Force De Montréal players inspiring young girls, growing hockey in Quebec

“It feels like a dream,” says Kristina Shanahan, a player for La Force De Montréal, Quebec’s professional women’s hockey team, who are not only making fans proud, but also serving as role models for young girls. Felisha Adams reports

Part of what La Force De Montréal wants to achieve in 2023 – of course – is to win hockey games.

La Force, Quebec’s first professional women’s hockey team since 2019, has won four games so far in its inaugural Premier Hockey Federation season.

But their results and position in the PHF standings is only a portion of their goals for the new year.

The other: serving as role models for young girls.

“La Force, it puts a lot of smiles on our faces to see the stars in their eyes and giving them a dream that is possible,” said captain Ann-Sophie Bettez, who has four goals and five assists this season.

“It’s kind of like a dream I never had,” added 24-year-old forward Kristina Shanahan. “And it feels like a dream to be playing for this team.”

Up until a few months ago, Shanahan thought her hockey career was over. The Montreal native – who grew up in the West Island – didn’t think playing hockey professionally after university was a real possibility.

“Hopefully now people, women growing up playing hockey, they go to university and they continue to strive for that professional goal and to be able to make a living wage off of that,” said Shanahan, who went to the University of Vermont.

First women’s hockey team since 2019

La Force de Montréal is the newest addition to the seven-team PHF. There’s a team in Toronto – the only other Canadian franchise – and five in the United States: Buffalo, Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut and Minnesota.

It’s Montreal’s first professional women’s hockey team since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League collapsed in 2019, taking Les Canadiennes de Montreal along with it.

“We’re just seeing huge, huge strides as we move forward from post-COVID,” said forward Sarah Lefort. “And hopefully we can get fans and youngsters excited about this, about the sport and about women’s professional sports.”

Shanahan says having a team in Montreal will hopefully continue to grow women’s hockey in the province.

“Montreal is the best hockey city there is,” she said. “So to be able to have a women’s team is awesome.

“There’s so much talent that comes out of Quebec. So to be able to showcase that to the world or North America or whoever is watching is exciting.”

‘A league that the player gets paid’

Part of that comes from attracting the world’s best players by offering an opportunity to earn a living wage.

The PHF announced last month it plans to increase its salary cap to $1.5 million per team for the 2023-24 season. Under that new cap, a 20-player roster would average out to each player making $75,000 a season.

“This is the first year where in Montreal we have actually a league that the player gets paid,” said Bettez. “And I think this is pretty amazing that people could just focus on finishing university, and you want to play somewhere. This is a place you can play and get paid to do it.”

Montreal is a road team in their expansion year with 23 of 24 “home” games played away from Verdun Auditorium in St. Laurent, Sept-Iles, Rimouski, Riviere-du-Loup, Saint-Jerome, Gatineau and Quebec City.

The team sees that as an opportunity though to attract new fans to the game.

“If we come in your region, just come and watch and see it from your eyes,” said Bettez. “This is how we’re going to grow the game, by having people coming watch us play.”

—With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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