Montreal Force kicks off Premier Hockey Federation expansion season

Montreal is poised to drop the puck in professional women’s hockey with the expansion of the Force bringing the Canadian content of the Premier Hockey League to two clubs.

The Force and the third-year Toronto Six kick off Saturday in a seven-team league that is in its eighth season.

The U.S.-based Metropolitan Riveters, Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, Minnesota Whitecaps and Buffalo Beauts round out the PHF, which was the NWHL before a 2021 rebrand.

Montreal attracted several players from the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) for its inaugural campaign.

Montreal captain Ann-Sophie Bettez, who played for Canada’s world championship team in 2019, was among 10 transfers from the PWHPA to the Force.

After the Canadian Women’s Hockey League collapsed in 2019 and took Les Canadiennes de Montreal with it, Bettez joined the reborn PWHPA in search of a sustainable league with decent pay and the competitive endorsements that benefit the male pros.

Bettez has participated in the PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour tournaments and showcase games. The 35-year-old forward from Sept-Iles, Que., says she was drawn to the regular games offered by the PHF.

“I wanted to play with a team that I train with every week, we improve as a team and play for a championship,” Bettez told The Canadian Press. “That’s mainly what I was looking for at this stage of my career.

“In the past, having Dream Gap Tours was the alternative because we had nothing else here in Montreal. We had a lot of practices, not a lot of games, and for me, that’s what I wanted to do. »

The Force will start its 24-game regular season on the road Saturday and Sunday in Buffalo against the Beauts.

The Six, coached and managed by Hockey Hall of Famers Geraldine Heaney and Angela James respectively, opened at home with a two-game run against the Minnesota Whitecaps.

The PWHPA, whose 82 members include players from the national teams of Canada and the United States, will compete in a four-team Dream Gap Tour tournament Friday through Sunday in Truro, Nova Scotia.

The PHF raised its salary cap this season from US$300,000 to $750,000 (C$1 million) per team.

On a maximum roster of 25 players, that’s an average of C$40,000 per player.

Covering player healthcare bonuses, allowing two-year contracts instead of one, and the ability to sign bonuses of up to 10% of the total contract value were among other sweeteners.

The actors participate in the profitability of the PHF and retain commercial control of their own image. They can choose to make the terms of their contract public.

For those who have it, salaries range from US$13,500 to $80,000, a one-year contract that former Six forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis of Brampton, Ont., signed with Buffalo during the offseason. .

“Our players are making a lot of money and are now full-time hockey players,” said new Six president Sami Jo Small.

“The expectations are much higher on both sides, from the direction towards the players and the players themselves and the time they devote to it.

“The only people who have jobs are those who have had careers before and don’t necessarily want to give up those careers in order to do so.”

Bettez continues to work as a financial planner. Six veteran forward Emma Woods is a personal trainer.

Woods’ hockey salary is US$44,340 this season. She feels she can finally say she plays hockey for a living.

“When someone asks me ‘what do you do? “, it’s not ‘I do this and I play hockey,'” Woods said. “I’m so much more confident saying I’m a professional hockey player.”

The Force and Six both train three times a week with additional strengthening and conditioning sessions in their schedules. The Six’s home rink is Canlan Sports at York University.

Montreal is a road team in its expansion year with 23 of 24 “home” games played away from the Verdun Auditorium in Saint-Laurent, Sept-Îles, Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup, Saint-Jérôme, Gatineau and Quebec.

La Force told The Canadian Press in a statement that home games outside of the Greater Montreal area make women’s hockey accessible “so girls can also have heroes to seek out and know it’s okay. for them to love playing hockey and that they can also have a future as professional players.

“Also, a lot of women in the team come from different regions.”

Former McGill and Women’s National Team coach Peter Smith is the Force’s first head coach.

“Even though I’ve coached a lot of these players before, it’s still a different environment and a different situation,” Smith said. “You start building a base and it’s been really good.

“We have a hard working group, we have a lot of skill and age, it’s a diverse group of 22 to 35 year olds. I think we’re going to be really competitive.”

The Six (16-3-1) finished second by one point behind the Whale last season before falling in the Isobel Cup semi-finals to eventual champion Pride.

“We want to win the Isobel Cup and bring it back to Canada for the first time,” Woods said. “It’s going to be on our minds all season.”

BTM’s American partners own the two Canadian teams, as well as the Pride and the Riveters. The constitution of the PHF currently allows for the ownership of multiple teams.

The Six announced their sale in March to a new owner led by James, former NHL player Anthony Stewart and coach Ted Nolan, but this was later downgraded to BTM retaining majority control and the James Group holding a minority stake.

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