By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on December 31, 2023.
MONTREAL – Ann-Sophie Bettez feels like she’s part of hockey history with the Professional Women’s Hockey League just hours away from its inaugural season.
But had the league formed a year later, there’s no guarantee Montreal’s 36-year-old forward would be here to experience it, at least as a player.
“The last few years I’ve been asking myself, “˜Do I stop? Do I keep playing?'” Bettez said. “It has been on my mind.
“This year, I was like “˜OK, I’ll go one more year,’ so every year I go like, ‘OK, one more year, one more year,’ and then I don’t know when the last one will be.”
The six-team PWHL – a new women’s league that has investors with deep pockets and an eight-year collective bargaining agreement – begins Monday afternoon as Toronto hosts New York at a sold-out Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Montreal’s first game is set for Tuesday at TD Place in Ottawa before an expected record crowd in women’s pro hockey with more than 7,800 tickets sold.
With so much positive public reaction, Bettez is thrilled she didn’t hang her skates up.
“This is just an amazing opportunity to be part of,” she said. “It’s like making history right now because hopefully this new league will be it for the next generation and then that eventually expands to new teams and other cities so that more girls get to play.”
The 5-foot-4, 132-pound forward from Sept-ÃŽles, Que., has seen leagues come and go over her lengthy career.
She played for McGill University before becoming a star player in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Montreal Stars and Canadiennes from 2012 to 2019, when the league folded.
From there, she participated in Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association games and spent last season as captain for the Montreal Force of the Premier Hockey Federation, which ceased operations in June after the PWHL purchased the league.
Now Bettez will take the ice for yet another Montreal team as the oldest player on the yet-to-be-named club’s roster by over three years.
Although she won’t wear a letter on her jersey, the tireless worker and talented playmaker was named part of the team’s leadership group on Friday.
She expects to set an example with her incessant desire to improve, even at her age. It’s a mentality that paid off when the self-described late bloomer earned her first chance with Canada’s national team at 31.
“Somebody asked me, ‘What do you need to improve on?’ Like, every aspect,” Bettez said. “If you get comfortable in one position and then you think you’re the best or you can’t improve, then I think you’re wrong.
“I always strive to be better every day.”
Bettez says keeping up to speed with younger players through the years is a lot like something she deals with in her second career as a financial planner.
“Everybody’s getting better, so you have to be able to keep going, and I feel that’s kind of like inflation,” she said. “Every year the cost of living increases, so your living wage has to follow or keep up, otherwise you’re gonna lag behind.
“I think that I was able to do that and that’s one of the reasons why I’m still here at 36.”
Bettez, who was selected in the 14th round, is one of a few veterans Montreal general manager DaniÃ¨le Sauvageau drafted along with Jillian Dempsey, who turns 33 on Jan. 19.
“They could play the game,” Sauvageau said of adding the two experienced forwards. “They could score goals, they could defend, they have grit, they’re good teammates.
“This is a pure definition of every player you’d like to have on your team.”
Dempsey was the PHF’s all-time leading scorer as a member of the Boston Pride.
With her roots down in Boston, she says Montreal’s decision to draft her was “a total shock” but thinks she can make an impact with her work ethic.
“A big characteristic of my game is trying to go all-out all the time and being relentless out there, whether it’s forecheck, backcheck, not giving up on plays and trying to do the little things right,” Dempsey said.
Bettez, meanwhile, is back where she’s most comfortable in Montreal.
The high-energy veteran hopes to help other players feel at home, too.
“It’s very important for me to be able to help those younger kids, especially with the ones that are not even from Montreal,” she said. “It’s just that maturity level that an older or more experienced person can bring. I think I’m that type of person who wants to make everybody welcome.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2023.