The Premier Hockey Federation continues to expand ahead of the 2022/23 season with the addition of a seventh franchise in Montreal.
This announcement was a long time coming, as Toronto and Montreal have been publicly pinpointed as targets for expansion since the CWHL folded in 2019 and left those cities without professional women’s hockey teams. Even farther back, the then-NWHL ran a graphic following their first ever Isobel Cup final with a dots over those two cities. With the introduction of a Toronto team having been crossed off the to-do list in 2020, the PHF will now have two teams based in Canada in addition to five U.S. based teams.
“I started just a few days over two months ago and this has been circled on my list as a top priority since day one and it’s been a well vetted, thorough process to get it to where we can ensure that we have the right people, the right place and the right time for us to take this next advanced step here for the PHF,” said PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey.
BTM owned for the time being
Carey informed members of the media that BTM Partners will be the ownership group for Montreal. The group includes Miles Arnone, Johanna Boynton, and John Boynton, the latter of whom is also the chairman of the PHF’s board of governors.
BTM Partners already owns and operates three teams in the PHF; the Toronto Six, the Boston Pride, and the Metropolitan Riveters. The Six have been sold to an ownership group that includes Angela James, Anthony Stewart, Bernice Carnegie, Ted Nolan, but Carey confirmed that the sale is still being finalized. The PHF constitution allows its ownership groups to have control of multiple teams for limited periods of time. As is the case with the Toronto Six, the end goal will be for the club to be divested to new ownership in the near future.
A different kind of “home”
Though the team has officially been announced as the “Montreal expansion”, it’s really a team for all of Quebec to get behind.
The new team will not have an official arena for their home games and will instead play all over the province.
“Every city we show up in, we will be an event,” said Team President Kevin Raphaël, “ There are cities that don’t get events, that are left behind, and those cities are very important in our ecosystem to build a strong women’s hockey base.”
Raphaël wants this team to have success so that the next generation of hockey players in Quebec have more options than just dreaming of playing for the Montreal Canadiens.
Commissioner Carey acknowledged that a touring model for Montreal’s home games might a bit more difficult logistically than it would be to play in the same place every weekend, but that there are also definite benefits to barnstorming when it comes to growing and exposing the game and building a fanbase.
“The league will certainly be supporting that and helping to make sure that everything is as smooth as possible, and that the players will continue to have the professional transportation necessary to make sure that it’s comfortable for them,” said Carey.
Professional treatment is a top priority
Raphaël has been trying to bring professional women’s hockey back to Quebec for four years now. He has long used his platform to advocate for and support women’s hockey and its players and sees this as an opportunity to give them what they deserve.
Ultimately, it was a conversation with Carey about changes and improvements that finally sold Raphaël on the PHF being able to meet those needs.
“I know this league has a past, but if we stay in the past we’ll never grow, we’ll never change, we’ll never go forward,” he said.
At the core of Raphaël’s vision for the team is a desire to see the players treated professionally and have their needs met. He intends for his team to spend to the upper limit of the salary cap and for players to make more than the minimum salary.
No problem finding players
Even as Raphaël spoke to the media, he joked that his phone was blowing up with messages from potential players and even potential sponsors. Neither Carey nor Raphaël anticipates having any difficulty in finding people willing to play in Quebec, despite having a later start in free agency than non-expansion teams.
He anticipates that the majority of players will be from Quebec, but certainly leaves the door open for any players who might be interested in relocating.
Montreal will be the only expansion in season 8
Many fans had initially expected to see two expansion teams in season eight. The federation had previously teased “eight teams next season,” in a video, so the expectation was certainly not unfounded.
Carey confirmed that Montreal will be the only PHF expansion for season eight. However, adding an eighth team before season nine is a possibility as the federation is currently in the process of accepting bids from other markets.
“It was my responsibility once I got here a few months ago to really vet and assess what’s best for the league right now, immediately, and what’s best for the league in the long term. I feel very confident and strongly about this being the right move for the league and the market we’re going into,” said Carey.
Similar conversations about what is best for the league in terms of next moves and season nine are already ongoing.