Fifteen months ago, Erin Ambrose was going through one of the toughest times of her career. The Canadiennes defender had been cut from the Canadian Olympic team, and moved to Montreal. On Friday night, she was awarded the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s defender of the year award at the Mattamy Athletic Centre of Ryerson University, formerly Maple Leaf Gardens.
“It was a change that I needed to make,” Ambrose said about coming to Les Canadiennes. “There were a lot of things in my life that needed a fresh start. Coming to Montreal, getting to work with a new strength coach in Cory Kennedy changed my life. I can’t thank Cory enough.”
The Keswick, ON native had the best season of her career, leading all defenders with six goals and 18 assists (24 points) in 26 games. She was 14th in league scoring. She credits the award to a more well-rounded game aided by improved fitness and speed from training with Kennedy.
Apart from Ambrose’s award, Marie-Philip Poulin’s three awards - the Angela James Bowl for leading the league in scoring, the Jayna Hefford Trophy (MVP as voted by the players) and league Most Valuable Player. Ambrose is the fourth Montreal defender to win the award joining Annie Guay, Catherine Ward, and Cathy Chartrand. Ward and Chartrand both won the award twice.
Emerance Maschmeyer was nominated for goaltender of the year and the Jayna Hefford trophy. She led the CWHL in goals against average, save percentage, shutouts, and wins but it was Calgary Inferno goaltender Alex Rigsby, who also had a very good season, that took home the award.
Ambrose credits Maschmeyer - who also came to Montreal after not making the Canadian Olympic team, and who played together in the program since the Under-18 tournament in 2012 - with helping her on and off the ice.
“I’m a little biased obviously but [Maschmeyer] is the best goalie in the league and I think the best goalie in the world,” Ambrose said. “Having Masch to lean on last year was huge and continuing to lean on her this year... It’s easy to play defence in front of her when you have somebody like that and [Geneviève Lacasse and Marie-Soleil Deschênes] behind us so we’re pretty fortunate for that.”
As for Poulin, it is the third straight year since joining the Canadiennes that she has played (she missed the 2017-18 season due to the Olympics) where she brought home the same three awards. Those nine trophies are added to her Rookie of the Year award she won as a teenager in 2007-08.
The Canadiennes’ captain remains day-to-day. The team has a final practice on Saturday afternoon and that could be when a decision is made for Sunday’s game.
“Everything about [Poulin] is just the best,” said Ambrose. “What she’s done in her career, I can’t even explain the impact she’s had on the women’s game. She works her tail off every day. I don’t think there’s anyone who works harder. There’s not a better leader in the game of hockey that I’ve ever come across. There’s a reason I was even able to be up for an award like this and Marie-Philip Poulin is a big reason for that.”
The other award winners were the Markham Thunder’s Jim Jackson for Coach of the Year and Victoria Bach for Rookie of the Year. Former league governor and current MLSE head of community affairs and events took home the Humanitarian Award. The Calgary Inferno were awarded the Chairman’s Trophy for finishing the regular season in first place.
The Clarkson Cup will be played between Les Canadiennes and the Inferno on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. at Coca Cola Coliseum in Toronto. It will be broadcast on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada and the NHL Network in the United States.