“It seemed like it took me a while to realize that the puck was actually in the net,” recalls Ann-Sophie Bettez. There was such an energy, with 8,500 people [in the stands]. These are just beautiful moments. »
Bettez, it was she who scored the winning goal in overtime for the Montrealers of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (LPHF), Tuesday evening, in the very first match in the team’s history in this new circuit .
In an interview with La Presse two days later, the 36-year-old striker said she was “lucky” to have been “in the right place at the right time”. She highlights the work of goalkeeper Ann-René Desbiens, whose “important saves allowed [them] to get there”, as well as that of Kristin O’Neill and Kati Tabin in the construction of the game.
“It’s a great privilege to have been able to help my team win,” she says humbly.
We are in Verdun, in the corridors of the Auditorium, a few moments after the end of an intense training session on the establishment’s secondary ice rink.
If the Montreal team’s inaugural match in Ottawa was full of emotions, the dust began to settle on Thursday. Cold, what conclusions can we make from this first evening?
Bettez talks about “nerves” going into the match, the butterflies that every team seems to feel.
“At the beginning, you could see that the execution wasn’t necessarily perfect. A level of nervousness was there. But the season is so short, we don’t have much time ahead of us,” analyzes the veteran.
Bettez says she has watched the other league games so far. Including Minnesota’s victory against Boston on Wednesday evening.
“That’s kind of the same feeling I had,” she said. The third period was much better for both teams. One of the differences I noticed is really the physical game. It’s going to be about adapting and playing around that. The game was fast, physical. It was fun. »
Ann-Sophie Bettez is not the only one who noticed the importance of speed during the first LPHF matches. That was precisely the theme of the training session organized by head coach Kori Cheverie on Thursday morning.
Like these one-on-one clashes to get the puck first, then fight to keep it. Or these clearances at the back of the territory so that the players compete for possession of the disc.
“Everything revolved around speed and speed of play today,” the technician confirmed to La Presse. It will be part of the identity of this team, but also of the league. »
Small note: Cheverie even believes he saw more physical intensity in matches between Canadian teams than in those played in the United States. Since the sample is small, it cannot yet be explained very well.
This identity will inevitably develop over time and with matches. But already, the workforce in place makes it possible to establish certain bases.
“We believe we have a very intelligent team,” emphasizes Cheverie. […] We know we have the IQ, but now the execution has to match it. Our players see the game developing, so it’s a question of timing. »
The Montreal team’s schedule is tight in January: seven games in 25 days, from the 2nd to the 27th. Thursday’s training of just over an hour was therefore intense, but relatively short.
“They manage our load by ensuring that we are not overworked,” says young Claire Dalton, who had a smile on her face throughout her little interview with La Presse.
Dalton, a 20-year-old Torontonian drafted out of Yale University, is having her first experience in a professional hockey environment. She considers herself “lucky” to have been able to “simply get here”, being aware of the pitfalls that some of her contemporaries and predecessors experienced before reaching this goal.
“We feel supported in all aspects,” she says. The food is good, the training is good, we have no reason to complain. It’s super easy to perform when you feel like everything is taken care of. »
Perhaps this is why Dalton had the pleasure of scoring the very first goal in franchise history on Tuesday.
For Cheverie, the professional environment is crucial to achieve good performance, but professionalism must also come from the other side.
“What is very important for us is our players taking responsibility. Our sport is heading in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean things are going to be given to them either. They must make the right decisions for themselves, for the group, arrive on time, start on time. We do our part by creating a good environment for them, but afterward, it’s their turn to be responsible. »
And has this been the case so far?
” Oh yeah ! We have a locker room with good professionals who lead us, and young people who will continue to need to be guided. We will help them with that. We are becoming a family. »