Canadian Women’s Hockey League Celebrates 10th Year With Bell Centre Game
Close To 6,000 Fans In Attendance At Les Canadiennes Game Bodes Well For CWHL’s Future
When Canadian Women’s Hockey League commissioner Brenda Andress first held talks with Montreal Canadiens President Geoff Molson about holding a regular season league game at the Bell Centre, she could not possibly have envisioned such a successful and well-attended event.
“It was kind of funny,” Andress recounted after Les Canadiennes’ 1-0 win over the Calgary Inferno on Saturday. “We sat in a room one day and we all kind of took bets on how many people would come. I must admit: I said 4,000, so I lost. But I am happy to have lost, big time.”
An announced crowd of 5,938 filled the Bell Centre’s lower bowl for the match-up between the CWHL’s top two teams. The game had the highest attendance of any regular-season game in league history. The number even surpassed the crowds of just over 4,000 at both the 2016 CWHL All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto as well as the 2016 Clarkson Cup Final at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre.
Andress qualified the record-setting attendance as “astonishing”
“It shows that there are fans and that they appreciate the game,” said Andress.
The Saturday matinee, held ahead of the Montreal Canadiens nightcap against the visiting Colorado Avalanche, marked the first league game ever held at the Bell Centre. It came about thanks to the dedication of Molson as well as that of former women’s hockey player Shauna Denis. Denis was a member of the 2009 championship edition of the then-Montreal Stars—she even scored a critical goal in the Clarkson Cup final to propel her team to victory.
“We wanted this game to be successful. We wanted people to go home and love what they saw and the intensity that we play with.” – Les Canadiennes’ Caroline Ouellette on game at the Bell Centre.
Denis has since joined the Canadiens family as group manager of both HabsTV and Editorial. Andress says she was instrumental in having les Canadiennes hit the ice at the Bell Centre.
“She has been a strong supporter of us and has been a connection between our league and the Canadiens,” said Andress.
It goes without saying, however, that holding a game at the Bell Centre would not have been possible without the partnership struck in 2015 between “Les Habitants” and Les Canadiennes. Beyond promotional and financial assistance, the agreement has enabled the team to build its sponsorship, marketing, consumer products and its overall presence in the Montreal community.
In addition to Montreal, the Inferno and the Toronto Furies have benefited from their respective partnerships with the Calgary Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Andress is thrilled to take advantage of the expertise and know-how of such prestigious organizations.
“The partnerships have really grown the grassroots of our game,” said Andress. “You can just see with what has happened in the last month and how [partners from the NHL] have brought to light our league. We’re lucky enough that they believe in our game as much as we do.”
The game at the Bell Centre has opened people’s eyes to the high caliber of play of the women’s game. Andress related how she had heard some in the stands marveling at how impressive the skillset of the league’s players is.
“We wanted this game to be successful,” said veteran Canadiennes forward Caroline Ouellette. “We wanted people to go home and love what they saw and the intensity that we play with.”
Amongst the thousands of fans in attendance, many were young girls decked out in Marie-Philip Poulin or Ouellette jerseys, hoping to one day, follow in the footsteps of their hockey idols.
“This is incredible,” said Ouellette. “This is why we strive and work so hard to promote women’s hockey. Hopefully, it inspired hundreds of little girls that want to play for Les Canadiennes someday.”
All in all, players from both sides could not get enough of their experience and understood the implications of the game.
“It was a dream come true,” said Poulin. “We didn’t want it to end. We are very lucky to have the support of the Montreal Canadiens to hold games like today.”
“It’s pretty amazing to have that crowd,” said Inferno netminder Emerance Maschmeyer. “There have only been a couple of times that I have played in front of a crowd like this. It says a lot about women’s hockey right now and how big the game is getting.”
Perhaps, though, the game did not mean as much to anybody than to Ouellette. She grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan, watching their games on TV. It was a catalyst behind her dreams of playing professional hockey. Ouellette could not have imagined a better outcome.
“It exceeded my expectations,” said Ouellette. “It was truly extraordinary. Playing in this building is a highlight in my career and a moment I won’t forget. Being able to win makes it an even more perfect story.”
To Andress, the impact of this game will be felt for many years to come within the city.
“Les Canadiennes had an opportunity to create legacies for themselves within their own town and city,” said Andress. “ What more pleasure and excitement could you have than seeing your name in lights and your photo on the jumbotron and know that people in your own town recognize you.”