Montreal’s Professional Women's Hockey League team unveiled their first three signings in forwards Marie-Philip Poulin and Laura Stacey and goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens.
The three members of Canada's Olympic gold medal-winning team in 2022 were introduced at a press conference alongside general manager Daniele Sauvageau on Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and it’s a real privilege to be part of a Montreal franchise,” said Poulin, Canada's captain and all-time active leader in scoring with 103 goals and 107 assists in 175 career games.
“We’re making history right now. We took a bit of a time out in the last four years, but we’re making sure to put this together properly in Montreal and the other five cities.”
The PWHL's inaugural season starts in January with teams in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and New York.
With Poulin of Beauceville, Que., and Desbiens of La Malbaie, Que., developing from the Quebec youth system before finding success at the NCAA level, the Montreal team is looking to also have its players be ambassadors for the club.
Stacey of Kleinburg, Ont., came up through Ontario's developmental program but has been training in Montreal for the last few years and is engaged to Poulin.
“If you look at Ann-Renée, Marie-Philip, and Laura, this is the identity of this team, they chose to play here, and we wanted them," said Sauvageau. "When you’re building an identity, it’s built not on the ice, but in the dressing room.
“You want to build a team that people can look at and go, ‘We see ourselves,’ and I think it’s important to have key players who are born here in Quebec.”
The trio possesses the championship pedigree and experience that could prove vital in a new group with several young players. However, building a winning culture will be of priority.
“We’re really fortunate to be sitting here today, but a team and a championship culture takes a lot more than three or four people,” said Stacey. “It’s really exciting (to get players and staff) from all different backgrounds and to create a new environment with new friendships is extremely important.”
For years, women’s hockey players struggled to have improved working conditions and secure professional environments and facilities. With an eight-year collective bargaining agreement in hand and the game's growing popularity, the PWHL is hoping to continue that momentum.
“We want to have an impact on the ice, but we also want to have an impact in the community and make sure that little girls can dream about playing professionally in Montreal or elsewhere,” said Desbiens.
“In the past few years, there wasn’t that many opportunities for girls, but (we) really believe in what we’re building right now and where it’s going to go.”
The PWHL's first-ever entry draft will take place on Sept. 18. Minneapolis-St. Paul will pick first, followed by Toronto, Boston, New York, Ottawa, and then Montreal.
The draft will the follow the snake method which inverts the selection order after every round.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press