At last, pro women’s hockey arrives in Atlantic Canada with PWHPA Dream Gap Tour

5 time Olympic Medalist Jayna Hefford joins Rogers Hometown Hockey to discuss the PWHPA's upcoming plans and the likelihood of a professional women's hockey league soon.

Atlantic Canada is about to host professional women’s hockey for the first time, and Montreal forward Ann-Sophie Bettez sums up the feeling ahead of the historic games perfectly: “We seriously can’t wait.”

The 2021-22 PWHPA Dream Gap Tour season is kicking off this weekend in Truro, NS., featuring some of the best players in the world who’ll go head-to-head in a four-game tournament over two days.

And as excited as Bettez and her fellow PWHPA members are to get back on the ice and officially kick off this Dream Gap Tour season, the hosts are equally pumped. All four games will be played at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre, which was set to co-host the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Championships, but was then cancelled because of the pandemic. Truro was again set to co-host the 2021 Worlds, which were again cancelled in Nova Scotia and later played in Calgary, also due to public health concerns.

“They’re super excited to get women’s hockey there,” said PWHPA Operations Consultant and Hall of Famer, Jayna Hefford, who worked with the local organizing committee from the World Championships to help bring the PWHPA out east. “They were all devastated, much like all of us, when the Worlds got cancelled. We’re in a great facility in Truro where the Worlds would’ve been, and there’ll be all the infrastructure and resources and people and volunteers behind it that you would see at an event like that. For us it’s a priority to provide that sort of professional event for the players.”

“I know the fans are going to be really excited to have us over there to see some competitive women’s hockey,” added Bettez, who played a handful of times on the east coast while she was a member of Team Canada. “It’s definitely a hockey crowd.”

Team Canada’s Ann-Sophie Bettez celebrates a goal on Team USA’s Aerin Frankel in second period Rivalry Series women’s hockey action in Moncton, N.B. on Tuesday, Dec.17, 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)



For players — teams from Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Boston — it marks the first time since last May that they’ve played in a Dream Gap Tour showcase.

“I almost don’t remember what it’s like to have the thrill of being there two hours before a game, doing an off-ice warmup, all those things,” said Bettez, who won the season-ending championship back in May, with Montreal. “I’m really excited to be able to share that with the group of Montreal girls.”

The series kicks off on Friday, Nov. 12, when Calgary faces Boston at 3 p.m. local time (AST), and Montreal takes on Toronto at 7 p.m. The winners of each game will face off in the championship the next day, while the losers will play a consolation game. All four games are available on CBCsports.ca.

“Winning that first game is key,” Bettez said. “I’m pretty confident to go out there with the group of girls that we have.”

It’s a different look for the defending champs from Montreal, and for all five PWHPA teams this year (Minnesota is the fifth, and won’t play this coming weekend). The PWHPA’s 100-or-so player membership doesn’t include national team members, since they’re centralized with their teams ahead of the 2022 Olympics. You won’t see, say, Marie-Philip Poulin, lighting it up with Montreal this season.

“Sometimes that’s the knock, ‘Oh, you don’t have those star players anymore.’ I think people will be really surprised at the quality of play,” said Hefford, who points out the organization retained all its players who don’t play for their national teams from last season’s PWHPA rosters. “We have a ton of depth across the association and we’re really excited for people to see how good the hockey is. We have a lot of players that have played with their national teams at one point or another.” This includes Bettez, Loren Gabel, Brigette Lacquette and Laura Fortino, who all played for Canada at the 2019 world championships.

Canada defence Laura Fortino passes the puck during second period of 2018 Four Nations Cup preliminary game against Finland, in Saskatoon, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Liam Richards/CP)



Next up on the Dream Gap Tour is a showcase in Toronto, from Dec. 18-19, in partnership with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Minnesota, Montreal, Calgary and Toronto will take part, with the championship game taking place on the 19th at Scotiabank Arena. The PWHPA hasn’t yet announced other Dream Gap Tour events, but Hefford says to expect one per month in each of January, February and March. A PWHPA all-star team will also be playing against national teams in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The winner of the championship game this weekend in Truro — and this is the case for the champions of each stop on the Dream Gap Tour — earns what Hefford calls “cash prize pots.” She won’t disclose how much is in a pot for the winning team (Secret, the title sponsor, provides it, and, well, it’s a secret), but for players who don’t earn salaries, that’s a coveted pot.

“We’d like to be able to give the players salaries, and that’s what we’re trying to fix and work on,” Hefford said. “Our goal is to ensure that when the players are at events, they’re treated in a professional way, even if they’re not paid in a professional way, and making sure that the experience is really great.”

Bettez, the 34-year-old who also works as a financial planner, echoes that thought about a future where players can focus on playing. For now, she’s looking forward to getting back on the ice, and not just for practice.

“We played a few games recently against university teams, but really, to play against the best talent that there is right now?” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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