguère, Ève-Audrey Picard, and Maude Poulin-Labelle, all of whom are on the cusp of finishing up their collegiate careers. Sarah-Ève Coutu-Godbout, who played a season for the Toronto Six and now competes for AIK in the SDHL, could make her return to a team in her home province.
What does another Canadian franchise mean for U SPORTS talent?
There has been a surge of players with U SPORTS experience competing in the PHF in recent years — players like Taylor Davison, Cristine Chao, and Autumn MacDougall — and there’s no reason for that trend not to soar when it comes to a Montréal expansion. Another Canadian franchise gives U SPORTS alumni with professional aspirations an avenue to realize their dreams in their home province, and that’s definitely a good thing.
With so many U SPORTS competitors located in the city, there’s a very high likelihood we see commitments from players from McGill, Concordia, or the Universite de Montréal’s programs.
There’s always a lot of uncertainty surrounding expansion teams...but the future is looking pretty bright in Montréal.