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Canadiennes Notebook: Unconventional systems and a bunch of firsts

A look back at the first weekend of the season.

Shanna Martin / CWHL

At a certain point, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I always wondered how teams would play Les Canadiennes on the road when it came to matching their lines.

I never expected a four forward system at even strength.

In reality, Shannon Miller has been using this system for years, but the idea to use four forwards at even strength in a formation was something to witness in person.

The system is called the Torpedo, and it is an ultra aggressive model to force the opposition into making mistakes, and while it didn’t outwardly hurt the Inferno by using it - the teams split the two-game series - Montreal probably could have done a lot more damage had their execution on their rushes been better.

A look at the Torpedo system.

“We asked ourselves where they were going with it,” said Canadiennes head coach Dany Brunet. “We saw their starting lineup and asked whether it was going to be a trick play to start the game. We saw early on that they are a team that will play very offensively, and we tried to take advantage of the fact they were being aggressive. We had several odd-player opportunities in transition because of our speed.”

The Inferno actually saw the system help and hurt them. They scored two goals of their three (not counting the empty net goal) using the four forward system over the weekend but also allowed the tying goal in Saturday’s game to Montreal’s fourth line.

You can watch Saturday’s game in full here.

Here’s a look at how the system allowed the Canadiennes to score.

Calgary attacks Montreal with four forwards, but Les Canadiennes pick up the puck and start their transition.

It leads to a Montreal rush, and Calgary actually looks in pretty good position. They have Kacey Bellamy (22) as the defender back, and Rebecca Johnston (6) and Brianna Decker (14) are covering the pass.

This is where Calgary gets into trouble. Bellamy and Decker take their player, but Johnston takes the puck instead of watching the trailer. Olivia Atkinson makes a perfect pass through Johnston’s legs right to Maude Gelinas.

(NOTE: Atkinson was not given an assist on the play. The league will have to review the scoring play.)

The result is a ton of space for Gelinas who walks in and scores on a wrist shot. Rebecca Leslie (16) gets back too late to cover the shot.

Without knowing the system, it’s hard to know who is really at fault here, but I feel like Johnston was either too aggressive or Leslie wasn’t fast enough to get back. On the Montreal side, both Atkinson and Tracy-Ann Lavigne made great plays to create space for Gelinas, and Gelinas fired a perfect shot.

“[The big thing] is being aware that there are four forwards out there and that they will be very offensive and attack the play,” said Canadiennes goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer. “They’re a lot more offensive and just being aware of all the players around me is challenging.”

Hilary Knight played against two players she knows very well, Kacey Bellamy and Brianna Decker. She has played with Decker at every level since her NCAA time at Wisconsin.

“It was weird with my teammates on the other side,” Knight said. “It was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ and then, ‘Oh, yep... she’s going the other way...’ It’s just great when the players are elite level. The fans saw a great game, really a clash of the titans at the professional level.”

There were a lot of great social media moments this past week, but this one by Jillian Saulnier was my favourite.

She got to realize a childhood dream and it’s one of those moments that is so cool to be able to witness. Both Knight and Saulnier picked up their first points in the game on the wining goal in Saturday’s game.

Now I just need to ask her about that whole riding a unicycle thing...