Les Canadiennes Hold Year in Review Press Conference
Les Canadiennes Reflect on “Dream” Season and Look Ahead to the Future of the Game
Fittingly, International Women’s Day was the day Les Canadiennes were celebrated.
Members of their roster and coaching staff were present, along with their recently earned Clarkson Cup, at a season-ending news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
It was the team’s first public appearance as a group since they beat the Calgary Inferno 3-1 on Sunday to claim the title.
“It’s a dream team,” said Canadiennes general manager Meg Hewings. “They are all such passionate women. To see our players be able to hoist the Cup at the end really touched me.”
“It feels amazing to bring the cup back home,” said Canadiennes defender Lauriane Rougeau. “It’s been a long wait. It excites the city whenever a team wins a championship. We are very fortunate and excited to share our victory with the Montreal crowd.”
While the season culminated with the organization’s fourth Clarkson Cup championship—the most in Canadian Women’s Hockey League history—much was made of their memorable journey to the cup.
Les Canadiennes played two regular-season games against the Boston Blades this past November in Beauceville. These outreach games, played in front of capacity crowds, were particularly memorable for team captain Marie-Philip Poulin and assistant coach Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux who hail from the area. The team also played a January game in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
In December, Les Canadiennes faced off against the Inferno at the Bell Centre in front of 6,000 fans. It marked the first time the Montreal Stars/Canadiennes organization had played a game in the home of the Montreal Canadiens. It was a thrilling experience for members of Les Canadiennes.
“It was a dream,” said Poulin. “I remember waiting in the hallway before hitting the ice and hearing the public-address announcer say ‘Acceuillons nos Canadiennes.’ I had chills. After the game, I didn’t want to leave. I was happy to experience this with my best friends. It brought us closer together.”
“I grew up dreaming of playing for the Montreal Canadiens,” said veteran Canadiennes forward Caroline Ouellette. “I realized when I was eight or nine years old that it wouldn’t be possible. To finally wear a Canadiennes jersey on the Bell Centre ice was a childhood dream coming true.”
Les Canadiennes also drew strong crowds for the team’s other eight home contests, split between the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard and the Etienne-Desmarteaux Arena in Rosemont. The team’s playoff series with the Brampton Thunder was also played in front of record crowds.
“Our crowd has been growing every season,” said Ouellette. “This year, we played in Brossard in front of a full house. There were even people standing against the glass.”
A large portion of these crowds were made up of young girls, who may one day aspire to become members of Les Canadiennes. It is a reality that both Ouellette and Poulin are excited to see.
“Young girls know who we are and recognize us,” said Ouellette. “We are trailblazers who hope to pave the way for them to earn a living playing hockey.”
“The CWHL has done a great job of giving young girls role models so that one day, they can dream of becoming members of Les Canadiennes or a part of the Canadian national team,” said Poulin.
Les Canadiennes did not only generate support amongst the local community, but a national one, too. 134,000 people tuned into a television broadcast of their Pink in the Rink game on Feb. 4 against the Toronto Furies.
This marked the highest viewing audience for a CWHL game in league history. The team raised a record $16,000 as part of the benefit game in support of the fight against breast cancer.
“All those moments brought us closer together,” said Ouellette. “Once we got to the final, we were ready to give it our all for the betterment of the team. That’s what made the difference, the love we have for one another.”
Hewings also acknowledged some of the individual milestones and accolades her players achieved.
Poulin was named league MVP by both the league itself and the player’s association. She also finished neck-and-neck with Brampton’s Jess Jones for the league’s top scorer. Charline Labonté was named Goaltender of the Year for the third season in a row.
Cathy Chartrand became the all-time leader for points by a defender in CWHL history. As for Ouellette, she became the first player to reach 300 career points. She would finish the year with 309. She also finished the season in a tie with Jayna Hefford for most goals in league history, with 130.
The Wage Fight is Not Over
Despite the inroads made this season, there nevertheless remains a battle to be waged in the years ahead.
For one, Les Canadiennes hope to one day be paid to play. Being able to live off of hockey and thus devote their time exclusively to training will only improve the calibre of the women’s game, according to Ouellette.
Ouellette also called out for increased media coverage of the women’s game. While she says television broadcasts on Rogers Sportsnet help grow the league’s audience, having French-language telecasts of Canadiennes games would go a long way in improving the picture, as well.
“We are from Quebec, we are French-speaking and proud to be from Quebec,” said Ouellette. “We would love to be able to showcase our game here. The quality of hockey is at a level where fans enjoy it and want to see it. If we never expose people to it, they will not know it exists or what they are missing.”
For now, though, Les Canadiennes are just enjoying the hard-earned Clarkson Cup title as a team.
“We worked so hard,” said Ouellette. “We wanted it badly. It was a 60-minute effort perfectly executed as a group. I will always remember this moment.”
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