From the moment they lost in the Clarkson Cup final last season, Les Canadiennes had their sights set on a return to Ottawa this year. They put together a 60 minute performance and beat the Calgary Inferno 3-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday and are now Clarkson Cup champions.
“When you lose that badly, you need to take something away from it and learn,” said goaltender Charline Labonté, the newest member of Canada’s triple gold club - players who have won a Clarkson Cup, Olympic Gold Medal and a World Championship gold.
“I think that’s what we did. You want to move on, but at the same time, for me anyways, it was always at the back of my mind, and every time I played Calgary, I wanted to beat them.”
Labonté made 26 saves and was named the game’s MVP. It was Montreal’s fourth Clarkson Cup and fifth CWHL championship but their first since the 2011-2012 season but Labonté’s first.
“Charlie is a great teammate,” assistant captain Caroline Ouellette said post game. “She’s obviously an outstanding goaltender, and we wanted to win for her.”
Katia Clement-Heydra opened the scoring with a powerplay goal in the first period, assisted by Noémie Marin and Karell Emard. Clement-Heydra took the puck and batted it down to herself before putting a backhand just over the line.
In the second period, Marie-Philip Poulin used a defender as a screen and put a shot that trickled through Inferno goalie Emerance Maschmeyer to put Montreal up 2-0.
“As a goalie, you want to take back every goal,” Maschmeyer said after the game. “I wish I would have stopped those two, but I’m playing against great players and unfortunately they know how to score sometimes.”
Calgary cut Montreal’s lead in half just past the midway mark of the third period, when Rebecca Johnston set up Jill Saulnier to beat Labonté low. It didn’t appear to be enough, though, as Calgary wasn’t able to get another one past Labonté.
Perhaps Labonté’s biggest stop came against Haley Irwin. She made the initial save but slid across with her pad to stop the rebound.
Well that was close! How are you feeling, Canadiennes fans? pic.twitter.com/CGFOCwomc8— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) March 5, 2017
“They came hard at us early and maybe that set our girls back a little bit,” Inferno head coach Scott Reid told reporters after the game. “We didn’t regroup until we were actually down and in a bad spot. Sometimes that’s too late, and it was today.”
With Maschmeyer pulled in the final minutes, Poulin scored the empty netter from the blue line to make it 3-1 Canadiennes.
“The group that we have is so special,” said Poulin. “Having the chance to win the game tonight was really exciting.”
With a Clarkson Cup win, an Olympic year on the horizon, and players getting another year older, several veterans will be forced to question their future, and whether or not they’ll return as members of Les Canadiennes next season.
“We’ll see after the summer how I feel,” Ouellette said when asked about her plans. “It’s truly a pleasure to go to the rink every day and play with my teammates. I love it. We have so much fun together on and off the ice, and I think that’s why we were able to be successful.”