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Ten years later: Remembering the first Clarkson Cup Final

As Montreal gets set to return to Clarkson Cup glory, we look back at the first time the Cup was played for.

Richard Scott

For many, scoring the first goal en route to the Clarkson Cup win would mean at least a night of celebration. For Shauna Denis, who scored the first goal in the inaugural Clarkson Cup Final in 2009, it meant driving back from where the game was played in Kingston to the Bell Centre where she had to cover the Habs hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs that same night for her new job with the Montreal Canadiens.

“That’s probably the best explanation I can give you of where [the game was],” Denis said.

The goal was also the first goal in Clarkson Cup history.

“I remember [the goal] really well,” Denis said. “It’s funny. I feel like I’m a trivia question. Any time people ask if I played for the team, I have that to go on. I’m sure they actually would have preferred an Olympian to score that goal,” she said laughing.

The goal set the tone in a 3-1 Montreal win. Kim St-Pierre made 30 saves in the win. Sabrina Harbec and Caroline Ouellette scored the other two goals. Marie-Philip Poulin, for her part, had an assist. Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero scored the lone goal for Minnesota.

The biggest thrill for a lot of these players is that their names will always be on the Cup, and it is displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“At work that’s my ice breaker,” said Tawnya Danis, who played five years at Concordia University before going to the CWHL. “I say that my name is on a trophy that is displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and no one can ever guess that it’s me.”

Now, 10 years later — almost to the day — that the Montreal Stars defeated the Minnesota Whitecaps, Les Canadiennes are preparing for the Calgary Inferno for another Clarkson Cup Final. And the Whitecaps are celebrating their first Isobel Cup win as champions of the NWHL.

A Family

While the NHL game in 2009 that Denis dutifully covered included names like Brad May, Ben Ondrus, Mathieu Schneider, and Tom Kostopoulos (nobody on either team remains with either Montreal or Toronto) the same can’t be said for the Canadiennes.

Two players played in that first Clarkson Cup. Lauriane Rougeau and Poulin were called up from their CEGEP team at Dawson College to fill in for players who couldn’t make the trip for the final game. Neither had turned 18 yet and they already had full CWHL seasons under their belts. The current coaching staff of the Canadiennes features Ouellette, Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, and video coach Kelly Sudia who played in that game.

Anyone who spends time around the Canadiennes quickly sees the family atmosphere that exists. Breton-Lebreux and Ouellette have known each other for nearly 30 years, and that is something that is not uncommon. Current Canadiennes players have played together from before they were 18 years old.

You can draw a straight line and connect the entire modern-day history of semi-professional and professional women’s hockey in the city from France St-Louis to Mélodie Daoust.

This is perhaps best exemplified when Breton-Lebreux looks back at Poulin’s rookie CWHL season. Poulin, and other future Canadiennes like Leslie Oles, would be picked up by Brittany Privée, who taught at the school they attended to the “family” home. There, Breton-Lebreux, Privée, and Sudia (among others) would be the aunts, or “matantes,” as Breton-Lebreux says, and cook dinners. Then, they would make the kids, Poulin and Oles, do their homework or studying before going to practices, which often started late at night, and then driving them home.

The Clarkson Cup’s beginnings

Breton-Lebreux has always been proud that she was the first captain to ever receive the Clarkson Cup. But when it comes to the growth of the Cup’s prestige in even 10 years, all players and even the person who commissioned the Cup are surprised.

The Clarkson Cup started when then-Governor General of Canada, the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, joked that the Stanley Cup should be given to a women’s team due to the NHL lockout that cancelled the season. People didn’t take her, or the statement, seriously. So she decided to create a challenge cup for women like Lord Stanley of Preston did with the trophy that now bears his name.

The Cup, if you have the chance to see it up close, is known for its beauty. The sterling silver trophy was custom made in the Canadian north by artists at the request of Clarkson. Featured prominently is Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea. The legend itself differs based on who tells it, but Clarkson can vividly tell a version of it.

Her first encounter with the power of the women’s game came on a state visit to Finland. At the time, Hayley Wickenheiser was playing professionally in a men’s league in the country and was revered. At that point, Clarkson’s goal of raising women’s hockey’s profile to a sport they can play professionally took shape.

The first Cup was given to the 2006 Canadian Olympic team after their triumph in Turin, Italy. It was several years later that it began to be played for every year, starting in the 2008-09 season. It has been the CWHL’s championship prize since 2011.

And now, 10 years after the Cup was first given out, Montreal will be playing in the Final for the eighth time in 11 seasons. They have won four times. The last two attempts have been against the Calgary Inferno, as this Sunday’s game will be. Clarkson, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, will be on hand with her family to present the trophy that carries her name.