Danièle Sauvageau is dapper. She speaks with verve and enthusiasm about Saturday’s match between the Montrealers and the Bostonians of the LPHF, the first of the new circuit in the metropolis. Then words fail him.
We are at the Verdun Auditorium, Friday afternoon, a few minutes after the end of the Montreal team’s training. A garage league game is now taking place on the ice. The pucks occasionally hit the bay window which separates the players of a certain age from the media and their interlocutors.
Sauvageau, the team’s general manager, explains that this Saturday’s match will be sold out, with the venue ready to accommodate around 4,000 spectators. She emphasizes that the state of health of players like Ann-Sophie Bettez, absent from the last two matches, will be re-evaluated in the morning. That the Boston team will arrive in the evening, Friday, thus avoiding the snowstorm that risks hitting Montreal the next day.
Poutine – regular format – pre-match, in short. We then ask him about the expected arrival of January 13, 2024, this fateful date for which the entire organization has been working hard since its announcement last November.
Unfortunately, there is no dictionary around this corner of the rink.
We therefore ask her to explain what makes her so emotional about this Saturday’s event. Is this all the work accomplished since the league’s inception in August? Creation which was followed by a draft, a training camp in Utica then in Montreal, contract signings, retrenchments, ten or so hirings within the team, flights to be organized, sales of tickets to be announced, events to be prepared, all in a historical, publicized and new context for everyone, what’s more is accomplished in the space of just a few months?
That’s it, but it’s also much more, she emphasizes.
” That’s all. That’s the last 40 years. It’s having created [the high performance center 21.02, in Verdun], not even knowing where we were going with it. We knew we were going to have a league. But when, how, by whom, where? We didn’t know, but we wanted to be ready. »
“This league is here for good. I’ve never seen anything like this. You know when the kids push the snowball and it gets big and there are rocks in it? But here, we did this beyond a mountain. And all of a sudden, we finally have a break. We let her go. And right now, it’s taking off,” explains the general director of the Montreal team.
“Excitement” ahead of the local opening this Saturday was the key word among all the players of the Montreal team interviewed.
“I’m so excited,” confirms Marie-Philip Poulin. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Seeing what’s happening at the arena, people working day and night to put this moment in place, it’s exceptional. »
“Being home here for the first time in two weeks, I think we’re all really excited,” said reserve Catherine Dubois, who scored her first goal on Wednesday.
But you still have to manage them, these emotions. How does head coach Kori Cheverie do it?
“It’s important to recognize it and talk to them about it. I don’t think any of them know what it’s going to look like. Especially here in Montreal, with the media attention and fans who prepared them from the start. […] We have good professionals in the locker room who make sure to help the youngest through all that. It’s a collective effort. »
But for Cheverie herself, it’s also a first.
“It’s really cool,” she said with a smile on her face. I try to appreciate it too. Even if you try to win a hockey game, which is very important, I haven’t had that experience. Our players are looking forward to it, but so are the staff. »
After three games on the road, a sequence at the end of which the Montrealers went for two victories, including one in overtime, they are now looking forward to being on the right side of the crowd.
“They’re going to support the rest of us, they’re going to stop booing us,” laughs star goalkeeper Ann-Renée Desbiens, who says she helped around sixty of her relatives attend the match.
“I’m really looking forward to feeling this enthusiasm,” underlines Ann-Sophie Bettez who intends to play on Saturday despite her recent absences. When someone takes a pitch, the sighs or the excitements of the crowd, it’s a different feeling. I’m really looking forward. »
The moment will not only be historic, but also memorable, according to Danièle Sauvageau.
“I’m convinced that [the players] will be standing in front of you in a few years and saying: ‘I remember it like it was yesterday!’ Memory is not just mental. It’s in the veins, in the thrills, in the feelings. »
“It’s incredible,” said Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored a hat trick in the last match. I just had the chance to meet a 14 year old girl from Fredericton. She was crying, she was so happy to see us training. […] These little girls see that they can be one of us. We don’t take this lightly. »
“It’s more than for us tomorrow. It’s for little girls, it’s for the past, for the future. »