It was a season that was so anticipated because of the additions that Les Canadiennes made - Olympians Jill Saulnier and Mélodie Daoust were new to the team. Hilary Knight and Erin Ambrose were going to play their first full seasons. Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau were making their returns after missing most (Rougeau) or all (Poulin) of the Olympic year.
Those six players were all healthy for seven full games of the 32 Montreal played this season. If you count Geneviève Lacasse, a two-time Olympian who was supposed to split time in goal with Emerance Maschmeyer, that number drops to one.
Lacasse dressed for her season debut on January 12 (her first game appearance was the next day). Saulnier missed time from November 17 to December 12. Daoust was out from December 1 to February 16. Poulin was out for the entire playoffs. Simply put, injuries defined the Canadiennes season.
And even despite this, and despite missing the best player in the entire league in the Clarkson Cup Final against the regular season champion Calgary Inferno, they came within a referee’s judgement call from being in a tied game in the third period.
That isn’t to say the Canadiennes played a great game - they didn’t. But it shows how close they were. And perhaps most frustratingly it showed what could have been.
And if this sounds like making excuses, it’s not meant to be. It’s illustrating the potential this team has. In previous Clarkson Cup losses, it always felt like the end. You always wondered which veteran players would not return. But this is a new era for Montreal. The core of the team should have another chance next season.
Chemistry was slow to develop, but you could see combinations start to work. Saulnier and Knight were starting to create, and when Daoust joined them, it was a combination that just worked in the playoffs. Daoust was a wing up until that point, but she proved that she is still one of the top centres in women’s hockey. Daoust and Poulin definitely had chemistry, but a 1-2 punch at centre with those two may be even better.
The Canadiennes always felt like they were trying to get over the hump. You felt they were getting close. They were getting close. There just wasn’t enough time for everything to come together. While the Clarkson Cup Final loss was frustrating, what may be even more frustrating is that they have to wait seven months to try again.