On Campus

McGill welcomes women's hockey challenge from rival Montreal

McGill hopes creation of new team will lead to others

Plans by the University of Montreal to ice a women’s varsity hockey team may bring a dangerous rival into the path of the powerhouse McGill University Martlets.

McGill coach Peter Smith says that’s great news.

“It’s long overdue having another school in Quebec playing women’s ice hockey,” Smith said Thursday. “Maybe it will open the doors to more universities starting programs.”

The University of Montreal, Quebec’s top French university, has hired an impressive crew to put its team together, including former national women’s coach Daniele Sauvageau, who will oversee the team, and former national team star France St. Louis, who will likely be its coach.

In two years, they will enter a conference that currently has only four teams, McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and Carleton and Ottawa two hours down highway 417.

McGill is 16-0 in conference play this season going into a pair of regular season-ending games Friday and Sunday at home against Ottawa. The Martlets are 28-1-0 in Canadian Interuniversity Sports action, with their lone loss a 2-1 decision in a shootout to defending national champion Alberta on Dec. 30.

Smith says that with many strong women’s hockey programs at the municipal and junior college levels in Quebec, it likely won’t take long for Montreal to build a strong team.

Then the recruiting battle will also pick up.

“Recruiting is tough one way or the other,” said Smith, whose team is led by national team goalie Charlene Labonte, national under-22 defenceman Catherine Ward and scoring star Vanessa Davidson. “We recruit from across North America, but we have a lot of Quebec players.

“It will be more competition, but it’s a good thing. Maybe now we’ll lose fewer players to the NCAA (American universities).”

It is coincidence that Montreal is starting a team just as rising prospect Marie-Phillip Poulin, the 16-year-old scoring ace of the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, will be getting to university age, although Poulin has said she is leaning toward playing in the NCAA.

Sauvageau said the University of Montreal will give players like Poulin one more option to consider before bolting to the States.

“There’s a lot of players who want to stay in Quebec,” said the coach who took Canada to Olympic gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City. “It’s an extra option for francophone players, but there are also a lot of anglophones who may want to go into a different program and will go to the U de M.”

Sauvageau has been overwhelmed by the response to Montreal’s plans to ice a women’s (but not a men’s) team. She said some players are already plotting transfers from other universities.

“Based on the response so far, I think we can put a strong team together very quickly,” she said.

“At the university level, if you can count on a good goaltender, that’s a key player. If you get your hands on a good goaltender and two or three players in the under-22 program at the national level, that’s how you build a team.”

-with a report from CP

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