Just days after making a huge splash by signing US Olympic gold medalist Hilary Knight, Les Canadiennes de Montreal took to the ice for the first time since returning from China. They came out hard, shutting out the Calgary Inferno 4-0 on Saturday evening at the Complexe Bell in Brossard in the annual Pink in the Rink classic.
Their trip to China didn’t go as they expected, going 1-2-1 against the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays. Kunlun took both games, including a 3-0 win last Friday, Montreal’s first shutout loss of the season.
“I think coming back from our trip to China, we didn’t do the damage we wanted to do,” said goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer. “So coming back here we needed to prove it to ourselves again about how strong we are. And tonight, we showed a consistency throughout the entire game.”
Making her return to the team after announcing that she would finish off the season with her team was defence Lauriane Rougeau, who took home a silver medal at PyeongChang representing Canada. On Saturday, she was very happy to be back on the ice with her teammates.
“I just decided on Thursday to come back with the team, so it was a very short turnaround,” said Rougeau. “I was really convinced by Caro[line Ouellette]. When she told me it might be her last year, and it’s my idol, I knew I wanted to help her try and win a final Clarkson Cup. I said I’ll do it for her.”
It was a quiet first period until late in the first, when Sarah Lefort, February’s Canadian Women’s Hockey League player of the month, took a second whack at an open rebound past Inferno goaltender Delayne Brian for her 17th goal of the season.
The middle frame saw Montreal unable to capitalize on three straight power plays on their end. For Calgary, forward Blayre Turnbull, playing in her third game since returning from PyeongChang, had an impressive period, by making several key plays, including a shot that rang off the post. Although the Inferno had lots of chances, Canadiennes goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer was a brick wall, making 17 saves for her 17th win of the season, and also her sixth shutout of the season, tying Kunlun Red Star’s Noora Räty.
“It’s always nice getting a shutout, but the stats don’t phase me,” said Maschmeyer. “All I really care about is being there for my team. I just want to give my team the very best opportunity that I can every game.”
Montreal jumped out of the gate in the third when just over a minute in, defence Erin Ambrose pounced on a loose puck and got her second goal of the season, scoring a goal and winding up in the net herself, something she chuckled about post-game.
“I think one of the big things is we can trust our forwards to make the right play,” said Ambrose. “I just finished what Ann-So (Bettez) started so it was an easy tap in. I just had to make sure the puck went all the way in, and if I had to go with it, that’s fine with me.”
A couple of minutes later, Canadiennes leading scorer Ann-Sophie Bettez got her 19th on a beautiful individual effort, skating past the Inferno defence and getting a backhand past Brian. It was her 100th career goal. Despite the loss, Brian made 31 saves for Calgary.
Ann-Sophie Bettez is so good, it's crazy. pic.twitter.com/ggH6ShQJ13— Jared Book (@jaredbook) March 11, 2018
Forward Noémie Marin had a big game, playing with Lefort and Bettez, racking up three helpers. Currently sitting with 16 goals and 30 points, she’s having one of the best seasons of her career, something she attributes to several off-season changes. It was her 200th career CWHL game, becoming the first Montreal player to reach the milestone.
“I think there’s a lot of aspects that play into that. My health is overall a lot better, and I feel the confidence with my line and our team,” said Marin. “At the end of the day, all want to do is win the Clarkson Cup, and we all have that same goal.”
Veteran blueliner Cathy Chartrand rounded out the scoring with her fifth of the campaign on a shot from the slot that took a weird bounce off Brian’s shoulder and trickled past the goal line.
Les Canadiennes are playing their last game of the season tomorrow, and with their victory and Kunlun losing to Vanke on Saturday, they currently sit alone in first place in the league. They also clinched a home playoff series for the third straight year with the win.
They hope to keep their momentum going into the game, and all eyes will be on their newest addition as forward Hilary Knight will make her CWHL return, and Montreal debut.
“[Knight's] a great addition to our team, and one of the best in the world,” said Rougeau. “I’m excited to play with her, after always playing against her, and I’m really excited to see what we can do tomorrow.”
Saturday’s game was a sell out with the standing room section going three rows deep in certain parts of the arena, and Sunday is very close to a sell out as well for the regular season finale and Knight’s debut. Fans are encouraged to show up early to get a good seat.