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Women's Professional Hockey League |  Former PHF stars had to find new roles

Women's Professional Hockey League | Former PHF stars had to find new roles

Last season, Gillian Dempsey finished third among scorers in the defunct Premier Hockey League, the league in which the Montreal Force notably played. The Boston Pride captain, who was also the all-time leading scorer in the circuit, easily had more than one point per game.

This season, with Montreal of the Women's Professional Hockey League (LPHF), the 33-year-old American has so far collected just 4 points, including one goal, in 19 games. During her last club game, on March 24, she spent barely 6:32 minutes on the ice.

Dempsey's case is not unique. In the new circuit, with few exceptions, PHF veterans were outmatched offensively by players, mostly Canadians and Americans, from national programs.

Only two of the top 20 scorers in the Lebanese Football League, and 6 of the top 40 scorers, played in the Philippine League in the 2022-2023 season. A few recruits coming through the college ranks complete the picture. Moreover, until now, the spectacle is primarily the affair of Olympic athletes.

For example, Manitoban Sarah Bujold of Montreal has collected dozens of points over the past four seasons in the SDHL, Sweden and PHF. In D.C., she has 3 points in 19 games.

In fact, the top 10 scorers in the Philippine League last season saw their production decline during the tournament's inaugural season. They certainly had full-time jobs, but in supporting roles.

Not all of them were completely erased, on the contrary. In Montreal, for example, defender Katie Tappin has been eating up the minutes, as has newcomer Amanda Boullier. Before moving to Ottawa, striker Tereza Vanisova was among the club's top scorers.

But the disconnect is clear. The timing was perfect to discuss the matter on Wednesday, with the major players competing in the World Championships in New York State.

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At Verdun Hall, about fifteen players and two goalkeepers returned to training this week after a few days of rest. The rink looked big, in the absence of Marie-Philip Poulin, Laura Stacy, Christine O'Neill, Erin Ambrose, Anne-Renée Debiens and head coach Corey Chevery, all of whom were at the World Championships.

This nearly four-week long vacation may seem strange in peak season, but “we had work to do,” says Sarah Lefort. We can assume she was specifically referring to the four defeats her team suffered before the break.

Quebec has seen almost every level of play in women's hockey to date. Over the past decade, she played in the NCAA (at Boston University), in the now-defunct Canadian League (with the Canadiens), in the now-defunct PFA, and then in the now-defunct PHF (with the Forces de Montreal). Here she is today at the LPHF.

With the Force, last year, she collected 10 points in 17 games. After 19 games this season, she only has 5.

“You have to fight and fight your way every day to get a position,” says the 30-year-old striker. But this is how you can get the best product on the ice. »

There is a mathematical logic behind the current phenomenon. The PHF had seven teams, and the PFA, four. With a new circuit comprising six clubs, cheating became inevitable. Dozens of players lost their jobs. Veterans have seen their situation change, sometimes radically.

“I expected it, but I think others expected it less,” Lefort analyzes. We've seen since the beginning of training camp that that will be the case. »

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The players interviewed in unison praised the “depth” of the LPHF teams. “There's talent everywhere,” sums up former Toronto Six player Katie Tappin at PHF.

“Each team has four lines that would be a top line in any other league,” adds Gillian Dempsey. At 33 years old, and after a decade of professional hockey, the forward takes a clear look at the complete change in her career.

“It's a matter of opportunity,” she says. When you played 25 minutes before, but only 6 or 7 minutes today, you have to take advantage of every opportunity. This is an important difference for many players. We must do more with less. There was a lot of talent in the Philippine Football Federation, great players, and many of them are playing here now. But there was more variation between the attacking trio or defensive duo. »

It's like my rookie season for me. I had to move on and join a new team. I've just spent eight years with the same club, playing a leadership role. Everything is different here.

Gillian Dempsey


In addition to the talent available, we can also ask what is the fundamental difference that separates last year's PHF from today's LPHF, that players who had so much success in the first round are struggling so much to generate revenue, and are struggling in the second.

In general, fewer goals were scored in the Lebanese Football League compared to the leagues that preceded it. has already been established Journalism A few weeks ago. The quality of goalkeepers was then targeted as the main factor. The argument comes up again: In the Philippine Football Federation, “every team had a good goalkeeper, but then, he was average,” asserts Katie Tabin.

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However, some agree that the gap between the two leagues is not solely due to the intelligence of the jailers.

“There's a lot of strategies, recruiting, and videos,” says Sarah Lefort. We see this every day. It allows us to reach another level in terms of implementation. There is also less time and space. The game is generally faster. »

If the difference is clear on the ice, it is also clear behind the bench. In this sense, gains in professionalism are being observed at all levels.

“Everyone uses a very efficient structure,” says goalkeeper Elaine Cholly. There are fewer opportunities to get high quality, and fewer redundant numbers as well. »

From a mindset that generally relied on attack, we now move to “defense first.”

The defenders are good, the goalkeepers are good… it's really very close.

Elaine Cholly

The game is also more physical than ever, believes Gillian Dempsey. In this regard, all players are still finding their bearings. “We're still trying to understand what a penalty is or isn't, and I think the referees are too. That's hard to measure sometimes. But that physical aspect makes the game different from anything we've seen before.”

No matter what changes they face, it is up to the players to adapt, recalls the veteran.

“Our role is changing, but we have to find our own way to contribute and gain the trust of our team,” she concludes.

Even if it means spending long periods on the bench and losing ranks in the time clock column.