Montreal

Women's hockey team gets big backing from Canadiens

The NHL's Montreal Canadiens announced a partnership agreement with the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women's Hockey League on Thursday.

New partnership between Montreal Canadiens and CWHL's Montreal Stars will help promote women's hockey

Montreal Canadiens chief executive Geoff Molson and CWHL Comissioner Brenda Andress pose with players from the Montreal Stars. The two teams announced a partnership on Thursday to help further women's hockey in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Women's hockey in Quebec took a step in the right direction.

The NHL's Montreal Canadiens announced a partnership agreement with the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women's Hockey League on Thursday.

As affiliated clubs, the Stars will primarily benefit from the Canadiens' infrastructure and marketing expertise. The goal is to promote women's hockey, build a solid fan base, make household names of CWHL players and grow the sport through hockey camps.

With this association, a next generation of women hockey players can dream of playing professional hockey.- Charline Labonté, Montreal Stars goaltender

"There is a lot of potential to grow the sport in this province and this is a good start in order to attract as many women and girls to the game,'' said Canadiens owner Geoff Molson before Montreal's home game against the Carolina Hurricanes. "Our intent is to put the Montreal Canadiens' marketing machine behind you to help develop the sport.''

Though nothing is yet set in stone, Molson said the Canadiens' organization could make its practice facility in Brossard available to the Stars, while also assisting in merchandising and promoting the CWHL team's brand. Molson also hinted at possibly changing the Stars' team name, logo and jersey.

"We grew up playing hockey because we're passionate,'' said Montreal Stars goaltender, and three-time Olympic gold medallist Charline Labonté. "With this association, a next generation of women hockey players can dream of playing professional hockey.

"Most of us grew up in Montreal or around Montreal, so we looked up to the Montreal Canadiens. Today, it's unbelievable that our team is associating with such a big history and such a big club. It's very flattering and such an honour," Labonté continued.

Leafs, Flames also partner with women's teams

The CWHL was founded in 2007 and today includes four teams in Canada as well as the U.S.-based Boston Blades. The Blades beat the Stars 3-2 in overtime in the league's Clarkson Cup final on March 7.

This is the third such partnership between NHL and CWHL teams.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames made multi-year financial commitments to the CWHL over two years ago. On Nov. 13, 2012, the Leafs announced they would contribute $30,000 annually for five years and the Flames $20,000 for four years to the league.

The Leafs and Flames market and promote the CWHL teams in their cities, which are the Toronto Furies and Calgary Inferno respectively.

The CWHL is similar to Major League Soccer, meaning the league owns the teams, hires general managers and pays expenses. There are no individual owners of teams.

The CWHL can't yet afford to pay players, but pays coaches and covers the cost of equipment, ice time and travel.

The Stars and the CWHL hope there will be similar affiliations between the CWHL and NHL clubs in the future. The end goal, for Labonté, is that women hockey players will one day be paid to play the sport they love.

"Everybody is talking about money, but we're not there yet. That will happen later, maybe,'' she said. "It's about creating a solid fan base, about making our players recognizable. That will put us on the map.

"We're not paid to (play) — it's passion that drives us.''

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