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For upcoming PHF season, expansion begins and ends with Montreal

Les Canadiennes de Montreal, a CWHL team and the most recent women’s professional team in Montreal, made history in 2015 as part of the first women’s professional hockey game to be played outdoors. (Winslow Townson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

For Kevin Raphaël, the goal of a Premier Hockey Federation expansion team in Montreal dates back to 2019, when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded and left the city without a women’s professional team.

His work toward that goal came to fruition Tuesday, when the league announced its seventh team — and announced Raphaël as president of the new Montreal franchise.

“I’m proud to be present on this team,” Raphaël said. “I’ve been working so hard for the past four years now, to bring a team back to Montreal. I believe in women’s hockey, I believe they should be treated as professionals. I believe that we have the fan base and the infrastructure in the province of Quebec to support strongly a pro women’s hockey team.”

For those in the PHF, the addition of a team in Montreal has been a long time coming, even for commissioner Reagan Carey, who took on the job a little over two months ago.

“This has been circled on my list as a top priority since day one,” said Carey, who also called Montreal an “essential market” for the league. “In these last few months, there’s been a real awareness of the commitment not just of the ownership, but our front office to continue to build and add people. Montreal is an extension of just the credibility, the passion and purpose behind who we’re bringing on board with the PHF.”

BTM Partners will start out as Montreal’s ownership group, news not included in Tuesday’s announcement but confirmed by Carey. With that, the group now owns four of seven teams in the PHF (Montreal, Boston Pride, Metropolitan Riveters, Toronto Six). Back in March, it was announced that a BIPOC-led ownership group would be purchasing the Six, although according to Carey that sale is still in progress and has yet to officially close.

Carey called the sale a “priority” and a “continued discussion” similar to the ones that were had about adding a Montreal franchise.

Eventually, the league would like to see all seven teams owned by separate entities. Still, Raphaël made clear Tuesday that, for now at least, he’s just the Montreal team’s president.

“We’ll see later what will happen, but right now my job is to put the best team on the ice possible,” he said.

His goal for the team in Montreal is “to bring something to our women athletes.”

“My goal is to treat the players as professionals, to make sure they get paid for all the efforts they make, all the training — they train as much as the boys, and they do not get nothing,” he said. “So my mission is to make sure that we do right by the players, we do right by the sacrifice that they’ve made for the past four years.”

As the team looks to establish itself in the Montreal market, it will play “home” games around Quebec.

The PHF wants to grow support for professional women’s hockey within communities that may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience it. The league also anticipates that a lot of local players will want to join the new team, making it important that team leaders are connected throughout the province.

For training, the new franchise call Centre 21.02 home — the first and only recognized High Performance Hockey Center for women athletes across Canada.

As the PHF is already a few months into free agency, Raphaël likely faces an uphill battle in signing players. That’s part of the reason that the franchise announcement, which included minimal information beyond the addition of the team, came when it did: The league wanted to put Raphaël in a position to field the best team possible.

“I had been asked already about the concern of the timing of announcing this team,” said Carey. “I think there’s not going to be any lack of interest and roster building for Kevin [Raphaël]. In fact, he might have his roster sealed before the rest of the teams do. So we’ll let the competition begin.”

Boston Pride player and PHF Players Association member Mallory Souliotis told On Her Turf that news of the expansion team was sent to players’ reps early Tuesday morning ahead of the league’s official announcement.

Raphaël, meanwhile, played potential difficulties off due to the history of hockey in the community and player’s desires to play in Montreal. Several high-profile Canadian players, like Ann-Renée Desbiens, Marie-Philip Poulin and Mélodie Daoust, hail from Quebec.

“We have the best talent in the world. You just look at any world championship or Olympics, who are the best players? Who is the best goalies? Who is the clutch player? (It’s a) person from Quebec,” said Raphaël.

And while that’s certainly true, those players most recently have been committed to the PWHPA, which has plans to launch its own league.

So far this offseason, though, two players from the PWHPA — Brittany Howard and U.S. Olympian Amanda Pelkey — have signed with PHF teams. And, according to Raphaël, the announcement of a Montreal team has been met with buzz from players.

“We wanted to enter as a team before making moves. I’m not gonna lie that my phone’s been blowing up right now,” he said. “A lot of players want to play with Montreal. I think they know that Montreal is something else. We are Canada’s team.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be long before we sign players because a lot of people are hitting up my phone right now. I will answer every single call and we’ll build the best team possible to win the Isobel Cup.”

Other announcements, like the team’s name, game locations and its coaching staff, will come later.

There will also be discussions about further expansion teams. While many – including the league – had anticipated eight PHF teams gracing the ice in the league’s upcoming eighth season, there will only be seven.

This year’s expansion begins and ends with Montreal. Carey says the one-team increase is the right move for the league.

“We have other markets we’ve explored,” said Carey, adding that they are still looking into expansion teams for the league’s ninth season and beyond. “It’s my responsibility, once I got here a few months ago, to really vet and assess what is best for the league right now and what’s best for the long term.

“I feel very confident and strongly about this being the right move for the league.”

In the meantime, Raphaël, a French cable TV broadcaster, is looking forward to helping grow women’s hockey one step at a time.

“I have so many things I want to do for this team,” he said. “If I could do everything in a year, I would not sleep.”

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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Team USA, Germany Play Pre-Olympic Exhibition Game in London

Team USA's 5x5 Basketball Team stands for the National Anthem before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Team USA looks to rebound from Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game loss in an exhibition against Germany today. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball's 5x5 team will tip off in an exhibition against Germany in London this afternoon, getting in one last tune-up before the Summer Olympics begin.

The US is hunting an eighth-straight gold medal this year, with group stage play starting on July 29th.

Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to face Germany in pre-Olympic exhibition.
Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to take on Germany in London. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

US to use All-Star loss as fuel

Coming off the weekend's All-Star Game loss, the Olympians are ready to repeat history: They earned their Tokyo gold medal immediately after losing the first Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game back in 2021.

Breanna Stewart, who led Team USA with a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double on Saturday, said that the defeat "is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities, [and now] we can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better."

Today’s tilt against Germany will see the US work to lock in their defense, particularly in the paint. They'll also lean into their positional versatility before heading to Paris.

WNBA pro Satou Sabally leads Team Germany in today's pre-Olympic exhibition game against Team USA.
WNBA pro Satou Sabally helped Germany to their first-ever Olympic berth. (Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Olympic debutants Germany enter first US clash

The exhibition marks the first-ever US-Germany linkup. The German team will make their Olympic debut in Paris after decades of failing to qualify for major international competitions. Their sixth-place 2023 EuroBasket finish sent them into February’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they punched their ticket to the 2024 Games.

Leading Germany's run was two-time WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally, who put up career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, and steals with Dallas last season. Her 20-point, 11-rebound double-double was the difference-maker in Germany's must-win 73-71 Olympic qualifying victory over Brazil.

Other German players to watch include 2022 NY Liberty draft-pick — and Sabally's sister — Nyara Sabally, along with Liberty sharpshooter Leonie Fiebich.

Where to watch the Team USA vs. Germany game

Today’s exhibition tips off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on FS1.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: USWNT Star Jaedyn Shaw Is Expecting “Dubs All Around”

retired uswnt star kelley o'hara interviewing san diego wave and uswnt forward jaedyn shaw
'1v1' is back with Jaedyn Shaw joining Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, San Diego Wave and USWNT star Jaedyn Shaw joins two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from the 19-year-old Wave FC phenom about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her experience with international competition at this point in her young career, and how she's preparing to take on the 2024 Summer Games.

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The 91st: Complete USWNT & Olympic Soccer Preview Featuring Jess McDonald

Logo for JWS USWNT Olympic show The 91st
The latest season of JWS' awarding-winning Olympics show 'The 91st' premieres today. (Just Women's Sports)

We're back! Hosts Jordan Angeli, Duda Pavao, and retired USWNT forward Jess McDonald deliver a full preview of this year's Olympic soccer tournament in Paris.

Watch for full analysis of USWNT manager Emma Hayes's coaching style, this team's shifting identity in this new USWNT era, and a projected starting XI for the team's group stage opener against Zambia. The 91st hosts also break down all three Olympic groups — including top players and teams to track throughout the tournament — plus give their predictions for the medal rounds and individual awards.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

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