Through 28 games in the regular season, the two top teams remained constant. And in the end it was the first place team Calgary Inferno that wound up beating second place Les Canadiennes by a score of 5-2 to win it all on Sunday at the Coca Cola Coliseum in Toronto.
The Inferno and Canadiennes were no strangers to facing off against each other in big games. Both the 2016 and 2017 Clarkson finals, these two teams battled it out for their hands on the Cup, splitting one apiece.
In the 2019 edition of the two rivals, Marie-Philip Poulin, the CWHL’s leading scorer, and Most Valuable Player voted by both her peers and league staff, would simply be motivation for her teammates.
After getting injured in the leg in the final game of the season, she missed the entire first round versus Markham. She dressed for the final, but she did not see any ice time. Her presence was still felt by all of her teammates.
“She’s (Poulin) a huge part of our game, our team, so it definitely hurt us in he end, but she was with us to support us,” said Ann-Sophie Bettez. “She’s a great teammate, with her we felt united, we just came up short.”
The Inferno started off the game with the momentum on their side. Just three minutes into the contest, Calgary captain Rebecca Johnston beat Montreal goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, but not the post behind her.
Later in the game, with the Montreal squad just finishing killing a penalty, Calgary forward Zoe Hickel potted her first of two on the afternoon, redirecting a slap pass by defender Katelyn Gosling and putting them up 1-0 at the 7:59 mark of the opening frame.
Late in the period, Inferno forward Brianne Jenner dangled through on a beautiful individual play, splitting the Montreal blueliners and got a chance from her knees. Seconds later Halli Krzyzaniak blasted a shot from the point, deflected off the post and in, giving them the 2-0 lead heading into the dressing room.
“This is what you work for all season,” said Jenner. “Just seeing the girls that make up the heart of our team, it’s something really special.”
Montreal knew they had to be better for a chance to climb back into the game. At the 3:43 mark of the middle frame, alternate captain Ann-Sophie Bettez spun and shot a backhand that had completely fooled Rigsby to cut the lead to one.
“In the second and third, we definitely gained some confidence back,” said associate coach Caroline Ouellette. “But after the first, that’s exactly what my message was, it’s tough to beat a team like Calgary when you don’t play for 20 minutes.”
Later on in the period, both teams had exchanged a penalty each, before Canadiennes forward Karell Emard took a hooking minor at the 11:28 mark. Despite some great penalty killing, the Calgary offence was too strong, and Brianna Decker launched a slap shot from the circle at the 12:42 mark, and restoring her team’s two-goal cushion.
“In this league, there’s no game that is guaranteed, and tonight was a perfect example of that,” said Decker. “I’m just so lucky and thankful to have such great teammates each and every day. We battled through together and we stuck together and that’s what was shown.”
Closing out the second, the Inferno were caught with careless indiscipline, taking back-to-back minors and giving Les Canadiennes a big opportunity to get back into the game.
And just like that, Montreal were able to capitalize on the five-on-three, when Hilary Knight made the pass of the year with a backwards, between-the-legs no look pass to Bettez for her second goal of the day with 2:23 left in the period.
WHAT A PASS BY @HilaryKnight TO @Bettez24 WHO SCORE HER 2nd OF THE GAME!!!!! @LesCanadiennes ONLY DOWN BY 1 #CWHL #ClarksonCup pic.twitter.com/GUoR2koZT6— Women's Sports Highlights (@WSportHilites) March 24, 2019
Starting the final period, it seemed as though Les Canadiennes had equalized the game in the opening minute, sending the Montreal fans into a frenzy, when it appeared Jill Saulnier had got the puck past a sprawling Rigsby. The referee immediately waved the goal off, claiming that Knight had interfered with the Calgary netminder.
Montreal thought they had one but the refs say no. Poulin is not happy with the call #ClarksonCup #CWHL pic.twitter.com/vDkbOMu8wH— Women's Sports Highlights (@WSportHilites) March 24, 2019
Six minutes later off a give-and-go between Hickel and Johnston culminated in Hickel’s second goal of the game, and adding the much-needed insurance marker for the Inferno.
“We didn’t play 60 minutes, and I think we just ran out of time,” said Bettez, following the loss. “We got it later on, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
Johnston scored into the empty-net with 22.9 seconds left.
“It was a goal we set out way back in September to win the Clarkson Cup, so I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” said Johnston. “The season had some adversities, I think we just had to continue to believe in each other.”
Hickel and Kacey Bellamy were the first and third stars, Bettez was the second. Decker was named the game’s most valuable player.
The win gave Calgary their second title in franchise history in just their third appearance. Montreal is now 4-4 in the classic.