Montreal is finally getting its long-promised women’s pro hockey franchise, though the Premier Hockey Federation put the brakes on adding a second expansion team entering its eighth season, the league announced Tuesday.
In unveiling the U.S.-based, privately backed league’s seventh franchise and second in Canada, PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey said it was in the sport’s best interest to take a slower approach toward growth to ensure long-term stability.
“Sometimes, there’s a little energy and enthusiasm and urgency to add teams. But at the same time, you have to do it in a really thoughtful way and make sure that we’re doing everything at the right time with the right people moving forward,” Carey told The Associated Press.
“There’s been a lot of evaluating, assessing and a lot conversations in just trying to get a better understanding of what the league needs at the immediate moment, and what we need long term for a sustainable future,” she added. “And Montreal has been at the top of that since Day 1.”
The yet-to-be-named Montreal franchise has been in the works for some 18 months, with its launch already delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic. PHF officials in January had also committed to expanding into a U.S. location, without disclosing where.
Hired in April, Carey said she needed to better familiarize herself with the PHF before adding a second expansion team this year. As for the possibility of expanding next year, the former USA Hockey executive said: “I have no reservations about committing to expansion in Season 9.”
Women’s hockey returns to Montreal for the first time since Les Canadiennes spent 12 years playing in the nation's second-largest city before the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded after the 2019 season.
The team will be based at Centre 21.02, a two-rink high performance center established and run by former Canadian national women’s team coach Daniele Sauvageau, while also playing home games in various communities across Quebec to raise the team's profile.
The Montreal franchise will be the league’s fourth owned by BTM Partners, and have a local influence among its executive. French cable TV broadcaster Kevin Raphael will serve as team president with Emmanuel Anderson named vice president. Raphael and Anderson have worked on many projects together, including hosting a hockey fundraiser to support children’s cancer foundations.
BTM also owns the Boston Pride, New Jersey-based Metropolitan Riveters and Toronto Six. Though the league announced in March that the Toronto franchise was sold to a group which includes former NHL coach Ted Nolan and former Canadian women’s hockey star Angela James, Carey said Tuesday the deal had not yet closed.
Montreal already has some catching up to do in establishing a roster some two months after the PHF’s free agency period opened.
Carey said that shouldn’t be a concern in citing the large pool of talent the team can draw from in Quebec. Montreal will also take advantage of the PHF’s decision to increase its salary cap to $750,000 per team this season — more than double the $300,000 cap last year.
Montreal marks the league’s third expansion team after adding the pre-existing Minnesota Whitecaps in 2016, and establishing a new team in Toronto two years ago.
The PHF, previously called the National Women’s Hockey League, was founded in 2015 and became North America’s first women’s hockey league to pay players a salary. The league also has teams in Buffalo, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut.
The PHF’s continued push into Canada coincides with the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association in discussions to launch its own league within the next year. The PWHPA’s membership features a majority of U.S. and Canadian national team players who have balked at playing for the PHF.
Though rivals, Carey supports the PWHPA because it’s working toward the same objective as the PHF in seeking to grow the women’s game.
“Moving into Canada and being able to provide opportunities for players there as well as the U.S. is important for us. So it’s a North American league for sure,” Carey said. “But at the same time, we’re not resting and settling. Our intent is to continue to grow and provide more resources for players as we move forward.”
This story has been corrected to reflect Montreal as Canada's second-largest city and not Quebec's capital.
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press