PHF Montreal expansion team brings excitement and more questions about league’s future
The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) officially confirmed Tuesday its intention to launch a Montreal team for the 2022-23 season. This will be the seventh team in the PHF, the women’s hockey league formerly known as the NWHL.
“It’s been four years now that I’ve worked so hard to bring a team back to Montreal after what happened,” said the new team president. Kevin Raphaelreferring to the CWHL’s 2019 downturn. “I believe we have the fanbase and infrastructure in the province of Quebec to strongly support a professional women’s hockey team.”
Boston Pride player and member of the PHF Players Association Mallory Souliotis told On Her Turf that player reps were briefed on Montreal’s expansion squad early Tuesday morning, ahead of the league’s official announcement.
While the PHF’s expansion to Montreal has been long awaited by players and fans, questions remain about everything from roster build to where the team will play its home games.
There’s also the fact that Montreal’s new PHF team will be owned by BTM Partners, a fact that was omitted from the league’s press release.
“Today’s press release was really an announcement for Kevin and to make sure he can start answering those calls and to announce our commitment to Montreal,” the PHF commissioner said. Reagan Carey said of the omission, before confirming that BTM Partners will own the team.
BTM Partners now owns four of the seven PHF teams (Montreal, Boston Pride, Metropolitan Riveters, Toronto Six). While the sale of the Toronto Six to a BIPOC-led ownership group was announced in March, Carey confirmed during Tuesday’s press call that the sale still hasn’t officially closed.
“It’s still ongoing,” said Carey, who declined to provide a timeline. “It’s definitely a similar process to the one here in Montreal. This is a priority and an ongoing discussion and it will continue to be a priority for this ownership group.
While the PHF has said the long-term goal is for each team to belong to a separate group, in the meantime, the current co-ownership structure has the potential to create conflicts of interest.
Add to that the fact that BTM Partners is led by John Boyton, who is also chairman of Yandex, Russia’s largest tech company. Yandex has been instrumental in suppressing factual information and promoting propaganda related to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
When asked on Tuesday if he had any reservations about joining Montreal’s PHF group, given Boynton’s role at Yandex, Raphaël, a French cable TV broadcaster, replied: “You are came from the first string with this question.”
He continued, “I understand what’s going on with anything, anyone. But at the end of the day, my goal is to treat the players like professionals, to make sure they get paid for all the effort they put in, all the training – they train as much as the boys – and that they get nothing. ”
Ahead of the 2022-23 PHF season, there are still many other details to be ironed out, including the Montreal PHF team name, logo, coaching staff, and determining which arenas will host its games. While the Montreal PHF team will train at Center 21.02 in Verdun, the team’s games will be “played in communities across Quebec to help raise the profile of the PHF and introduce professional women’s hockey to a wider audience,” according to the PHF statement.
While all PHF players obviously have to travel for away games, the challenge of also traveling for home games is something Raphael plans to tackle.
“Of course it’s something we’ve thought about, something that’s close to our hearts,” he said. “So at least, you know, you’re traveling a day early, we’re resting a bit to arrive, you know, enjoying the city a bit.”
Still, that model could be tough for some players, many of whom are still likely to work second jobs, even with PHF’s much-improved salary cap.
There is also the question of the constitution of the lists. PHF free agency began more than two months ago, with many of the league’s six established teams on track to fill out their rosters.
Raphaël played it down on Tuesday. “I don’t think it will be long before we start signing players because I’m telling you, a lot of people are calling my phone right now,” he said.
He also highlighted the vast talent pool of female hockey players in Quebec.
“We have the best talent in the world. You watch any world championship or Olympics, who are the best players? Who is the best goalie ? Who is the clutch player? (He’s a) person from Quebec.
While there’s certainly some truth in that – Canada’s women’s hockey team for the Quebec City 2022 Winter Olympics as a goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens and forward Marie-Philip Poulin and Melody Daoust – all three players have previously been committed to the PWHPA, a group that is moving forward with their own plans.
In May, the PWHPA signed a letter of intent with Billie Jean King Enterprises and the Mark Walter Group, with the goal of creating a new women’s professional hockey league. In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article, PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford confirmed that a league run by the PWHPA is aiming to launch next year.
“If all goes as we hope, there will be a professional women’s hockey league in the 2023 season like we’ve never seen,” Hefford told the Inquirer.
While the announcement of a Montreal PHF team was long overdue, the league also previously planned to add two expansion teams for the 2022-23 season.
“All I can say is that we are in the middle of discussions with a new group of owners who seem quite enthusiastic about the idea of launching a team in an American city, but I cannot say more about it,” Boynton told On Her Turf in January. (In the same interview, Boynton also said the league plans to expand to ten teams in 2023-24.)
But on Tuesday, Carey – who was hired as PHF commissioner in May – confirmed the league will have just seven teams next year.
“It’s my responsibility, once I got here a few months ago, to really check and assess what’s best for the league right now, and what’s best in the long run,” Carey said, adding that reporters should expect to receive another press release in the coming months on “our criteria on how to broaden and accommodate much of the interest we have in addition to those of which we have already spoken”.
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