When the final buzzer sounded on Saturday afternoon, Julie Chu was the first to embrace Les Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonté. Labonté had her third shutout of the season and the 11th of her CWHL career, but this one was like no other.
5,938 fans filed in to the Bell Centre to watch Les Canadiennes beat the defending Clarkson Cup champion Calgary Inferno 1-0. It was the first meeting between the two teams since last year’s final where Montreal lost 8-3.
After that loss, Labonté had to deal with a big contingent of media and took the blame. Facing a larger-than-normal scrum Saturday, the situation wasn’t lost on her.
“I didn’t want to come back in this situation and say I’m sorry I really messed up,” Labonté said.
“We’re trying to move on. You try to forget games like last year in the Clarkson Cup but it was still in the back of my mind and I didn’t want to experience that feeling from last year. I think every one kind of felt that way.”
“For me it wasn’t about revenge, it was about redemption,” said Canadiennes defender Lauriane Rougeau. “It’s proving that we are able to play with them. For us it was a big deal to come out strong and that’s what we did.”
Despite the 1-0 score, the game was as exciting and intense as everyone expected last year’s Clarkson Cup final to be. There is a reason these two teams are atop the league. There were end to end rushes for most of the game, and if not for Labonté’s 25 saves or Calgary’s Emerance Maschmeyer’s 31, the score would have been a lot higher.
“I know the fans like the high scores, as a goalie it’s definitely not what you want,” said Labonté. “It was a showdown between Masch and I and I know she was seeing it the same way: ‘I know you just had a good save so watch what’s next’. It was back and forth and I think she had the upper hand because it was just amazing. But I’m sure the crowd enjoyed the show.”
The goalies shared a moment after the game, when they were both named among the game’s three stars. The two were teammates on Team Canada at the most recent World Championships and represent the passing of the torch of Canadian goaltending.
“I just said ‘you were lights out’,” Labonté said. “She was unbelievable. I think I’m her biggest fan.”
Marie-Philip Poulin who scored the game’s only goal on a one-timed effort from the slot, was also robbed of the game’s greatest scoring chance by Maschmeyer.
“As a goalie you want the chance to make those big saves and today was one of those nights,” Maschmeyer said.
Poulin reacted with her hands on her head, and then her hips, almost in disbelief.
“She’s a great goalie. She really robbed me there. I couldn’t believe it. It was a great play from [Ann-Sophie Bettez] and [Karell Emard] and I tried to put it in but she stole a couple of goals tonight for sure,” said Poulin.
Aside from the history between the two teams, and the glamour of the Bell Centre, it was a huge game in the standings. Montreal pulled three points ahead of Calgary. The Inferno have two games in hand and a second leg of a back-to-back on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Etienne-Desmarteau arena.
“They have one of the best goaltenders in the world, but so do we. I don’t feel like we survived a 1-0 win, I feel we went after it and we were the better team for 60 minutes,” said Canadiennes forward Caroline Ouellette who is still searching for her 300th career point.
After the game the Canadiennes had a huddle at centre ice before saluting the crowd.
“We’ve struggled over the last couple of weeks and we really wanted to come together as a team and have a good show and that’s what happened so we just got together and said ‘hey, let’s enjoy this. This is history’,” Labonté said.
“That was our goal: to give the fans a good game and I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did.”