Premier Hockey Federation adding Montreal team

PHF commissioner Reagan Carey discusses her excitement to announce the league’s expansion to Montreal, and why it was circled on her list as top priority once taking over months ago.

MONTREAL — Four years removed from the fall of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a professional women’s team is finally back in Montreal.

The Premier Hockey Federation announced Tuesday morning that the league will expand to Montreal ahead of the 2022-23 season.

For the first time since Les Canadiennes de Montreal’s final season in 2019, after which the CWHL ceased operations, professional women’s hockey players will get to lace up their skates in one of the world’s hockey hotbeds.

PHF commissioner Reagan Carey said Montreal, the league’s second Canadian franchise after the Toronto Six, was one of the best aligned markets for expansion.

“When you take a look at the history, and the active rich hockey community in Montreal, and the people that are in place to help us drive the sport forward,” she said. “This was an essential market for us and we’re really excited to see what we can do here.”

Media personality and women’s hockey advocate Kevin Raphael was named president of the team and will be tasked to build up the roster. Raphael produced the three-part docuseries “Gap Year” in 2020, examining the state of women’s hockey.

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The PHF has a US$750,000 salary cap, and Raphael said he intends to spend up to the limit.

“I foresee spending 100 per cent of the salary cap,” Raphael said. “It’s in the budget, I want to give this to our players and no one will make minimum wage. We believe in equity, of course the star players will earn more than the third or fourth liners.

“Yes, salary is important to players, that’s why there’s been infighting for four years but they also want to be treated as professionals. They want to be considered and that’s something we take for granted nowadays.

“Just to take the pulse of the women’s hockey community, I can’t not do my job of ensuring that every player has enough money to at least do what they need to do during the season.”

PHF free agency has already started, with Mikayla Grant-Mentis become the highest-paid player in league history by signing a one-year $80,000 contract with the Buffalo Beauts.

Raphael said while his team is late to the party, player signings will be happening soon.

“I’m not going to lie that my phone’s been blowing up right now,” Raphael said. “A lot of players want to play with Montreal, a lot of players that I didn’t even know want to join and I’m like: `OK, you’re from that place and you want to come play here?’

“I think they know that Montreal is something else. We are Canada’s team and we’ve got to make sure that the players that are involved, feel that, see that.”

Montreal’s franchise will play out of the Verdun Auditorium and has a partnership agreement with Centre 21.02, the high-performance centre directed by former Team Canada coach Daniele Sauvageau and based at the venue, to use its facilities.

The team also intends to go on the road and play home games across Quebec as a way to grow the sport beyond city limits. Raphael mentioned Abitibi and Beauce, the birthplace of Canadian national team captain Marie-Philip Poulin.

“It’s very important to go everywhere and to grow the game in places that normally women’s hockey, or simply hockey, don’t go,” Raphael said. “Our territory is Quebec, our home is Quebec. Yes, we’re going to have players from everywhere but mainly from our city and I want the people to be proud of our sport.”

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a group formed in 2019 by the best players in the sport, will reportedly form a league by the winter of 2023. The PWHPA had until now played showcases across the United States and Canada.

Raphael isn’t concerned by the possibility of having a second team in the Montreal market. Instead, he welcomed the idea.

“I think that’s fun, it gives players more opportunities to play,” he said. “I’m 100 per cent for the players. If there are two teams, that means there are 46 players that will touch a salary. After that, there are many markets with more than one professional team. I’m not stressed out about that.

“We will do what we need to do and we’ll not be preoccupied by others. I will take care of my team and if the PWHPA wants to talk, they have my number.”

The 2022-23 PHF regular season schedule is still to be announced, with specific details regarding Montreal’s home games and locations to be determined later.

Montreal’s official team name and logo will also be announced in the coming weeks along with announcements for the team’s first coaching staff.

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