Three years, eight months, and two days since the final game of les Canadiennes de Montréal, a women’s professional hockey team bearing the city’s name took the ice again in la belle province. La Force de Montréal, also known as the Montreal Force, opened their home series against the Metropolitan Riveters at the Verdun Auditorium.
The recent history of the sport was visible in the arena. The Canadiennes logo was present at center ice, and along the boards the logo of the Secret Dream Gap tour was displayed, from the showcase games the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association had played there just a few weeks previously. Among the crowd, Canadiennes and PWHPA jerseys and hats could be seen.
Back in August, at the press conference that announced the Force’s name and logo, team president Kevin Raphaël said, “Women’s hockey is very important in this city and we’re proving it again.”
They sure did prove it this weekend.
Montréal showed up to support their new team: over 2,500 people came to see the game, a figure which broke the regular season attendance record for the Premier Hockey Federation. From the introduction of the Force roster through the victory salute at the end of the game, the fans were an audible and electric presence, creating an exhilarating game atmosphere for a league that has sometimes struggled to fill stands.
The first few minutes of play were controlled by the visiting team, but the crowd still cheered for every Force possession and every save by goaltender Tricia Deguire. The first goal of the game was scored by the Riveters. Normally, this might take some wind out of a crowd, but the arena only grew louder in support of their team as the players reset for the center-ice faceoff.
When captain Ann-Sophie Bettez, who scored the final goal of Les Canadiennes, scored the first goal for the Force on home ice, the crowd leapt to their feet as one.
That trend would continue for the rest of the game, including for the hat-trick empty net goal scored by rookie Jade Downie-Landry, which brought hats and even pucks and t-shirts down to the ice. Some of the hats thrown were the team-branded toques and baseball caps being sold in the lobby, a short life and a merry one for team merch. By Sunday, hats were sold out.
The crowd was loud and involved. Whether they were chanting, making a wave, or creating an intimidating clatter by rapping their laminated programs against hands, chairs, and railings, their energy was infectious, and seemed to help power the Force to their 5-3 victory.
Riveters Head Coach Venla Hovi thought that the fans made a difference:
“The crowd was amazing yesterday and today,” she said in a clip released by the Riveters after the second game of the back-to-back. “I think yesterday, definitely affected our game a little bit, all the fans.”
Sunday’s game took place in the Saint-Laurent neighborhood. Raphaël said he wanted to play games in different places in Montréal, which can take more than an hour for locals to traverse depending on transport method and time of day, as part of the team’s commitment to showcasing professional women’s hockey and making the game accessible to people throughout the province to see the elite athletes play in person. Over 750 fans came to the smaller Aréna Raymond-Borque for the second game of the weekend, which counts as a success towards that goal.
This past weekend’s slate of games more than proved that the passion for women’s hockey has not died in Montréal, despite a generation of highs and lows since the Bonaventure Wingstar played in the original NWHL in 1998. This season, the Force will get to reignite and spread that passion further as they tour Québec.
The Force’s next games will take place on the third and fourth of December in Sept-Îles, 10.5 hours northeast of Montréal, against the reigning regular season champions, the Connecticut Whale. The Whale’s only game so far this season consisted of a 0-4 shutout against the reigning Isobel Cup champions, the Boston Pride. Their subsequent weekend series against Buffalo Beauts was canceled due to inclement weather, so the Whale are sure to be fast out of the gate to prove themselves this season.
The Force will be ready to meet them on home ice.