The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), previously known as the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), unveiled the league’s latest expansion team, La Force de Montréal on Aug. 30.
The new team will compete against the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale, the Metropolitan Riveters, the Minnesota Whitecaps, and the Toronto Six. These seven teams, now including La Force, will compete for the coveted Isobel Cup in the 2022-2023 PHF season.
Despite holding the Montreal name, La Force will transcend the city’s boundaries, playing home games in seven cities throughout Quebec. With Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec, Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup, Saint-Jérôme, and Sept-Îles all given the opportunity to showcase the team, there is hope that women’s professional hockey will grow throughout the province.
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, La Force assistant coach Katia Clément-Heydra emphasized the value of having the team play all over Quebec.
“With more visibility comes more fans,” said Clément-Heydra. “Their motivation, for now, is to build something bigger than just a championship team.”
On Sept. 13, Peter Smith was announced as head coach of La Force. His impressive track record includes 21 seasons as head coach of the McGill Martlets, leading the team to four national championships between 2008 and 2014, and holding the title of the winningest coach in the history of McGill hockey. Smith boasts numerous accomplishments at the international level, too, serving as head coach of the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team from 2007 to 2008, and as an assistant coach with Team Canada under Melody Davidson.
Former Martlets’ assistant coach Clément-Heydra will join Smith while continuing to assist McGill with recruiting and player development. In addition to her impressive young coaching career, Clément-Heydra played five seasons with the Martlets, four seasons with CWHL’s Montréal Canadiennes, and one season in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL).
To round out the staff, the former head coach of the Carleton Ravens women’s hockey team, Pierre Alain, will also join La Force as an associate coach.
Like the coaching staff, the team includes several McGill Martlets’ hockey alumni, with forwards Ann-Sophie Bettez and Jade Downie-Landry, and goaltender Tricia Deguire named to the inaugural roster.
This new team and the newly restructured PHF, however, raise questions about the unstable reality of professional women’s ice hockey.
Currently, two professional women’s leagues exist in North America: The PHF and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), which is a hybrid between a league and players’ union. The two leagues remain divided in their abilities and demands, with the PHF unable to meet the PWHPA’s demands for health benefits, living salaries, and professional hockey infrastructure.
But this past summer, the PHF created a new policy that raised the salary cap to $750,000 per team, including a minimum salary of $13,500, an extension on contract length, and an increase in signing bonuses. While this new policy relieves some of the financial burdens of playing at such an intense level, it is important to note the stark contrast with men’s professional hockey as the minimum National Hockey League (NHL) salary stands at $750,000 per player excluding bonuses.
This progress, in addition to the NHL’s statement that they would only support a united women’s league and the PHF’s deal with ESPN+, leaves many hopeful that the two leagues will come to an agreement that would bring them together in creating a viable future for the sport.
The addition of La Force as a seventh team in the PHF offers more roster spots and playing opportunities for current and future players at the professional level.
“We may have lost an entire generation of athletes due to the fact that Montreal and Canada didn’t have the right structures,” said Clément-Heydra.
There is hope that the PHF will open doors for women to pursue their passion for hockey and provide a real opportunity to earn a living playing the sport they love. La Force ushers in a new era for professional hockey, and the determination of the team leaves fans eager to witness their inaugural season.