The Hamilton Spectator

Montreal eager to set women’s attendance record


Ann-Renée Desbiens isn’t comfortabl­e with Toronto holding the attendance record for a women’s hockey game.

The goalie for Montreal’s Profession­al Women’s Hockey League team believes the title should belong to her home province. And Toronto’s rival city.

“I want it in Montreal. I don’t want it in Toronto,” Desbiens said without hesitation Wednesday at the Verdun Auditorium. “Any time Montreal can beat Toronto in any area of life, I’m pretty happy about it.”

Toronto set the attendance record of 19,285 when its PWHL club hosted Montreal at Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 16.

Montreal, much to Desbiens’ delight, will have a chance to raise the bar even higher after the league announced her team would host Toronto on April 20 — a Saturday — at the Bell Centre, home of the NHL’s Canadiens, in a game being dubbed as the “Duel at the Top.”

Desbiens might consider setting her phone to “do not disturb” given the high level of interest.

“Started ringing pretty quickly with people looking for tickets. I was like, ‘There are 20,000 available, try to find some yourself,’ ” deadpanned the netminder from Clermont, Que. “But really, everyone’s excited to be there, to come support us.

“To have that kind of platform is a pleasure.”

Montreal alternate captains Laura Stacey of Kleinburg, Ont., and Erin Ambrose of Keswick, Ont., grew up bleeding blue for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, and with that came a dislike for Montreal and the Canadiens.

Stacey’s roots go even deeper. Her grandfathe­r, King Clancy, played for the Leafs in the 1930s and her family still has season tickets.

Despite how special it was to set the current record in Toronto, Ambrose said Scotiabank Arena can’t compare to the Bell Centre’s “electric” atmosphere on a Saturday night.

“I’ll even say it as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan,” Ambrose said of the Montreal venue that can accommodat­e more than 21,000 fans. “Scotiabank Arena doesn’t even come close. The fans in Montreal are way louder and way more electric.”

Stacey said the chance to set another attendance record transcends the historic rivalry.

Whether it’s Montreal or Toronto, she views the moment as a victory for women’s hockey and a sign of the PWHL’s success in the circuit’s inaugural season.

“When you’re breaking records of this sort, it’s more than just Montreal versus Toronto — it’s for women’s hockey,” Stacey said. “It’s just another testament to this league — what we’ve created — but also where it’s going.

“One day we want the records to kind of be the norm.”

The Bell Centre will be the sixth NHL rink to host a PWHL game after Ottawa and Boston play Saturday at Detroit’s Little Caesar’s Arena. Toronto and Montreal — tied atop the league standings heading into Wednesday’s action — then face off Sunday at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.

Montreal has already played before four of the top-five crowds this season. The novelty won’t wear off before April 20.

“It’s gonna be epic,” Ambrose said. “You look at Scotiabank Arena and how full it was, and I can’t wait to be able to say that Montreal can beat that.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada