Meg Hewings is the general manger of Les Canadiennes de Montreal, a veritable dynasty in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League regardless of the result of Sunday’s Clarkson Cup match against the Calgary Inferno.
Her story is not unlike many in the women’s game: early struggles to find ice time and acceptance at the rink gave her motivation to excel. Only she hasn’t been just a player but a student, a journalist, and one to cross hockey with the worlds of art and politics.
A win Sunday would bookend an unmatched legacy for Les Canadiennes in the CWHL’s 10-year history. The organization is looking for its fourth Cup in its seventh appearance in the final, a Canadiennes (nee Stars) skater has been the top scorer in the league seven times, and the team has finished first overall on six occasions, including the first five CWHL campaigns.
For Hewings, like so many of her peers, hockey was barely an option in her youth. She grew up in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood where Ted Reeve Arena didn’t have girls hockey, nor did it allow the girls to play with the boys. Instead, figure skating was offered.
“This is horrible,” Hewings remembers thinking about the on-ice alternative. “I hate getting dressed up. But it was where I first saw hockey and it was love at first sight.”
By 1996, she found herself majoring in gender and cultural studies at McGill University in Montreal with no intention of playing hockey. But the struggling program insisted that she join.
“People would say, ‘Oh, you must be playing on the field hockey team,” Hewings said Saturday.
It just wasn’t something women did, a couple of years before the world saw women’s hockey at the Olympics for the first time in 1998. Hewings and her teammates sold chocolate almonds to raise funds for the team which didn’t have the resources the men’s side had.
Eventually, goaltender Kim St. Pierre joined the roster — “a difference-maker” in Hewings’ words — and McGill reached the CIS final in her last year.
As the story so often goes, Hewings didn’t have opportunities to continue her playing career after school, so she turned to journalism which later helped land her the job as the GM of Montreal’s CWHL franchise.
She found alternative ways to engage with her sport. She authored the Hockey Dyke in Canada blog, organized art-hockey festivals, and helped manage The Lovely Hockey League, a “league of the arts” that has a sister organization in Toronto.
“If this is our national sport, why can’t we have more ways of looking at it?” she said. “The more I’m involved in hockey at a high level, the more I see it as art. In a way, the closest thing is jazz — I see a lot of similarities.”
Hewings actually covered the Montreal club as a writer before being asked to take on a managing role.
“It’s an incredibly fun project and, in a way, I fell into my dream job,” she said.
For some in the game, Hewings included, playing women’s hockey is an inherently political act. One only has to look at who’s on the Canadiennes’ roster to see evidence of that. Three-time Olympics gold medalist and Montreal goaltender Charline Labonte came out as a lesbian after the 2014 Sochi Games, something Hewings admires about her.
“Charlie’s a great athlete but she’s also a great person,” Hewings said. “She was just herself in Sochi. Parents sometimes worry about putting their kids in hockey (because) there’s still that antiquated idea that it can turn them gay or something like that. Why not imagine that your daughter could grow up to be Charline Labonte?”
If that sentiment seems strange now, it was only in the first half of the 20th century that people wondered if female athletes might damage their reproductive organs or not be able to return to domestic life by playing sports.
“Charline coming out was avery political act,” said Hewings. “I don’t know of other women who have done that before in hockey. With the NHL’s support and You Can Play, we hear some of the more inclusive rhetoric in men’s hockey and I think that’s (evidence of) real change.”
By winning the organization’s fourth Clarkson Cup Sunday, Hewings feels it would be a fitting end to the first 10 years of the CWHL. After all, there are players still on the team from that original campaign.
“Someone like Caroline Ouellette has blazed so many trails and was a role model for people like Marie-Philip Poulin who’s now playing on the team and is so dominant in the sport,” Hewings said. “To have a line where you have those two playing together is a culmination of this 10-year span.”
However, with so many veterans on the Montreal roster, this may be a last hurrah.
“I think this will be the last time we see this group together so, for me, I hope for a Clarkson Cup for them because I know how much they want it and how hard they’ve worked over many years.”