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CWHL Weekend Preview: Les Canadiennes renew hostilities with Brampton Thunder

Canadiennes return home in search of a win over after two straight losses to Toronto

Jess Bazal/CWHL

Coming off of a weekend that saw them being swept for the first time in over a season, Les Canadiennes return home to face the struggling Brampton Thunder for two games this weekend.

In what was a season opening weekend for Montreal and a home opening weekend for Brampton, Les Canadiennes started the 2016-17 campaign off on the right foot by sweeping the home team in 5-2 and 3-2 victories. For a roster missing key players like Julie Chu and Lauriane Rougeau, it certainly was not reflected in the team’s play.

The pair of wins came through offensive efforts from both the front end and back end, as well as a solid effort from starting goaltender Charline Labonté, who stopped 49 out of 53 shots in 120 minutes of play.

Even more impressive than a team putting up eight goals in two games without some of their core talent was that captain Marie-Phillip Poulin would score the game and weekend winning goal to notch her 50th in 46 career games — an extraordinary accomplishment in any hockey league. With eight goals to her name this season (seven following the milestone point) and a total of 14 points in eight games, she’s more than on track when it comes to maintaining her (slightly absurd) point pace.

For their part, Brampton entered the season with the hopes of proving they were ready to make another Clarkson Cup run after a semi-final loss to Calgary last year. While they still should edge out the Boston Blades for a playoff position, their results to date this season would lead you to believe they would be disappointed so far, having fallen short in six of their eight contests this season.

Needless to say, this is not the start they had been hoping for when General Manager Lori Dupuis restructured her roster to feature 12 rookie skaters in an attempt to add to the team’s offensive depth. Only 10 of Brampton’s skaters have managed to get on the scoresheet through eight games (only eight of which who have goals in their name), and only veteran forward Jess Jones is boasting a team-leading average above 1 point per game (1.13). The Thunder will need contributions from more players beyond veterans Jones, Vint and Rattray as well as the talents of first-round pick Laura Stacey if they hope to collect more than a handful of points this year.

That doesn’t mean Montreal can get complacent. Despite their shaky start, there is hope for the Thunder. Brampton is the only team to have cracked Team Cana the Calgary Inferno this year, having split their weekend series last week with a 5-2 win and a 4-1 loss against the western-most team of the league.

Though the latter game of the sequence was a loss, last Saturday’s 5-2 victory is most definitely something to build off. If Brampton can use that game as a turning point in the season, Les Canadiennes will have their work cut out for them.

With CWHL Defenceman of the Year Laura Fortino highlighting a group that includes National team member Jocelyne Larocque, program member Courtney Birchard, and first overall pick Sarah Edney, Brampton sports the best group of defenders in the league.

Looking to rebound from back-to-back losses against Toronto last weekend, Montreal will need to come out of the gates strong. With a lacklustre showing on Saturday and a poor start to Sunday’s game versus the Furies, Montreal’s confidence will have surely taken a hit after their first set of consecutive losses in over a year, but they won’t have time to dwell. Montreal risks falling more points behind Calgary if they allow last weekend to haunt their game as Calgary is in Boston to face the Blades.

Labonté will likely make her return to the lineup after having missed last weekend’s games for family reasons, and Poulin will look to extend her point streak to five straight games (5G, 2A) in an effort to lead her team to victory over Brampton.

Puck drop is at 5:45 p.m. EST on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, and Les Canadiennes will split the home series at Complexe Bell in Brossard and Centre Etienne-Desmarteau on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Tickets can be purchased for $15 in advance or at the door.