Brigitte Laganière: From Stinger to pro player

After a stellar university career, the defender joins the PWHL

Brigitte Laganière takes the ice for the first time during the PWHL Montreal home opener on Jan. 16. Courtesy Ariane Bergeron — The PWHL

Coming into the Stingers women’s hockey program in 2016, Brigitte Laganière thought she’d spend most of her rookie season watching the team from the benches.

However, her hardworking spirit and competitive nature brought her to the Stingers’ second-line from the get-go. Now, that same dedication allowed her to reach the professional level.

Laganière held a cornerstone role within the Stingers. During her six years with the team, she helped secure a bronze and a gold medal at the U Sports National Championships, the latter of which she won as an alternate captain.

“It was the six best years of my life,” said Laganière. “When I got to Concordia, I didn’t know how to speak English. I didn’t really have a lot of confidence and I thought I’d be in the stands a lot. But from my first year, they took me under their wing and really helped me grow as a player, and also as a professional.”

This year, Laganière was recruited to play for the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) Montreal team. The moment she found out, she sent a text to her former Stingers head coach, Julie Chu. “I think I told her like, ‘I made it,’” laughed Laganière.

Chu emphasized how proud she was of her former defender. “There's only a handful of people right now that are playing professional women's hockey. So, for her to have that opportunity during the historical first season of the PWHL is really special,” said Chu.

So far, Laganière has played six games and collected an assist for PWHL Montreal. “It’s fun. Of course, there’s pressure because all the girls are really good,” she said of her PWHL teammates. “Every practice, you really need to give 100 per cent. But, the atmosphere is great, the coaching staff is incredible and really qualified.”

Laganière was recruited by PWHL Montreal out of training camps. She filled important gaps when the team had significant injuries on defence, according to head coach Kori Cheverie.

“She shows a lot of grit, passion, and determination and she was able to fill a role for us that was really important,” said Cheverie. “We knew we'd be very fortunate to have her on the team moving forward, even when those defenders did come back.”

Cheverie added that she likes how coachable Laganière is and the positive impact she has on the team.

“If we give her feedback, she's working on it,” Cheverie said. “She is great with the players in the locker room. We love having her around. She's coming from a team at Concordia who had a lot of success and, you know, we're trying to have success with our team as well.”

Before joining the PWHL, Laganière played with La Force de Montréal in the now-disbanded Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), which she joined right after university. Laganière said the leap from varsity to professional hockey was significant.

“The speed of play is just higher every step. Shots get faster, you have less reaction time. It’s also more physical because the girls get bigger and stronger,” she said.

Laganière on the ice during PWHL Montreal’s first-ever game against Ottawa. Courtesy Arianne Bergeron — The PWHL

The PWHL has also distinguished itself in the women’s hockey world as more physical, with body checking being allowed. Laganière had to adapt to this new part of the game, as both U Sports women’s hockey and the PHF didn’t allow it.

“Most of us have never played with checking, so you have to learn how to check and how to receive a check,” said Laganière. “I’m still getting used to it on that level, but with every practice we see how to place your body correctly with the other player. [The physical aspect] is the toughest adaptation to get used to, that’s for sure. It’s fun though, you have to be ready.”

To help her adjust to the higher level of play, Laganière is well surrounded. At PWHL Montreal, she plays with teammates like Marie-Philip Poulin, Erin Ambrose and Ann-Renée Desbiens, who all play on the Canadian national team.

“I learn from them everyday, like how [Poulin] is ready and performs at every game,” she said. “It’s really cool to be near them and to see how they prepare for games or practices.”

Laganière has also stayed in close contact with her coaches at Concordia. She credited associate head coach Caroline Ouellette with being an inspiration to her growing up playing hockey, and she said that Chu has taken a big mentorship role in her life.

“I learned so much from them,” said Laganière. “They are incredible coaches and they really helped me become the person I am today.”

Chu recalls fondly and vividly how she recruited Laganière. She had been told by the head coach of the Cégep de Saint-Laurent Patriotes that they had a defender—Laganière—they should look at. Laganière ended up scoring during the game Chu attended. Thereafter, Chu brought Laganière on a visit to Concordia.

“We got really lucky finding someone that was as talented, as driven, as funny, as great to be around as her,” said Chu.

Laganière played five seasons, with one season being cancelled due to COVID, amassing 58 points in 95 total games as a Stinger. 

In her last varsity season as alternate captain, she finished fifth in the Réseau des sports étudiants du Québec (RSEQ) with three goals and 14 assists, totalling 17 points in 15 games. Her hard work garnered her an academic All-Canadian label, an RSEQ All-Star selection and two awards: The Denise Beaudet Award for leadership, community and strong academics, as well as the Joe and Ben Weider Athletic Leadership Award.

On the ice, Chu praised her as a complete player.

“She was able to play a really big role blocking shots on our penalty kill. She was on our power play, being more dynamic, creating offensive opportunities. Defensively, she was really sound,” said Chu.

Although Laganière now plays professionally, she never had a professional women’s league to aim for when she started playing hockey. However, since the PWHL started its inaugural season, she says that younger Stingers players now have an extra source of motivation to put in time and effort on the ice.

“There’s something after university. You won’t have to tell yourself there’s only one year left. I can push and go to the next level,” said Laganière. “They can dream about [making] it.”

In the PWHL, Laganière said her highlight was seeing the record-breaking 13,000 fans attend their game against PWHL Minnesota on Jan. 6 at the Xcel Energy Centre.

“It was insane. I never thought I’d live [to see] that in my life,” said Laganière. “There was only the very top section that wasn’t complete. The atmosphere was incredible and it really made women’s hockey shine.”

As she looks towards the future, she hopes for fans to keep showing up and to encourage the legacy of women’s hockey.

“My hope is that all the games we play will always have 13,000 fans in the stands,” she said. “I really hope that people like to see women’s hockey and that we’ll continue to make it shine. It’s only the start and it’ll only get better as it grows.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 10, published February 13, 2024.