PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) has officially announced its expansion to Montreal, Quebec for the 2022-23 season. Much of the details, including the team name, roster & schedule, will be announced in the future.
The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) has officially announced its expansion to Montreal, Quebec for the 2022-23 season. Most of the details (including the team name, roster, and schedule) will be announced in the future.
Talks of the PHF entering the Montreal market date back to 2016, when the then-NWHL teased expansion to Toronto and Montreal on the broadcast after the first-ever Isobel Cup Final. The modern iteration of the Montreal team has seemingly been in the works for a while, as Kirsten Whelan reported in March 2021. On Monday at 8:45, the PHF sent out a notice for a media availability regarding the expansion, which took place virtually at 10:00 AM on Tuesday July 12.
"Today, we're able to announce our full commitment to expanding into Montreal," said PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey. "It's been a well-vetted, thorough process to get us to where we can ensure that we have right people, the right place and the right time for us to take this next step here for the PHF."
The team is owned by BTM Partners, run by partners John & Johanna Boynton, Miles Arnone, and Bryant McBride. Digit Murphy is BTM Partners' Senior Vice President. BTM Partners also owns the Boston Pride, Metropolitan Riveters, and Toronto Six. (The sale of the Six to a group of investors is still pending.)
Kevin Raphael will serve as the team's president, while Emmanuel Anderson will serve as vice president.
"I've been working so hard for the past four years now to bring a team back in Montreal after what happened," Raphael said, seemingly referring to the 2019 folding of the CWHL and Les Canadiennes.
"I believe in women's hockey. I believe they should be treated as professionals, and I believe that we have the fanbase and the infrastructure in the province of Quebec to support strongly a pro women's hockey team," he added.
After Les Canadiennes de Montréal and the CWHL as a whole folded in 2019, the PWHPA structured one of its hubs out of Montreal and most recently held a showcase at Verdun's Centre 21.02 in March 2022.
The PHF's Montreal team is anticipated to promote women's hockey in Quebec in a number of ways. Raphael said he expects most of the team's players to be from the area and noted the talent that has come from the province.
"We have the best talent in the world," he continued. "Just look at any World Championship or Olympics. Who are the best players? Who was the best goalie? Who was the clutch player? A person from Quebec. I want to build from here, and I want to make sure that the next generation sees that and can be like, My goal isn't to play for the Montreal Canadiens. My goal is to play for the 'X' of Montreal."
"Our territory is Quebec. Our home is Quebec," Raphael said. "Yes, we're going to have players from everywhere, but mainly from our city. I want the people to be proud of our squad."
Raphael said his phone has been "blowing up" since the announcement and called the new squad "Canada's team" (though of course, the Toronto Six already exist). He said he doesn't expect it to be long before the team starts signing players, although they do not appear to have any other staff (such as a general manager) in place at this time.
Amid the expansion announcement, there have also been some questions about the timing of it. Other PHF teams began signing players as early as May, and it appears that players were not made aware of the expansion at that time – nor of their option to play in Montreal if they wished to pursue that.
When asked, Carey appeared to brush off the question, referencing back to the expectation that the team will mainly be composed of local players, and simply said: "There's not going to be any lack of interest and roster-building for Kevin. In fact, he might have his roster sealed before the rest of the teams do. Let the competition begin."
Rather than having a single home arena for the first season, the team will play a "barnstorming" season in rinks around the province. While Centre 21.02 will be their training hub, they'll play their home games at a variety of rinks throughout Quebec, including some as far from Montreal as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Quebec.
"I think it's really important to go everywhere, and to grow the game that normally women's hockey or simply hockey doesn't go," Raphael added.
With the addition of Montreal, the PHF schedule is expected to expand and will be released at a later date. Raphael also said that he expects the Montreal team to largely travel to their home games a day earlier, to give players time to rest.
In his media availability Tuesday, Raphael also said that he expects the team to spend to the salary cap, and that no player will make the minimum salary.
Montreal will be the lone expansion franchise for the 2022-23 season and the seventh team in the PHF. Carey spoke briefly about expansion overall, and why Montreal makes sense for the next team.
"When you take a look at the history, the active rich hockey community in Montreal, the people that are in place to help us drive the sport forward. This was an essential market for us, and we're really excited to see what we can do here," Carey said.
The PHF had previously expected to announce an additional expansion team in the United States for the 2022-23 season. Among the speculated candidates: Pittsburgh, Hershey, Madison, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia.
"We have to balance our decision to grow and expose the game and build new fans and energize the next generation of players," Carey said. "I think we're in a thriving time for the league, which puts us in a great position to be strategic about where we want to go, and how we want to grow as we move forward."
"This is certainly an opportunity for us to take a step back, which is why Montreal will be a great step forward for us in season eight. But it gives us an opportunity to really evaluate what season nine looks like, and what's in the best interest of growing the league and for our players," she added.
Carey noted that it's not just about finding ownership for teams, but about finding ownership that fits.
"There's a lot of people out there that want to scoop up and buy teams, or that want to just put a lot of cash toward women's sports right now, which is terrific for our industry," she said. "But you also have a responsibility to make sure that it aligns with all the values and vision for the league."
"Our effort will be about making sure that we're making great business decisions, and that we're finding opportunities for business development and revenue generation, but it won't be at the cost of us doing anything that's not in line with our values," she added.
Thank you to Alex Azzi and Mike Murphy for providing audio & video recordings of the PHF's media availability to announce the Montreal expansion.