The realization that young girls were sporting her name on the back of their Les Canadiennes de Montréal jerseys caused Marie-Philip Poulin’s jaw to drop following the Canadian Women’s Hockey League all-star game.
“That’s quite an honour, that’s for sure. Sometimes I wear an (Canadiennes teammates Caroline) Ouellette jersey myself,” said the humble forward, whose two goals spurred Team Black to a 5-1 win against Team White at the Air Canada Centre Saturday afternoon.
You’d be forgiven if you were surprised by Poulin’s surprise. The Canadian forward has made a name for herself over the past two Olympic cycles as the United States’ worst enemy, scoring the winning goal in the gold medal games at both the Vancouver and Sochi Winter Games.
Given her relatively young age — she was 18 when the Winter Olympics were last held on Canadian soil — Poulin’s meteoric rise has garnered comparisons to Sidney Crosby.
The more than 6,000 fans on hand at Saturday’s game — coupled with a weekend of perks like hotel rooms, team dinners and fans encounters — made Poulin feel much like the Pittsburgh Penguins forward during her first all-star experience.
“You can tell that the growth of women’s hockey is really going,” she said. “We’ve been treated like a professional.”
The 34 players put on an end-to-end show for a crowd filled with aspiring young hockey players. And that’s what the day was all about, said Canadian hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser, another all-star rookie.
“These are the kids I’m going to be watching on TV one day,” she said. “This is the next generation of the game, so it’s important that they have a good experience when they come.”
To show off the best of the best, though, Wickenheiser said the CWHL has to amalgamate with its American counterparts in the National Women’s Hockey League, a paid league who will run an all-star game of its own in Buffalo on Sunday.
More than half of the players on the NWHL all-star game’s roster have played in the CWHL in the last five years, and eight of them played in the CWHL’s inaugural all-star game last year.
Wickenheiser’s vision is for one league of six or eight teams within two conferences. She hopes to get the NHL involved, suggesting NHL arenas host women’s games prior to the men’s games.
“It’s always a case of chicken and the egg. You need corporate dollars to grow the game and you need television. If you don’t have one you don’t get the other. That’s where the crux of the game is right now.”
That’s why fans like those who paid to see Saturday’s game are so important.
Corporations need to know there is a market for the women’s league, that “it’s not just a goodwill thing anymore,” Wickenheiser said.
She admittedly won’t be the mastermind behind such plans, but Wickenheiser believes they are necessary moves.
“I’m not really sure how it will play out, but I know two leagues can’t survive. I think everyone knows that in the women’s game.”