Three years ago last week, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced that it was about to fold, a decision that has left Montreal without ordinary professional women’s hockey, exacerbated by the ongoing worldwide pandemic.
This weekend’s four matches have doubled the volume of Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) matches in the province since the end of the 2018-19 season. As the CWHL unfolded, mainstream media barely covering the league suddenly appeared to either ask what was happening or say it was proof that there was no market for women’s hockey. Even years later, it is not something that is lost on the players.
“I do not want to be shy about it, that [was] extremely offensive when the CWHL collapsed, and all these big media conglomerates [were] like, ‘Oh, what happened?’ “Montreal defender Melanie Desrochers said.” I say, ‘You happened! Where were you? Where were you for four years? I have nothing to say to you. You’re contributing to the problem. . ‘”
In the four years that the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) co-existed with the CWHL, and the three years since the creation of the PWHPA, most of the mainstream media attention has been on why the two leagues cannot come together, why they should merge or come to an agreement, or even why the NHL is the only way forward.
“This whole PWHPA-PHF, you know, gap … Why can we have only one thing?” Desrochers continued. “There are a million hockey leagues on the men’s side. People must have the right to choose where they want to play. Why should we fight for the right to play on six teams?”
The women’s hockey media in Montreal has a regular presence, but very rarely had mainstream media coverage, even when the CWHL existed, and even when Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight – undoubtedly two of the most prominent women’s hockey stars in the world – spent an entire season on the same team.
This weekend at PWHPA’s show on Saturday had a larger media presence than usual. Television cameras and print media were there to cover the press conference for Olympians Ann-Renée Desbiens, Marie-Philip Poulin, Mélodie Daoust and Laura Stacey.
One of the questions was why fans should worry about the matches that took place this weekend if they did not play.
“There are only 50 players on the Canadian and American national teams. Out here are all the other players who are going to be part of the professional women’s league when it is created,” Stacey said.
“A league needs a lot more than just 50 players, and if you want the 50 players to be the best they can be, they have to be pushed on a consistent basis. It’s the players who push for the They are the ones pushing to be the next Olympic team in four years, “she said.” To be honest, I think the talent is as good as ours, if not better, but they have not got the opportunity to play on the national team yet and who knows what the future holds for them and for us as well.It’s a big part of who we are and how women’s hockey works is to have that group of players to support [us]. Unfortunately, many of those players need jobs, and we do not have them. So I think to be honest, these are the ones we’re pushing to create a league because they deserve it as much as we do. “
The question was not asked negatively, but rather to make people understand why non-national team players are essential. However, it seems that the media that were there did not listen. After Montreal’s 5-2 semifinal victory, three reporters (myself included) represented no non-online media and were the same faces I would see cover CWHL matches.
Similarly, when Desrochers, coach Peter Smith and striker Ann-Sophie Bettez spoke on Sunday – after a victory in the Montreal Championship – there were no French-language media, there were no TV cameras, there were no traditional print media. This even though Radio-Canada and CBC had French and English streams for the entire tournament.
Let me be fair for a moment. PWHPA’s erratic – and sometimes relatively last-minute – schedule makes it difficult for mainstream media to make an effort to provide regular coverage. It is true. But mainstream media was at the PWHPA Exhibition this past weekend. They were just not there to talk about hockey or even to the players who played. Instead, they widen the gap – targeted or not – between the national team stars and the players who would make up the majority of any professional league, no matter what the acronym is.
PWHPA’s structure without a fixed playoff or season program also makes it difficult to get people to worry about the stakes in the actual games, but it’s also not the case that PHF – with a much more natural schedule and format – gets regular mainstream attention.
Normalization of professional women’s hockey is necessary. To Stacey’s point above, imagine if the only players who were given attention in the NHL were the players on senior national teams. Now think of all the very good – maybe even amazing – NHL players who are or were not part of these teams. Think about that standard and who would be left out of it. That’s what women’s hockey is all about. Some amazing hockey players played in Montreal this weekend. Players who were literally in the taxi squad in Beijing for Team Canada at the Olympics.
The media showed up for the event, but left as soon as the big names stopped talking. They may have seen some of the hockey on the ice, but they did not report it. Instead, stories about the future of professional women’s hockey, Olympic triumphs, or how players are big role models for the young children in the stands dominated.
“For me, it’s just … [media] people need to show up and they need to acknowledge that they are part of the problem. I mean, hockey and sports are a market, and people passively use men’s sports all the time. And that’s why you become a fan, ”said Desrochers. “I do not watch basketball, but if it’s on my TV, I’m suddenly going to the Lakers game, you know what I mean?”
“It’s a matter of putting more women’s hockey on TV,” said Bettez, who has worked with TVA Sports and was part of their coverage of PWHPA’s Rivalry Rematch and the U Sports women’s hockey final. “It’s good to talk about them in the media, in the newspaper, on the radio, but nothing is better than television. We have a lot of visibility on YouTube, but why can we not just leave it on TV? That’s the best way, because when you watch it on TV, it’s starting to get real. “
“There was a man who came up to me and said ‘wow, women’s hockey is fast, it’s physical, it’s good, and I still think to myself, like’ OK, we’re in 2022 … Welcome ‘” Bettez said.
“At any time a great medium [outlet] want to talk to me, I really choose my point, ”Desrochers said. “When it comes to our team, [Centre 21.02 CEO Danièle Sauvageau], the league, no problem. If they want to talk about why women’s hockey does not succeed? I want to say, ‘It’s you’. “
Whether it’s in a league or two, whether the NHL is behind or not, women’s hockey is moving forward. Players are expected to show up and put their best foot on the ice every time they play.
Sunday’s action featured a fantastic battle back and forth, with Calgary winning the PWHPA season title in the final minute of the consolation final. It saw a Montreal team from hometown win the first exhibition held in the city.
People work very hard to create or maintain professional women’s hockey, whether it is in Montreal or elsewhere in North America. A lot of work is done behind the scenes so that the players on the ice can show off their skills.
Coverage should also focus on the ice.