Montreal·Podcast

Canadiennes GM sees Montreal's women's team as natural heirs to Habs 1950s glory days

Meg Hewings is the general manager of the city's first professional women's hockey team, Les Canadiennes, checking gender stereotypes in Montreal's iconic sport.

Meg Hewings tells Montreapolis the city's love affair with hockey now extends to women's game

The general manager of Les Canadiennes tells Montreapolis that Montreal's CWHL franchise 'is representative of the city and the style and the flair of the place.' (CBC)

This is the fifth in CBC's new podcast series, Montreapolis. You can hear a full feature interview with Meg Hewings on the podcast, bringing you conversations with people who make up modern Montreal. Click here to subscribe

The hockey season may be over for the Montreal Canadiens, and as they reflect on what went wrong the Habs may want to draw inspiration from Montreal's other professional hockey team: Les Canadiennes.

Meg Hewings, the general manager of Montreal's CWHL franchise, told CBC Montreal's podcast Montreapolis that she sees her team as a reflection of the great Habs teams of the 1950s.

The Canadiennes won their fourth Clarkson Cup in franchise history last month.

In a wide-ranging interview on the team and her career, Hewings said the Canadiennes' first game at the Bell Centre this year cemented the team's link with their male counterparts in the NHL.

"We are now sister and brother teams. The Canadiens and the NHL have 100 years of experience building up a league, and we need that help," Hewings said.

Flying Frenchwomen

Hewings, a former player on the team, has been the GM for a seven years. 

During her tenure the team entered a formal marketing and promotional partnership with the Habs in 2015, which included changing the team's name from the Montreal Stars to Les Canadiennes.

The partnership culminated in the first regular season game for Les Canadiennes at the Bell Centre in December, when the homeside beat the Calgary Inferno 1-0.

For rookie Canadiennes defenceman Cassandra Poudrier, being able to play at the Bell Centre last December was the culmination of a dream she packed away years ago. ( Louis-Charles Dumais/CWHL)

Hewings says Les Canadiennes have a lot in common with the great Habs teams of the 1950s, who won five Stanley Cups in a row with homegrown stars such as Maurice Richard, Jean Béliveau and Jacques Plante.

"Our team has this character like the Flying Frenchmen: representative of the city and the style and the flair of the place. We have a very determined, creative, open style of play," Hewings said.

Hewings said the current lineup of Les Canadiennes has a lot in common with the great Montreal Canadiens stars of the 1950s, such as Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau.

The Canadiennes have won three Clarkson Cups under Hewings, led by star francophone players such as Caroline Ouellette, Marie-Philip Poulin and Charline Labonté.

The Montreal Canadiennes celebrate their 3-1 victory over the Calgary Inferno at the Clarkson Cup on March 5 in Ottawa. (@JenBotterill/Twitter)

Despite great play, no pay

On the downside, Hewings said the Canadiennes stars share something else with the Habs stars of the 1950s:  they're vastly underpaid.

"These are all women that are working full-time jobs — a lot like in the 1950s with NHL players," said Hewings. "You know, Maurice Richard was holding down a job while playing with the Habs."

Members of the Les Canadiennes de Montreal professional women's hockey team sing 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' during the seventh inning stretch at the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays preseason MLB game in Montreal on April 1, 2017. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

In fact, Les Canadiennes players — elite athletes, many of whom have won Olympic gold — aren't paid at all.

Hewings said despite the team's success, it's hard to get sponsorships or broadcast deals for the women's game, so teams in the CWHL can't afford to pay their players.  

The players are on the ice simply for the love of the game. 

Hewings said she hopes that will change one day, but it's not happening anytime soon.

Attendance growing

On the upside, the teams' attendance has been growing steadily every year, culminating with the game at the Bell Centre where more than 6,000 fans were on hand.

Hewings said there's no better place to grow the game than in Montreal.
Hewings said attendance at Les Canadiennes games has been steadily growing. (Dave Holland/Canadian Press)

"I think it's a place that shapes the sport and vice versa. People deeply love and are deeply invested in the sport here," she said. 

She said the challenge is getting people to come out and see at least one game.  

"Once they do, they get it," Hewings said. "It's like a lightbulb goes off."

While Les Canadiennes need the Habs more than the Habs need them right now, Hewings predicts that balance will shift over time.

"We're just incredibly excited to begin that journey, and to have a true partnership where we can make women's hockey more visible and bring in family audiences, and maybe different audiences that the Canadiens don't have," she said.

You can hear a full feature interview with Meg Hewings on CBC's new Montreapolis podcast, bringing you conversations with people who make up modern Montreal. Click here to subscribe.

Corrections

  • Meg Hewings has been the general manager of the team for seven years, not 10 as stated in a previous version of this article. The team has also won three Clarkson Cups under her leadership, not four. Hewings was not part of the team during their 2009 win.
    Apr 24, 2017 11:43 AM ET

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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