Women’s hockey shows steady growth
MONTREAL - After the Canadiens were smoked by the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night, they boarded a bus.
But the ride was a short one. Ten minutes after leaving the Wells Fargo Centre, they arrived at Philadelphia International Airport. They boarded a charter flight and by the time they finished a meal that was a cut above normal airline fare, they were on their descent into Montreal and the players looked forward to a day off.
After the Montreal Stars defeated Brampton 4-2 in Niagara Falls Sunday to win the Clarkson Cup, emblematic of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship, the players boarded a bus.
This ride wasn’t a short one. Seven and a half hours later, the bus pulled into Montreal at 3 a.m. There was a stop for fast food along the way and most of the players had a few hours to sleep before reporting to their day jobs Monday morning.
Both teams have players who are among the best in the world, but the weekend experiences illustrated the gap between men’s and women’s hockey.
If you ask an NHL player about his love for the game, he might tell you that he loves it so much he would play for free.
The women love it so much they pay for the right to play.
“Things are getting better,” said Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, the Stars’ captain and a driving force behind the creation of the league in 2007. “Last year, everyone on the team had to pay $1,000 to play. We have some sponsors and the crowds are a little better, so we don’t have to pay this season.”
But it’s still not free. While Bauer has supplied equipment to the players, they still pay for their sticks and they’re on the hook for their meals on the team’s seven road trips.
Breton-Lebreux, who was part of two Canadian university championship teams at Concordia, said the league has shown steady growth. Last season, they added a team in Boston and Alberta joined the fold this season.
“We averaged about 70 fans a game the first season and then it was 100 and now it’s over 200,” she said. The Stars have played games in different arenas to help promote minor hockey programs for girls and a benefit game to raise awareness of breast cancer raised more than $11,000 for research.
The Clarkson Cup win was the third in four years for the Stars and Breton-Lebreux said the team’s success was the result of an abudance of leaders.
“If you look at our roster, we have 16 players who have been captains on university and other teams,” she noted.
There’s also a fair amount of skill. The most valuable player at this year’s tournament was Caroline Ouellette, who was also the leading scorer with five goals and three assists in four games. A two-time Olympic gold medallist, Ouellette attended a news conference at the Bell Centre and then headed to Ottawa to join the Team Canada training camp for the world championships, April 7-14 at Burlington, Vt. She will be joined by teammates Meghan Agosta, Emmanuelle Blais and Catherine Ward.
The Stars weren’t the only Montreal to win a championship on the weekend. The McGill Redmen won their first Canadian university title, which gave Mathieu Darche bragging rights in the Canadiens dressing room Monday.
“Those NCAA guys don’t give us enough credit,” said Darche, who watched his alma mater on TV.
“(Tampa Bay coaches and McGill alumni) Guy Boucher and Marty Raymond were in Philadelphia and they were following it on the Internet, and we talked all through the game,” said Darche.
David Desharnais also had an interest in the game because his junior linemate, Francis Verreault-Paul, was the most valuable player in the tournament. But Desharnais took some ribbing because Verreault-Paul ran into a Western Ontario player and was handed a major penalty in the third period – and the Mustangs scored a power-play goal to send the game into overtime.
The Canadiens plan to honour both championship teams by inviting them to one of their remaining home games. They’ll be in a suite and the women will be happy to learn someone else will pick up the tab for the food.
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