Education alumni, students star on Montreal's other great hockey team


Published: 23Nov2015

Montreal’s other great hockey team 

by Gary Francoeur, McGill News Alumni Magazine, Nov. 20, 2015

With a new name and logo, new uniforms, and new promotional links to hockey’s most storied franchise, expectations are high for the rebranded Les Canadiennes de Montréal this season.

The CWHL squad, formerly known as the Montreal Stars, unveiled their fresh identity and direction at a press conference last month. The new name pays homage to one of the first French-Canadian women’s hockey teams in Quebec, who paved the way for future generations of female players during the thirties. The team’s emblem and uniforms, meanwhile, now share the same blue, red and white colour scheme as the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, which will further strengthen the partnership between the two clubs.

It’s exciting news for hockey fans in Quebec and for members of the McGill community, who are bound to spot a few familiar faces on Les Canadiennes’ roster. No fewer than eight former members of the McGill Martlets currently strap on skates for the team, including five from the Faculty of Education: Cathy Chartrand, BEd 2011; Charline Labonté, BEd 2012, MA 2015; Chelsey Saunders, BSc (Kinesiology) 2014; Carly Hill, BEd 2011; and Leslie Oles, current BEd student.

“Women’s hockey is growing at an exponential rate and McGill has paved the way for that growth,” says team general manager Meg Hewings, BA’00, who also played hockey for McGill, winning the Martlets rookie of the year distinction in her first season. Past and present Martlets stars like Labonté, Kim St-Pierre, BEd’05, Catherine Ward, BCom’09, and Mélodie Daoust, BEd, have played key roles on the Canadian women’s hockey team, winners of the last four Olympic gold medals in their sport.

“McGill’s varsity hockey program has a long and rich history,” says Hewings. “Many of our players came out of the program, they know each other well and play well together, and they’ve brought a lot of terrific chemistry to our team.”

That chemistry was on full display when Les Canadiennes kicked off the season last weekend, earning decisive back-to-back home wins against the Brampton Thunder. The former McGill Martlets led the charge, combining for a total of five points over the two games. Saunders, a sophomore with the club, wasn’t in uniform for either game, but she is ecstatic to be reunited with former Martlets teammates for another year.

“Many of us had the same experience at McGill so we developed a special bond,” says the talented blueliner, who helped the Martlets win CIS national championships in 2011 and 2014. “I looked up to many of these girls when I was at McGill and I’m happy to have the chance to play alongside them again.”

Both Saunders and Hewings are also excited about the partnership with the Canadiens. The team wants to grow women’s hockey in Quebec, and the expectation is that this new pact will allow them to reel in new fans and empower more young girls to get involved in the sport. Canadiennes jerseys will now be sold at the Bell Centre alongside those of Habs stars like P.K. Subban and Carey Price.

The Montreal Canadiens are one of the most historic franchises in all sports and such an important part of Quebec’s culture. We hope that the increased visibility and recognition will help us to not only grow the game at the professional level but also at the grassroots level,” Hewings explains.

Les Canadiennes have won the Clarkson Cup title, the CWHL’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup, three times – more than any other team in the league. Their goal is to add a fourth championship this season.

“There’s a lot of talent and a lot of extremely hard workers on this team,” Saunders says. “It should make for a really exciting season."