“To be honest I try not to think about that game anymore because I’m pretty sick of it,” said Les Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonté.
Almost exactly a year later, Montreal’s best players are still asked about their loss in last year’s Clarkson Cup. After a season and playoff that saw them go 23-3, they were expected to continue rolling in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s championship game. But they ran into a Calgary Inferno team that dealt with adversity throughout the season in an 8-3 loss.
“Last year’s loss was a big motivator for us this year,” said Canadiennes captain Marie-Philip Poulin. “Last year we forgot about the process and it caught up to us. This year I think we’re ready. We lost focus last year and this year we took a step back and focused on ourselves instead of on the goal at the end.”
Last year, Montreal entered the final after a four-game stretch that saw them outscore their opponents 37-3. It wasn’t exactly the preparation and intensity they wanted before the biggest game of the season.
On the flip side, Calgary was in Brampton during the last weekend of the regular season. Brampton had a 3-0 lead less than 15 minutes into the first period. A Brampton win would have seen them clinch home-ice advantage for their semi-final series.
Calgary roared back, scoring four straight goals en route to a 5-4 victory. They would not trail for the remainder of the year, sweeping Brampton in their best-of-three semi-final and then beating Montreal.
This year, Les Canadiennes lost five games in regulation and two in overtime, they had hard fought wins. And to end their season, they faced Calgary twice and then faced Brampton in the playoffs.
“Playing Calgary to end the season was great for us and it was great for them,” said Labonté. “You want to send a last message before hopefully facing them in the Clarkson Cup. Playing against Brampton, we expected a tough series. I don’t think the scores represented the games well because they are a very good team.”
“We’re peaking right now and that’s what it feels like over the last six games. Everything is coming together finally.”
The last two games of the regular season, Montreal was without Noémie Marin, Emmanuelle Blais, Caroline Ouellette, and Julie Chu - all players who have significant roles on the team and who have won Clarkson Cups. They still split the two games with Calgary.
Labonté has said several times that the Clarkson Cup is the one thing she hasn’t won in her career, along with Ann-Sophie Bettez, are two of the veterans without a Cup win. And the reality is, this core group of Montreal players is running out of time to win one together.
Most of the core players like Labonté, Ouellette, Chu, and Marin - among others - are on the other side of 30 and have been very open about pursuing their post-playing careers. It increases the urgency.
Ouellette, for one, said after last year’s loss that she wasn’t sure what her future holds. This is their third straight finals appearance.
And still, here we are. One year later and Montreal is in the same city. Staying in the same hotel. Playing against the same team.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Especially after that loss last year we’re very excited to play against them again,” said Poulin. “We know it’s going to be a great battle and a great game.”