For some of hockey’s best based out of Montreal, the offseason contained a
little more fun and friendly competition than in years past.
In just its second season, the Living Sisu Hockey League (LSHL) caught the
eyes of many this summer, with a splashy social media presence that
showcased a lively atmosphere where NHLers and elite women’s players
prepped shoulder-to-shoulder for their upcoming seasons.
Split across four teams, players like Zach Fucale, Pierre-Luc Dubois,
Jonathan Huberdeau and Kris Letang highlighted the men’s division, while
Canada’s National Women’s Team
—Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Renée Desbiens, Laura Stacey, Mélodie Daoust,
Jessie Eldridge and more—shone on the women’s side.
Coming off a golden year that saw Canada take home both an
IIHF Women’s World Championship
, the league was a fun and challenging part of Stacey’s offseason training
as she prepared for a new season, beginning with National Women’s Team
selection camp in August ahead of the 2022 women’s worlds.
“Like any hockey player when you’re training in the summer, you do your
drills, you’re working out, working on skills,” says the 5-foot-9 forward.
“But what we’re really missing is that team atmosphere, that competitive
atmosphere where we push each other and get better.
“It was a lot of fun; it was something to get the whole group together and
look forward to every Monday night.”
But Stacey is quick to note that while comradery and community highlighted
the league, competition was still the name of the game, expressing with a
laugh her disappointment at a semifinal knockout for her and her
teammates—the loss of bragging rights amongst her national teammates even
Desbiens earned those honours, taking a 9-6 win over Stacey’s squad.
For Desbiens, while the win was sweet, she relished the opportunity to keep
competing over the summer in a fun way, saying, “Sometimes in the summer
it's more about just practicing and skills, but with the league all of us
were looking forward to being in that team setting, being able to compete,
keep track of the score, playoffs. It got very competitive, but it was also
the highlight of the week for all of us.”
The 3-on-3 play offered plenty of opportunity to work on small-area games
and apply skill work in a competitive setting against top athletes from
across the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) and Professional Women’s Hockey
Players Association (PWHPA).
“As a goalie, 3-on-3 might not be the most ideal setting, I'll be honest,”
Desbiens says with a laugh. “It definitely adds more odd-number situations,
more tips, screens, rebounds. Every shot is a threat, breakaways. It's
definitely very challenging, very fast-paced, very back and forth. Got to
play the puck quite a bit so that made it even more enjoyable, but very
challenging as a goalie, but that's what makes it fun.”
Beyond the benefit to their play on the ice, the LSHL pulled in fans in the
arena and online with ample social media coverage exposing the new league
to hockey fans in Montreal and across the country.
“They did a great job, they had a ton of coverage,” says Stacey. “We had
full stands. It was a great crowd and a good energy. It just shows that
people want to see it. They want to come out and see our games and social
media is huge for getting that message out.”
While professional women’s leagues are growing, the opportunity for most
Canadians to watch these athletes is still centred around international
competition and the Olympics, with Desbiens noting that the coverage of the
LSHL provided a window into the day-to-day fun the athletes have, the
summer competition providing another opportunity for visibility.
“I think that's what was special about that league is we had university
players, U SPORTS, we had NCAA, we had a lot of different [players],” the
goaltender adds. “If you come to watch, you'll see names that you might
have never heard of before, but you should probably know them.”
With a 3-on-3 championship under her belt, Desbiens will look to add
another, this time alongside Stacey, at the 2022 women’s worlds in Denmark.
Canada comes in as the reigning world and Olympic champions, with all eyes
on it as it tries to go back-to-back for the first time since 2001.
Stacey notes the excitement and curiosity she’s received from other
players, looking for opportunities similar in areas like Toronto and
Calgary, and how the visibility and training opportunity the LSHL has
created can only help to build women’s hockey as a whole.
“I just think that anytime you can get that awareness and that excitement
out there, it helps grow the game.”
Follow all of the action as Canada’s National Women’s Team competes at the
2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship.