On their way home from the Clarkson Cup finals in Barrie, Ont., the Montreal Stars women’s hockey team made a stop at a McDonald’s.
When they got inside, there was a hockey game on TV. They quickly realized that they recognized the players on the screen â€” it was them, in the game they had played just hours earlier, when they beat Toronto 5-0 to win the Clarkson Cup.
“Everyone was screaming in this McDonald’s, and the workers were like, ‘What is going on?’” explained rookie and last year’s Stingers captain Emilie Luck. “Then they realized what was going on and they came to get autographs.”
The cup is the top prize in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Its creation was announced in 2005 by then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson, but logistical and licensing issues prevented it from being awarded to a professional women’s team until 2009.
The Stars were the pro first team to be awarded the Cup. Current captain Lisa-Marie Breton, one of the Concordia women’s hockey team’s assistant coaches and the strength and conditioning coordinator for the varsity teams, also captained that team.
But as she mentions, the team that won the Cup last weekend is very different from the one that won two years ago.
For one, the team is stacked. Caroline Ouellette, Kim Saint-Pierre, Julie Chu and Sarah Vaillancourt are just four Olympians on the team. Luck, Breton, Nathalie DÃ©ry, who is another Stingers’ assistant coach and Kelly Sudia are all former Stingers, and there are former Martlets and NCAA players on the team as well.
But the biggest difference was in the relationship between the players.
“[In 2009], we were all good players, but not as many friends as we are [now]. This time, we partied in the room for like two hours with the Cup, because we don’t get to take it home after like the men [do with the Stanley Cup].”
For Luck, the Cup was the first major win she’s been a part of in awhile â€” in her five years as a Stinger, the team never made it past the first round of the playoffs.
“I felt like a pro,” she said. “There were cameras everywhere, kids who want your autograph – everyone was focused and into it.”
“It was magic,” Breton said. “I was crying and crying after the game because of how nice it was. It’s never been that special in my whole entire life.”
Though it’s a professional league, the players aren’t paid. Breton laughed and declared that she won’t retire until she’s paid at least one cent to play.
“It’s funny, but it’s not funny,” she explained.
Many players, like both Breton and Luck, have full-time jobs in addition to the practices and weekend games with the team.
“I just end up not having a day off,” Luck said. “It’s really tiring.”
The CWHL had the NHL study their league and implemented their recommendations, which have raised their league’s calibre. Reducing the number of Canadian teams from six to four meant there were more Olympians per team. They also added a team in Boston.
Breton compared CWHL games to a Team Canada versus Team USA-type quality.
She hopes the changes they made will help bring in more sponsorship dollars this summer.
Luck figures that it will take at least five years before the players will get paid to play.
“It’s really getting a lot better, and it’s coming for sure, but it’s not there yet. That would be crazy though,” she said with a laugh.
She singled out the need for more fans, more coverage and more exposure as keys to the league’s success.
Breton said the goal is to make the CWHL a viable option for women’s hockey players at all levels.
“The young girls who dream to play for Team Canada one day, we want them to dream to play in our league as well.”
Check out the team’s blog, www.montrealstars.ca, for updates on next season, including possible games at Ed Meagher Arena.