Kori Cheverie is embracing the culture and the cuisine of her new home. Montreal’s Professional Women’s Hockey League coach also wants to get comfortable with the language, but knows she has her work cut out for her.
General manager Daniele Sauvageau gave her hire some friendly ribbing at the team’s news conference to open training camp Wednesday ahead of the league’s inaugural season.
Sauvageau, speaking in French, joked that it’s up to Cheverie to make sure the offensive team she’s built plays with structure.
She then switched to English, turned to Cheverie and said, “Did you understand that?”
“Most of it,” said Cheverie, with a smile, as laughs went around the room.
Cheverie, hired in September, moved to Montreal to coach the city’s PWHL team, but hitting the ice to set up drills and working on X’s and O’s aren’t the only ways she’ll be spending her time.
The 36-year-old from New Glasgow, N.S., says “depending on the week” she’s taking two to three French lessons every seven days.
“I’m pretty immersed in it, I’m still gaining confidence with speaking it in public,” said Cheverie. “I have to speak a lot with my teacher because she makes me, and I have to practice too – that’s the hard part. It’s like even from Friday to Monday, I’m like, ‘oh my god, I have to get back into French mode.’”
Elsewhere in the city, Major League Soccer club CF Montreal has not always had French-speaking coaches and current Montreal Alouettes head coach Jason Maas, who’s in Hamilton for Sunday’s CFL Grey Cup, doesn’t speak French either as a native of Beaver Dam, Wisc.
The Montreal Canadiens have long had an unwritten rule that the team’s head coach must speak Quebec’s official language.
In 2011, Randy Cunneyworth received criticism – including a protest outside Bell Centre – for being the first bench boss since Al MacNeil in 1971 to only speak English when he took over on an interim basis from fired head coach Jacques Martin.
Cheverie says she’s focused on the things she can control.
“I was hired to do a job and the fact that I’m putting a lot of effort and energy into learning French is probably a bonus for everybody,” she said. “I’m sure there’s people who come into a Montreal market and don’t do that.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and wanted to pay more attention to and now hockey is my vehicle to do it.”
Cheverie says the lessons are a good release in a life that revolves around hockey from the second she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed.
PWHL Montreal opened training camp with fitness testing Wednesday and players will take the ice for a first practice on Saturday.
All six PWHL will gather Dec. 3-7 in Utica, N.Y., for preseason scrimmages before a 24-game regular season begins some time in early January.
“It’s been really cool to not only be [learning French] for a sport, but it’s an amazing life skill and a moment for me to just not think about hockey for a minute,” she said. “Because all I do is think about hockey.”
Beyond coaching Montreal, Cheverie also works as an assistant for Canada’s women’s national team and a guest coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins. She was on an NHL bench in September for a Penguins preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The busy schedule, which included a trip to Los Angeles and Tempe, Ariz., for the Canada-U.S. Rivalry Series last week, hasn’t allowed Cheverie to spend that much time in Montreal yet.
But she’s already discovered a lot of things she loves about the city – including the pancakes at Arthurs Nosh Bar on Notre-Dame Street – and can’t wait to find more.
“Everybody always told me that Montreal has the best food, and I was like, ‘it can’t be that much better than everywhere else,’” she said. “I’m here to say it is that much better than everywhere else.
“I’m just really excited to embrace more of the culture. I haven’t gotten to explore too much, but that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”