The girls are back in town!

The NWHL will be expanding to Montreal next season

Fans of women’s hockey will be happy to welcome a new team to Montreal in the next year’s NWHL season. File Photo

If you’re from Montreal, then you basically bleed bleu, blanc, et rouge. Hockey culture is so deeply embedded in our society, and we have the Habs to thank for that. Still, the vast majority of their fans are men, which makes me wonder if they’re really fans of the game, or just the guys who play it? We’ll find out next season, when the National Women’s Hockey League debuts their newest team. 

A few days ago, the NWHL announced that they’ll be adding a seventh team by expanding to Montreal. It’s amazing to see the women’s hockey industry grow, and even more so that Montreal has a chance to be part of it. Our city has an incredibly dedicated fan base, and I hope they’ll embrace the women’s team with as much enthusiasm as they do the men’s team. 

For the moment, that’s all the information I have for you. The organization has yet to release any details regarding the players, coaches, uniforms, or even name. So, the story ends here: the NWHL will soon have a Montreal team. 

That’s a bit unsatisfying though, so I’ll tell you another one, the story of Les Canadiennes de Montréal. 

Once upon a time, the Habs weren’t the only professional hockey team around here. In 2007, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was born, and with it, so were the Montreal Stars. In 2015, the Montreal Canadiens and CWHL partnered together to rebrand the team as ‘Les Canadiennes de Montréal.’ 

Former Canadiens’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, Kevin Gilmore said, “We’re excited to welcome Les Canadiennes de Montréal into the Montreal Canadiens family. Our goal with this partnership is to not only help promote the team and the CWHL, but also to inspire young female players across the province.”

With that, Les Canadiennes de Montréal became the winningest team in the history of the CWHL, boasting an impressive four Clarkson Cup wins—that’s like the CWHL equivalent of the Stanley cup, so it’s kind of a big deal. The Fabs’ game—that’s what they go by, it’s like Habs, but pour les femmes—is on par with their male counterparts who also hold the highest number of cup wins in the history of the NHL. 

Their partnership was perfect because it united two talented teams. Further, it allowed female hockey players to realize their dreams of becoming members of the Montreal Canadiens organization. They weren’t exactly Habs—they were Fabs, and that name is objectively cuter anyway. 

Alas, all good things come to an end. In 2019, the CWHL unfortunately announced its dissolution. In their written statement, they said, “while the on-ice hockey is exceptional, the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable.” 

Over the years, there were rumors that the CWHL was running low on cash, but the extent to which that was true was never revealed. It’s no surprise that women’s sports don’t generate the same profits that men’s sports do, but to shut down an entire league due to financial problems was devastating. 

During its first decade, the league didn’t even pay its players—when that changed in 2017, the highest player salary was only $10,000. Clearly, the players didn’t play for the money; they played because of their love for the game. 

The news that they’d no longer have a league—or even a team of their own—was heartbreaking. Marie-Philip Poulin, former Les Canadiennes player, tweeted, “As players, we will do our best to find a solution so this isn’t our last season of hockey but it’s hard to remain optimistic.”

There were talks of the NWHL absorbing the CWHL, but nothing concrete ever came of that. So Les Canadiennes were left without a league to play for, and Montrealers were left without a women’s team to cheer for. For the past couple of years, we thought that’s how the story of women’s professional hockey in Montreal ended.

The news of the NWHL’s new team shows us that it’s not over, and hope isn't lost. Although the role of Les Canadiennes still remains unclear, their legacy deserves praise for paving the way for future female hockey players. Montreal’s women’s team will usher in a new era of hockey in our city, and I couldn’t be more excited to see the rest of this story unfold. As they say in the third period, “there’s still plenty of game left to play.”