Poulin ready for new women's pro hockey league
A woman destined to be a star player in the new North American women's professional hockey league can't wait to get started.
Canadian women's hockey team captain Marie Philip-Poulin was among the Professional Womens' Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA) membership who steadfastly pursued their vision of a women's pro league.
The PWHPA voted Sunday to ratify a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement with the new league's owners long before January's puck drop.
That step came on the heels of the announcement that Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, one of the new league's financial backers, had bought out the rival Premier Hockey Federation.
For Poulin, called "one of the greatest clutch performers this country has ever produced" when she was named The Canadian Press female athlete of the year for 2022, it's been a long road worth travelling to get to a league that met her threshold for professionalism.
"It's been years in the making," she said Tuesday in Brossard, Que.
"The amount of times we've said 'we'll see, we're working, we're working' and now we can finally say that something is happening in January that's going to be a league."
The 32-year-old from Beauceville, Que., was asked Tuesday about the as-yet-unnamed women's league at the Montreal Canadiens development camp. Poulin is a player development consultant for the Habs.
In addition to a salary range between US$35,000 to $80,000, 23-player rosters, per diem, commercial rights and trade protocols, the CBA includes competition bonuses, a retirement plan, housing stipend, long-term disability, life and health insurance, workers' compensation, maternity leave and a dependent care assistance program.
“We wanted to put a CBA in place," Poulin said. "It’s really important for us to have the necessary resources, to be paid properly, to have physio, to have doctors, to have the whole infrastructure behind us to make it professional.”
The league will start with six teams in cities also yet to be named — three in Canada and three in the United States.
Montreal and Toronto are likely two of the three Canadian locales.
"I think once some teams are announced, once team names are announced, I think people will have a sense of belonging, attaching themselves to a team and really coming out to support," Poulin said.
Walter, co-owner of the Dodgers and English Premier League club Chelsea FC, is a financial backer. The league's board will include tennis great Billie Jean King, sports executive Ilana Kloss and Dodgers president Stan Kasten.
"When we have the Walter Group and Billie Jean group coming in and helping us out, I think it says a lot," said Poulin, who pointed to Jean founding the current WTA pro tour in 1973.
"You can see where it's at right now, women's tennis. I think it's quite amazing. That's what we want to create, a viable professional league for the next generation, for ourselves."
The majority of the Canadian women's team are PWHPA members, which gave the union clout in its pursuit of a pro league.
Poulin ranks fifth in all-time points for Canada behind Hockey Hall of Famers Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Caroline Ouellette and Danielle Goyette.
Her 103 goals and 107 assists in 176 games is a 1.2 points-per-game pace over her 14 years on the national team.
Poulin captained Canada to world championship gold in both 2021 and 2022, as well as Olympic gold in Beijing last year.
The U.S. beat Canada in the final to take this year's world title in Brampton, Ont.
Poulin is the only hockey player in the world, male or female, to score goals in four consecutive Olympic finals with a total of seven in those games.
She still wants to be pushed to her limit in hockey on a daily basis, which is what she believes the new league can provide.
"Pro sport is not easy to be part of. It's a battle. You have to show up every day," Poulin said.
"Unfortunately not everybody can play. There's going to be a lot (of players) in women's hockey who are going to graduate and maybe they're going to come and try out and they're not necessarily going to make it, but that's the best part of it.
"Maybe the next year after, one of the veterans, the next one coming up may take your spot. That's what happens in the NHL. That's what happens in pro sport. That's what we want. That's what we're going to start in January."
— With files from Daniel Rainbird in Montreal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2023.