March 4th, 2024

‘Bigger than hockey’: Poulin, PWHL Montreal hope to inspire at home opener

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on January 12, 2024.

Montreal's Marie-Philip Poulin (29) signs a fan's sign before a PWHL hockey game between Ottawa and Montreal, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. After road games in Ottawa, Minnesota and New York to start the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s inaugural season, Montreal finally plays its first game at home Saturday afternoon against Boston at Verdun Auditorium. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

MONTREAL – Captain Marie-Philip Poulin believes it’s “bigger than hockey,” veteran forward Ann-Sophie Bettez calls it the “arrival of everything,” and general manager Daniele Sauvageau can’t even put it into words.

After road games in Ottawa, Minnesota and New York to start the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s inaugural season, Montreal finally plays its first game at home Saturday afternoon against Boston at Verdun Auditorium.

It’s a moment Sauvageau has been working toward for decades.

“If you could invent a word for me, I’d like that,” an emotional Sauvageau said Friday. “Because I’m not sure I can put tomorrow into words.

“The first game in Ottawa was our first game in the league, but now we’re home – we’re hosting a game at home.”

Montreal’s season-opener in Ottawa on Jan. 2 drew a record women’s professional hockey crowd of 8,318 fans at TD Place, only to be broken four days later when Montreal visited Minnesota in front of 13,316 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Records won’t be broken at the 4,114-capacity Verdun Auditorium, but the facility will be packed to the brim with spectators watching Montreal’s team hit the ice at home in the first-of-its-kind women’s league.

Poulin, a 32-year-old from Beauceville, Que., is coming off scoring a hat trick in Montreal’s 5-2 win over New York on Wednesday. She’ll be a main attraction Saturday as one of the all-time greats with a “Captain Clutch” moniker thanks to her three gold-medal winning goals for Canada at the Olympics.

But when Poulin looks up at the crowd, she’ll be thinking about the generations that came before her, and the ones she hopes to inspire in the years ahead.

“I cannot wait to wake up tomorrow morning and come into this rink,” she said. “It’s gonna be a special moment for all of us. I think it’s more than hockey.

“It’s going to be for us, for the next generation, for the past players that were there before us “¦ the Caroline Ouellette’s, the Noemie Marin’s and the Charline Labonte’s that paved the way for all of us.

“It’s unbelievable. I actually just had a chance to meet with a 14-year-old lady from Fredericton (who will attend the game), and she was crying.”

The event will feature a special pre-game ceremony, though Sauvageau preferred to keep those details under wraps, including who might sing the national anthem.

“You’d be surprised, I sang the national anthem at my graduation,” she said. “But I can confirm it won’t be me tomorrow.”

Montreal is off to a strong start despite the difficult schedule with one regulation win, one overtime win and one regulation loss so far.

The team played without Bettez and alternate captain Laura Stacey due to preventive measures in New York, while reserve player Catherine Dubois jumped into the lineup and made an instant impact with a goal.

Sauvageau and head coach Kori Cheverie couldn’t confirm what the lineup would look like Saturday, but star goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens is expected to get the start.

Desbiens, of Clermont, Que., is filling up a full section of supporters on her own.

“I only took care of 60 tickets, I know there’s way more but I only took care of the aunts, cousin, parents, type of thing,” said Desbiens, who apparently has a very big family. “Section 104 might be a little loud.”

Verdun Auditorium will host seven games this season. Montreal will also play four games at 10,000-seat Place Bell in Laval, Que, and the location for a home game against Toronto on March 16 is to be determined.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.

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