On Friday, former Les Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonté spoke with The Puck Authority where the Olympian eluded to the hard work going on behind the scenes by both the players and people involved in order to ensure that there is a future for women’s hockey while not thinking that perhaps a development was nearing.
That being said, during the second intermission of the Montreal Canadiens game against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday, it was reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that there is word that the NHL is working on a women’s league if the time ever becomes necessary with six teams, maybe two in Canada. Further to that regard, Friedman continued on in his hit to suggest that “it sounds like there is a plan being worked on and put in place in case the NHL needs to step in.”
The news comes after a report from Katie Strang of The Athletic back in May who learned of a tentative plan for what a Women’s National Hockey League might just look like if it comes to the help being needed. With this in mind, however, as reported by The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian, the new league would not strictly be under the operating format of the Original six style, much like the NWHL.
While specifics in greater detail remain unknown as to what could be coming, the report from Friedman implies more or less that not only is there now a plan, but in Salvian’s words that the league is moving ahead in a more meaningful way than back in the spring.
In a statement from Labonté on Saturday morning with regards to this subject, the Greenfield, QC native said in response, “Well, as of what’s going on with the NWHL, I don’t really know what is going on, so I can’t really give an opinion or judgement. I know they’re trying, I don’t think having that one league is great right now. I think they need to create something all together so that, you know, the best thing is, having two leagues was a mistake to start with because, you know, the talent is so spread out so that I don’t think it really shows us what really women’s hockey is, so that’s why I think they would need a little similar to what the NHL started as, you know, an original six, like I’m assuming not too many teams, but enough so that all the best players can be there. I would see that as you know, Canada, the U.S., the best players from Asia and places like Sweden and Switzerland and Finland, that it’s one league and then talent is just spread out among the, you know, five or six teams that are there, but I don’t know how long it’s gonna take to get there, I feel like it’s everyone’s dream to see that, but it’s hard to know. I just know that the girls are working really, really hard to be there and to create something that is very sustainable. I think, like I said again, it’s really important, it’s part of our role to, you know, leave the game in a really better place then it was because we want the young girls to dream. You know, we never really had that chance growing up. We used to watch men’s hockey and we used to dream, you know, personally as a young girl, you used to dream about playing for the Montreal Canadiens and winning then Stanley Cup because that’s all there was, even though it was pretty much impossible, but you can’t say that to your kids. But the fact that young girls, now they can dream about playing on Team Canada and can dream about a full scholarship, either in Canada or in the U.S., getting their education and eventually playing the game that they love the most as their full time job, so I think that’s the dream, that’s what everyone wants and that’s what the girls are just trying to do, is to create that environment for the next generation.”
Hailey Salvian spoke with Dani Rylan, commissioner of the NWHL, back in September where she asked “would you ever consider folding your league to let the NHL step in? In response to the controversial inquiry, Rylan said of the league’s current status, “Why would we do that? Why would we fold for a hypothetical? Why would I think about that? I wake up every day trying to build and grow this business, not consider dissolving it for a hope or for the triumph of hope over reality. It’s not how anyone here at the league is wired, including the players who decided to back us and support us and grow with us this year.”
With the Dream Gap Tour just having concluded with stops in Toronto, Chicago and New Hampshire, Melissa Woo of CTV News Montreal reported on Friday afternoon that the PWHPA would have another game coming, taking on Korea’s Olympic hockey team this weekend in Laval.
Obviously, like this first series of games, it’s not only to display the best talents in the game, but to hopefully give a boost to women’s hockey in Canada, as eluded to by CTV Montreal. That being said, Karell Emard spoke with Melissa Woo ahead of the game taking place at Place Bell and when asked about the lead up to the players association, the PWHPA member and spokesperson said, “As soon as the players got together (after the folding of the CWHL), we started talking, trying to find solutions and ways to use this next year to change the face of professional women’s hockey.”
This series comes after Hockey Canada coordinated for members of the association to train in Montreal, spending time in and out of the facilities which were provided through the month of October by Université de Montréal. At this time, sessions are being arranged for practices and games throughout Ontario as well. This would include stops at Scotiabank Arena and The Auditorium in Toronto and Kitchener. Back in September, Hockey Canada announced in a news release a series of mini-camps for player development with seven in total to be played and hosted before the Women’s World Championships in Nova Scotia in March.
As noted by Hockey Canada in the release, the mini-camp concept was conceived by Hockey Canada staff working in conjunction with members of the National Women’s Team leadership group. As well, the camps were identified to being required to fill the void left by the the ceasing of operations by the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
When speaking with CTV last month, this was eluded to by Melodie Daoust who said in a statement, “We want to keep women’s hockey at the forefront and be able to be there for the next generation, so that they can make a job out of it.” However, without regular training and scheduled practices, this goal would not be accomplished so simply which in part encouraged the PWHPA to form by way of making sure they’re being properly looked after.
In a statement from Gina Kingsbury, director of women’s national team’s for Hockey Canada, she said, “This is an unusual season for our national team athletes. For the last 12 seasons they’ve had different options to play on a club and that’s no longer the case. We’ve worked with the leadership group, taking into considering the PWHPA and its plans, to schedule these mini-camps. We are thankful for the commitment of our national team athletes and very thankful for the support of the Hockey Canada Board of Directors in making these camps a reality.”
Speaking of the mini-camp bring up and the help of Hockey Canada to ensure these players play, the organization announced on October 16th, a two-game series between the U.S. and Canada, one that ultimately makes up for the cancellation of the 4 Nations Tournament as a result of Swedish players forming a boycott. Furthermore, Hockey Canada will be sending 23 players south of the boarder to take part in the showdown, one that will display the best players on either side from November 8-10 in Cranberry Township, PA. The competition that will host Hockey Canada is set to take place at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. The game on Friday will be played at 7:00, while Sunday’s matchup will see the puck drop in a matinee at 1:00pmET.
In a statement from Scott Smith in the release, president and chief operating officer with Hockey Canada, he said, “This is a unique time for Canada’s National Women’s Team and for the women’s game. It’s important that our athletes be prepared to compete for gold at the world championship on home ice, and we believe these mini-camps are a key part of that process. More important is the commitment of our national team players to the long-term health of the women’s game. We are thankful to our board of directors for its on-going support of growing grassroots hockey for boys and girls in Canada.”
With the next saga now underway as hopes are awoken for women’s hockey and its future, Karell Emard said with regards to the history of fight and doubt that players like her have had to endure, “We fought for years and years to be considered professional hockey players. I would love for everyone to know that we were not supported, we did not get any type of salary. That’s a reality that we faced. I want to tell the world that we are not quitting because it’s hard.”
It’s because of that exactly that the PWHPA was brought up in Philadelphia so that these players have a chance to show that they are deserving of the same fair wages and similar luxuries that the NHL offers. With that being said, Emard would go on to say as to what players are seeking, “We’re just asking the strict minimum to be true professional players, so not to have to work 40 hours a week.” On that note, Emard, and many others, only received stipends of cash from the CWHL, last season making roughly $2,000 each, this just being Les Canadiennes de Montréal alone. As it fits the subject, Emard told CTV Montreal its better than what players got a few years ago – which was nothing.
With the series coming up in Laval, another initiative to raise awareness, Emard said, “This is going to be a great opportunity to promote women’s hockey and all its angles. We have a team that travelled from Korea to play us. There’s going to be goals, saves, and fans are going to see it all.”
Following that, the Montreal tour will continue when they pay a visit to the Cegep André-Laurendeau’s men’s team, a game that will be played on November 24th at Mount Royal Arena, making for their first game being played on the island. With community being the big idea for the PWHPA through this season, Emard said when speaking about the efforts that are being made for scheduled games to take place, “It’s important to go into those community hockey hubs that believe in what we’re doing. You do one, it goes really well, and then more people get involved. And the calendar gets pretty full.”
Emard is not the only one who’s spoken out with regards to this matter as Marie-Philip Poulin, former Les Canadiennes forward, was newly named a spokesperson for the association on Friday. That being said, in regards to support, the Team Canada captain said, “We were pretty scared about this year [with the folding of the CWHL], but being able to put these showcases together and play, it was kind of like we were kids, so much excitement.”
In speaking about communities, On the 12th of October, the PWHPA took part in a showcase game at Boisbriand Arena, a game they arranged in collaboration with the Association de Hockey Féminin des Laurentides and the Mistral des Laurentides team. Of course, this comes on the feet of Hockey Canada being aware of the impact of women’s hockey and with Poulin knowing personally the effects that it has on young girls around the country playing hockey, she would open in saying that it only made sense for the PWHPA to team up with a minor female league.
As for the partnership itself that was a guiding principle for the game to be played, the Quebec City native said, “The community from La Ligue Féminin des Laurentides have been a big part of women’s hockey, and we wanted to be able to create something there.” While Poulin was a figure head for the series, she was not alone from Les Canadiennes as Melodie Daoust said with regards to the importance of the minor league aspect in relation to the arena, “It’s nice to see a smile on kids’ faces when they walk in the rink and they’re just so happy to support women’s hockey, they’re are a big part of what we are trying to create.”
Poulin and Melodie Daoust were not the only Montreal players in attendance as Hilary Knight and Lauriane Rougeau were both on-hand in addition to Les Canadiennes head coach Caroline Ouellette. Knight, who is 30-years-old, is Team USA’s 2018 Olympic gold medalist, meanwhile, Lauriane Rougeau is a defender on Canada’s national women’s team. Ouellette, on the other hand, is a former Team Canada four-time Olympic gold medalist, but not just that, she is a former star forward, a CWHL product of Les Canadiennes as well.
With each event that they play being equally as important and significant in certain ways, Karell Emard told CTV Montreal, “Each event has been considered a success.” In closing, Emard would say, “Our goal is to bring the best product to our fans. We owe it to them. We have such a good fan base here in Montreal that it’s a no-brainer.”
With this only being the start, the PWHPA’s next leg of the road trip continues as the association hosts their first event in Laval with puck drop falling at 6:30pm. The game, which takes place at Place Bell, will feature a game between PWHPA players and Korea’s Olympic team. Tickets for Sunday’s affair can only be purchased on game day at Place Bell’s box office. They range from $10 costs for adults to $5 for children aged 12 and under.