It was just early November when Caroline Ouellette and Julie Chu welcomed baby Liv, but Saturday evening, Ouellette was back on the ice donning her Les Canadiennes jersey number 13 and helping her team prevail over the visiting Vanke Rays by a score of 7-3 at the Arena Michel-Normandin.
“Getting back onto the ice was so great, I feel pretty great to be back,” said Ouellette. “Having such a great partner in Julie [Chu] for the past 12 years, has definitely allowed me to come back and play the game I love.”
With the crowd echoing “Caro” from the very get go, she first jumped onto the ice just over two minutes into the game. And the place went electric.
Just over seven minutes into the game, Les Canadiennes (15-3-0) got on the scoreboard when forward Katia Clement-Heydra scored her first of two in the game, giving her seven goals on the season. 57 seconds later, Ouellette found an open Emmanuelle Blais who took two whacks at the puck before the puck slid five hole under Rays goaltender Elaine Chuli. The goal was Blais’ second of the second, and her first in eight games.
Forward Karell Emard notched her fifth goal of the season just over the midway point in the first with a second chance effort at the side of the net.
“I think there was a lot of excitement coming in tonight, with the return of Caro, and we just got back from a road trip that didn’t completely go our way, so tonight we were really fired up,” said Emard. “Overall things were clicking, and we were the stronger team in the end.”
With 2:38 left in the opening frame, Montreal rookie forward Tracy-Ann Lavigne batted at a loose puck for her first career Canadian Women’s Hockey League goal, one that would eventually be the game winner.
“Finally! I waited for the sign from the ref and when they said good goal, I was so happy,” said Lavigne. “I finally got my first goal and now I’m going to keep going. Such a huge moment for all of my family and I.”
After 20 minutes the score was a blowout, with Les Canadiennes up 5-0 and dominating the Vanke team 19-3 in the shot column.
The second period started with a lot of the same, although for Vanke (11-7-1), they switched goaltenders with Chuli getting pulled and backup Tianyi Zhang going in. Clement-Heydra moved the team up by six just over a minute in, and captain Ann-Sophie Bettez capped off the goals by Montreal, putting them up by seven.
Bettez was named the first star of the game after scoring her team’s seventh goal and adding three assists for her sixth multi-point game of the season.
“It had been a while, our line really kept working hard all year, and now the pucks went in,” said Clement-Heydra, who played with Emard and Kayla Tutino, following the game. “It’s good to have the bounces go our way.”
However, that’s when the Rays seemed to get their legs, getting three quick goals in just under seven minutes by forwards Xin He, Emily Janiga and Hanna Bunton. Les Canadiennes goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer appeared to lose her composure with the second goal by Janiga being a bit questionable. The team thought that she was pushed into the net with the puck, and the net came off close to when the puck went in.
“Not going to lie. For a little bit we were getting a bit negative on the bench,” said Clement-Heydra. “You just need that one shift to turn the momentum and it’s all okay, we got that in the end of the second period, and then the third period was like nothing happened.”
Some of the players on Les Canadiennes’ bench, including Emard, took exception to the sudden Vanke outburst and voiced her concerns after the game.
“I think we got a little too comfortable in the second, and our bad habits came back at us,” said Emard. “So we knew we had to keep our team morale high on the bench, so in the third, we went back to what we know works.”
The third period was all Montreal, and although they outshot Vanke 12-1, they couldn’t find the back of the net.
Ouellette, who played her first game since the Clarkson Cup Final, entered the game tied for the lead in CWHL history goals with Olympian gold medalist Jayna Hefford at 130. And with just 16.7 seconds left on the clock, with Montreal up two players, it appeared as though she made history, but the officials waved it off, saying Zhang got a piece of it, deflected it off the post, and it was no goal.
“It was so sweet of the girls; they kept feeding me the puck to get the goal, and in the end I thought I had scored it, but it hit the post,” said Ouellette. “It’s only a matter of time. I shouldn’t think of it, and it’ll happen.”
Montreal defender Cassandra Poudrier left the game in the second period and did not return.
The win keeps Les Canadiennes atop the CWHL standings, tied with the Kunlun Red Star. Both teams have 15 wins and 30 points, but the Red Star have played one additional game.
Montreal will face Vanke again Sunday afternoon before a night off on Monday. They then conclude their series on Tuesday night. All games are at Michel-Normandin Arena.