Montreal

Montreal Canadiennes make history at the Bell Centre

The Canadiennes took to the ice at the Bell Centre on Saturday, marking the first time the professional women's team has played a regular season game at the home of the Habs.

Top two CWHL teams play as part of the 10-year anniversary of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League

Cassandra Poudrier is a rookie defenceman for Les Canadiennes. ( Louis-Charles Dumais/CWHL)

For rookie defenceman Cassandra Poudrier, being able to play at the Bell Centre today is the culmination of a dream she packed away years ago.

"A lot of us played with boys and we grew up with them and we were like, one day we are going to play for the Montreal Canadiens," said Poudrier. "Then, you know, time goes on and you realize that you're a girl and they are boys and it's just not going to happen."

Poudrier and her teammates faced the Calgary Inferno on the Bell Centre ice Saturday. It's the first regular season game for the Canadiennes at the home of the Habs and is part of the Canadian Women's Hockey League's heritage celebrations for the league's 10-year anniversary.

The Canadiennes defeated the Inferno with a 1-0 shutout.

A legacy of women in hockey

What at first glance may seem like a novel idea to have the women lace 'em up in the same rink where the Canadiens play to a sell-out crowd every week, is in fact a nod to a practice almost as old as the game itself.

As early as 1915, women in the Eastern Ladies Hockey League played at the Jubilee Arena, then home of the early Montreal Canadiens. 
Lynda Baril gestures to a copy of her book, Nos Glorieuses. (CBC)

This continued through the 20s, 30s and 40s with the women's leagues taking to the ice in the same venues as the men, albeit in cumbersome long wool skirts.

This rich chapter of hockey history is recounted in the book Nos Glorieuses by Lynda Baril that is packed with stories and photos of these courageous women.

To call the early female players courageous is not hyperbole.

Many were going against the church to play a sport deemed a sin for women, while others needed the fortitude to hand back a wedding ring when faced with the ultimatum of hockey or marriage.  

Times were different then, yet still, the women were doing something on a regular basis that now in 2016 we see as a novelty.

Shining a light on women's hockey

Olympic women's hockey gets a lot of attention, but regular games on a big stage like this could do wonders to stretch that interest in women's hockey through a four-year Olympic cycle. 
Caroline Ouellette is an Olympian and star Canadiennes player. (Céline Gélinas/CWHL)

The two teams have a combined 13 Olympians on the rosters.

For Olympian and Canadiennes player Caroline Ouellette, she's still looking for a chance to score her 300th career point under the jerseys of hockey gods that hang from the rafters of the Bell Centre.

Ouellette's number 13 may never hang among Beliveau, Cournoyer, and Lafleur's, but to many girls and women playing the game these days, Ouellette is a first ballot hall-of-famer.

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