May 22nd, 2024

PWHL Montreal ready to set attendance record against Toronto at the Bell Centre

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on April 19, 2024.

Daniele Sauvageau says there’s so much interest in the Professional Women’s Hockey League game at the Bell Centre, that she’s searching for ways to outsmart the arena’s security. Sauvageau, general manager of Montreal's PWHL team greets a young fan prior to their first home game in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL – Danièle Sauvageau says there’s so much interest in the Professional Women’s Hockey League game at the Bell Centre that she’s searching for ways to outsmart the arena’s security.

“People are after us like ‘I need tickets,'” PWHL Montreal’s general manager said Friday. “I had an event this morning – ‘How can we get tickets tomorrow?’ I said ‘well, maybe we could sneak you through the parking lot and get in through the back door.'”

Montreal hosts Toronto on Saturday afternoon at the home of the NHL’s Canadiens, where a women’s hockey attendance record is expected to be set at the 21,105-capacity venue. The current record of 19,285 fans was set when both teams met at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 16.

Superstar captain Marie-Philip Poulin remembers playing in front of 5,938 fans at the Bell Centre in December 2016 when her Canadiennes de Montreal hosted the Calgary Inferno in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

“It was surreal, it was a dream that happened. And obviously you jump on that ice, you see empty seats,” Poulin said. “But you hoped that one day it would be packed.”

This time around, she’ll get her wish.

The building will be filled to the brim after tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale last month.

It’s expected to be another high-water mark in the PWHL’s record-setting and headline-grabbing inaugural season. Montreal’s players also see it as another sign of the growth of women’s sports in a world where basketball’s Caitlin Clark can be the biggest star at March Madness.

“I know for me there are a lot of people who didn’t even get tickets, so 21,000 wasn’t even enough,” Montreal goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens said. “People come, they bring friends, they look for more tickets. It says a lot about the talent on the ice, the level of play, the organizations, the media coverage.

“When we put all those things together that’s what makes this possible. We saw it with March Madness and women’s basketball – when we put it on TV, people watch, and I think women’s sports right now is growing at an incredible rate.”

Montreal has regularly sold out its main home arena – the 4,000-capacity Verdun Auditorium. It has also sold out the 10,000-seat Place Bell in Laval, Que, the team’s secondary home.

With so much success, Sauvageau said playing in bigger arenas will become more common moving forward.

“Women’s hockey is at the level of the industry of sport, and there’s no going back,” she said.

But while the crowd will garner much of the attention on Saturday, there’s also an important game on the ice.

Montreal is third in the PWHL standings, trailing league-leading Toronto by two points with four games remaining in the regular season for both teams. Toronto is one point away from clinching a playoff spot and all Montreal needs is a regulation win.

“I know we’re talking about playing in front of people, 21,000 of them, but at the end of the day our goal will be to win,” Poulin said. “We’ll take a deep breath, look around and take it in, but I think once the puck drops the game starts.”

Toronto, however, has Montreal’s number. They’ve won all four meetings between the two sides and limited Montreal to four goals total.

Toronto forward Blayre Turnbull is expecting Montreal to come out hungry to flip the script.

“The last few times we’ve played the games have been very physical and they’ve gotten a bit chippy, so I think we’ll be expecting that again against them,” Turnbull said. “Some people online have said it’s become a bit of a rivalry and I would have to agree.

“Our games against them are super intense. They’re playoff-like games.”

Having twice been shut out by Toronto, Montreal will try to give those 21,000 fans a little more to cheer about on Saturday.

“It’s going to be something that is really a seventh skater for us,” Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie said. “We’re really going to put on a great performance.”

“It’s a hockey game that we need to win, that we want to win, and hopefully there will be a lot of people watching us win,” Sauvageau added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2024.

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