After hanging up her skates in the aftermath of the 2015 Clarkson Cup finals, becoming the first captain to lead her team to five finals appearances (and the first to win three), an even brighter future ahead could not have been anticipated for CWHL All-Star Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux. Making the transition to coaching, her wisdom, acumen and kind heart set the stage for an opportunity to continue to make a tremendous impact.
The inaugural season spent as a coach represented the beginning of a new transitional chapter not just for Breton-Lebreux but the entire team as well, an upward progression that ran parallel. As a founder of the Montreal Stars, the team was rechristened as Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the summer of 2015. This name change was an eminently appropriate opportunity to commemorate the partnership launched with the iconic Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, symbolizing a progressive elevation towards significance.
Serving on Dany Brunet’s coaching staff with Les Canadiennes, it signified how Breton-Lebreux’s impact grew wider within the game, comprising a unique duality in her career. In addition, there was a unique parallel as former teammate (and current Canadiennes star) Julie Chu balanced playing duties with a role as the co-head coach at Concordia University, where Breton-Lebreux (who led Concordia to a national championship in ice hockey as a student-athlete) has spent many seasons working as a strength and conditioning coach for numerous varsity programs, both male and female.
Part of Breton-Lebreux’s success as a coach involved the fact that Les Canadiennes finished first overall in the league standings. Capturing 21 wins, while boasting the league’s best defense and the most prolific offensive attack, leading the league with 114 goals for, 17 better than second-ranked Calgary, it was a remarkable coaching debut for her.
“Actually, it was really fun. I enjoyed myself. It was a different position but I still felt involved in the whole journey. Dany (Brunet) is a great coach and he taught me a lot. He also helped me to facilitate the players learning through drills, videos and meetings.
Recognized for their success as regular season champions at the annual CWHL Awards (held during Clarkson Cup weekend), such an evening also represented individual honors for multiple members of Les Canadiennes. On an evening that saw Charline Labonte obtain CWHL Goaltender of the Year honors for the second year in a row, it was also a coming out party for Marie-Philip Poulin.
Of note, Poulin grabbed the Angela James Bowl (awarded to the CWHL’s scoring champion) and the Most Valuable Player Award, complementing her All-Star Game MVP nod earlier this season. The success of Poulin represented a unique passing of the torch, as this star-filled night resulted in the correlation of a considerable women’s hockey lineage, one that would gain lustre with the recognition Breton-Lebreux’s pioneering presence.
Named the recipient of the CWHL’s Humanitarian Award (which was first awarded in 2013), it complemented another key milestone in Breton-Lebreux’s great career, earning the prestigious Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award, which is awarded to an active player by Hockey Canada in recognition of dedication and leadership in women’s ice hockey. It is part of a body of work that has merited a special place in sporting Canadiana for Breton-Lebreux. Of note, she joins the likes of Samantha Holmes, Cassie Campbell and Lois Mitchell as other winners of the prestigious Humanitarian Award.
“I was really surprised by that. CWHL recognized my work and I was honored and happy. They snuck in my parents and my girlfriend. When I turned around and saw them, it was a nice surprise. It is fun when you are recognized.”
My teammates were all really happy for me. They came and thanked me for the work that I did. Even players from the other team in attendance (at the awards) came to thank me.”
In addition to the award, there was a pair of milestones that succeeded in augmenting her legend. The first took place on December 31, 2015, the first-ever professional outdoor game in women’s hockey history was contested. Simultaneously, it represented the first match between the CWHL and the NWHL as Les Canadiennes visited Gillette Stadium to face off against the eventual Isobel Cup champion Boston Pride. Serving as a seminal moment in Breton-Lebreux’s career, it signified a remarkable pinnacle, once again placing her at the heartbeat of so many historic milestones in franchise history.
“I was really fortunate to be part of this game. Being behind the bench was an incredible moment in my career. We were treated like professionals. We had to change at a different arena and the police actually escorted us to the stadium. It was a magic moment, absolutely breathtaking. We were like kids in a candy store. Behind the bench, it was pretty warm actually. It was a bit windy but the sun was out so it was not that bad. We came back to watch the alumni game (between the Bruins and Canadiens). We also made appearances in some of the luxury boxes meeting sponsors.”
The second milestone achieved during the season involved Breton-Lebreux’s return to the Clarkson Cup finals, validating her hard work and team first approach. Once again, history was the predominant theme as this was the first-ever Cup final contested in an NHL arena. With Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre as the backdrop, Breton-Lebreux became the first ever individual to have been part of a Cup final as both a player and a coach. Although Sommer West was the first former CWHL player to capture a Cup title as a coach, West had never appeared in a Cup final as a player. Although the final score was in favor of the Calgary Inferno, a visceral loss for all involved with Montreal, it was an invaluable learning experience for Breton-Lebreux. One that shall make a Cup win in the future so much more gratifying.
“I would have loved to have won it, but we will need to wait another day. It was more new for me being a coach than a player because you have no control (on the ice). You saw how the game turned out and it was like, ‘What can we do? What is happening?’ It was difficult to have no control. Calgary came out stronger than us, we just had a bad day.”
A throwback to the times when Montreal’s premier women’s ice hockey team went by the sobriquet Axion (pronounced Action), Breton-Lebreux forged a path built on the dream of possibility, eventually helping to launch the CWHL with six other players. While her astonishing accomplishments are numerous, a living linkage to a significant resurgence of modern women’s hockey in Quebec, the fact that she remains relevant beyond her playing days is a true feel-good story in the game, as the current involvement of the players from former time shall help to transform them into the leaders of tomorrow.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”