As far as expansion teams go, the newest kids on the block didn't necessarily have the dream run of the Toronto Six or the Minnesota Whitecaps. Still, La Force de Montréal made life a lot harder for nearly every opponent in its inaugural season, missing the playoffs but establishing a reputation as a team to watch out for. With a speedy offense, some gutsy goaltending, and a physical style that sometimes got them into trouble, the Force was strong but still has some growing pains to go through.
The good news is team president Kevin Raphaël and the Force organization have gotten things off to a good start this free agency, and the bones are there for a good team that's a ton of fun to watch.
Regular Season at a Glance
8-14-2, 6th place, 23 points -- missed playoffs
-14 goal differential
Power Play -- 13 percent; Penalty Kill -- 88 percent
Jade Downie-Landry (10 G, 13 A, 23 total pts)
Ann-Sophie Bettez (11 G)
Tricia Deguire (15 GP, 5-9-0, .918%, 1 SO)
Downie-Landry and Bettez: A Revelation on the Top Line
As one of the most prolific scorers in Canadian pro hockey, it stood to reason that Ann-Sophie Bettez would be a name to watch when she was announced as La Force's first-ever captain. No one would be better to help lead the charge to bring back women's pro hockey to Montréal -- and indeed, she would score the first goal in Force history, punctuating that with 10 more and 11 assists over the course of the season. Her efforts earned her a nomination for Newcomer of the Year.
In contrast, her linemate Jade Downie-Landry was a blatant snub for Rookie of the Year, as she was absolutely a standout in her first-ever professional season. Her speed and accuracy perfectly complemented Bettez's playmaking ability, resulting in the two of them carrying much of the offense for Montréal last year. While many of the forwards took some time to get used to the PHF style of play, it seemed like these two clicked immediately, so seeing another season of them tearing up the ice is incredibly exciting.
Seeking Strength on Defense
The offense looks to be shaping up for Montréal with some splashy newcomers (including Élizabeth Giguère) and the retention of some key depth players (like Kristina Shanahan, Bettez and Downie-Landry, as well as Brooke Stacey). The real question mark will now be on the blueline, which has retained much of its core, including standout Taylor Baker and blocked shots leader Christine Deaudelin.
La Force have made a great acquisition in that regard with the arrival of Emma Keenan. Keenan, a third-year veteran with a physical edge, is coming off of a season with the Connecticut Whale where she tallied three goals and nine points and blocked 12 shots. She might take a few penalties as well, but I think the skill and positioning she has is well worth the tradeoff and she can fit in well amongst the top four.
In addition, they have added rookie Emily Rickwood out of UNH. Rickwood is another proven shot blocker and stay-at-home defender who also led the entire program in games played throughout her college career (163). Overall, at a glance it looks like the org liked what it saw from its first year's defense for the most part, but wants a little more stability to ensure it can stymie the league's best offenses.
What can we expect from the newest Montreal signings?
Obviously, the two biggest signings for La Force this off-season have been Giguère and Corinne Schroeder out of Boston. Schroeder nabbed Rookie and Goaltender of the Year Awards at the end of an unreal first pro season, including 19 wins, seven shutouts, and an All-Star bid. The duo of Tricia Deguire and Marie-Soleil Deschênes certainly did their job last year, but when a tendy like that becomes available, you don't say no.
The same can be said with Giguère, who made a formidable pair with Loren Gabel on the Pride, but will be taking her playmaking skills back to her home province. Raphaël indicated in the Force's press release announcing the signings that he would be looking for some great things to come from her, and I can't help but join him in that especially considering how explosive Montréal's offense can be. I can't imagine Giguère will be anywhere but on the top line with Bettez and Downie-Landry, but we'll see at puck drop.
Another signing I'm intrigued by is that of Theresa Schafzahl. Raphaël said the Force were gunning for her from the word "go," and that conviction says a lot. Schafzahl also already has ties to the team through Kristina Shanahan, who was a teammate and linemate during the 2021-22 season. Shanahan had a strong finish to the year, and I love what she can do with her speed and her hands. With Schafzahl's reputation as a strong playmaker, I think this could be the next duo amongst the Force's top six.
It really seems like things are coming together for La Force. They built a strong foundation in their inaugural season. Season Two seems like it's all about really challenging those top teams. Of course, they will have to contend with teams that are continuously on the bubble (like Metro and Minnesota), but if nothing else, they will make it very entertaining.