The CWHL's top two teams played against each other in Montreal last night in a battle for first place. Montreal and Calgary are both powerhouses and the game featured 17 of the league's 34 All-Stars.
Les Canadiennes de Montreal entered today trailing Calgary by two points with two games at hand. With the win tonight, Montreal has put themselves in a great position for the final leg of the season.
This game was an important one for other reasons, too. Les Canadiennes played their annual Pink the Rink game to raise money for breast cancer research. They had tables full of autographed jerseys, photographs, and other items up for auction, all benefiting the Cedars Breast Clinic.
Raising money for breast cancer is something that's important to many of the players. Caroline Ouellette's aunt is a survivor of the disease.
"In 2009 we found out that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was a devastating time for her and our family but I admired so much the way she handled it, the way she stayed positive. She fought through chemo and radiotherapy and now she's well and alive and it has brought our family together."
She, along with former captain and current Assistant Coach Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux and some of the other players, pushed the team to create an annual event for breast cancer research. "It's been incredible to have seen [the event] it grow for the last six years," Ouellette said.
Fans got to support a great cause and take in some of the best hockey the CWHL has to offer.
Les Canadiennes got the cycle game going early and, for the first ten minutes or so, Montreal looked like the much better team. The Inferno managed to right the ship, though, and the rest of the game featured a lot of great end-to-end action. Calgary, in particular, likes to create a large portion of their chances off the rush and didn't cycle the puck much at all at even strength, which may be a reason why they lost.
The Inferno didn't look great on the power play, either. Montreal's penalty kill was incredibly effective at limiting chances and making some of their own on the rush, including during the four minutes they were down a player in the first.
They ended the first period scoreless. It would stay that way until 14 minutes into the second period when Ouellette put her team up on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play on the PP.
There was a pretty scary moment for the Canadiennes midway through the second period. Marie-Philip Poulin blocked a shot with her wrist and went down hard. She was hunched over in pain on the bench for minutes. However, she was good enough to return and scored two goals after leaving for a few shifts. Poulin had her wrist iced down after the game and said it was "just a little sore." Crisis averted.
The third period was where it all started to unravel for the Inferno. Noémie Marin scored 30 seconds into the period, her first goal since the first weekend of the season, despite having great chances pretty much every game. Calgary managed to get back within one after Elana Lovell capitalized on a bad defensive zone giveaway and scored to turn it back into a one-goal game.
Les Canadiennes responded by scoring two more quick goals, the first from Ouellette on a 3-on-1 and the second from Poulin off a nice give-and-go with Ann-Sophie Bettez off the rush. By the way, those four goals to put the game from 1-0 to 4-1 were all in the first three minutes of the third.
It looked like Brittany Esposito scored to bring Calgary within two, the puck went in after Esposito beat the icing and took a weird bounce off a body, but Charline Labonté was interfered with and the goal was waved off.
Louise Warren ended up with Calgary's second of the night after she scored on a 2-on-1 to make the score 4-2.
It wasn't enough, though. Poulin scored an empty net goal in the last minute of play to seal the deal.
The line of Clement-Heydra, Ouellette, and Marin looked dangerous throughout, as did the line of Bettez, Poulin, and Kim Deschênes. If those lines look a little strange to you, they should. This is the first time this season that Ouellette and Poulin haven't played on the same line. Both ended up with two goals, so the decision to spread out the offense worked.
When asked about the change, Poulin said that she enjoyed being able to watch her play from the bench. "She did great today. For me just to watch her, I learn a lot from her and being able to watch her on the ice. Every time I play with her it's an honour."
Ouellette was just as complimentary of Poulin. "I love playing with Poulin, everyone knows that. Everyone wants to play with her. Kim [Deschênes] and Ann-So [Bettez] have been the best players at this point and they deserve that chance."
(Note: The way Ouellette talked about the change made it seem like a demotion for her, despite playing a lot of time against Calgary's first line, scoring two goals, and being named first star. She may have out humbled Poulin tonight.)
Montreal and Calgary are back in action today for the second game of the weekend series at 1:30 PM at Etienne Desmarteau Arena.