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No captain, no skates, no problem: Canadiennes take 1-0 series lead in CWHL semi-final

Montreal wins 3-0 despite missing players to injury and an incident earlier in the day.

Shanna Martin / CWHL

Emerance Maschmeyer has been one of the best goaltenders in the CWHL since entering the league three years ago. But prior to Friday night, she had never won a playoff game - losing her first four games.

That changed in game one of Les Canadiennes’ CWHL semi-final win against the Markham Thunder at the Place Bell community rink. The task was made even harder because she was one of the six Canadiennes players who had their skates or blades taken when a teammate’s jeep was stolen earlier in the day.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t control it. It’s almost more fun that way. Things aren’t perfect so you’re just like ‘OK, let’s play’,” Maschmeyer said. She found an old pair of skates from college before making 13 saves in the shutout win.

Aside from the morning incident, the team was also without their captain Marie-Philip Poulin - the best player in the world, and the CWHL’s top scorer. Poulin suffered a lower-body injury in the team’s season finale.

“I don’t think it was devastating. Of course it is when you look from afar and you’re like ‘my God your captain is out’,” said Canadiennes forward Karell Emard. “Everyone is stepping up.”

“It was a gusty win,” said Ouellette. ”Everybody contributed. Some players only played a few minutes but they were high energy. Everyone stepped up when we needed them. It really felt like a collective effort.”

Poulin’s absence was compounded by the fact that Erin Ambrose, also a member of the Canadian World Championship team, missed the final two periods of the game. She suffered a head or neck injury according to coach Caroline Ouellette and will be reevaluated before Saturday’s game. The team was also missing Melanie Desrochers who had other commitments but will be back for game two.

Missing Ambrose and Desrochers, what has been a top-four pairing for the team most of the year, meant that the team had to move Emard to defence. Emard has always been a forward, but played defence in her rookie CWHL season.

“Karell is the kind of player every coach wants,” said Ouellette. “She can play at wing, at centre, she played defence for us... She’s someone who’s able to do the job, she’s confident and wants the puck. She wants to face the best players.”

The hit that knocked Ambrose out of the game was a hit to the head from behind by Jenna McParland. She got a two minute penalty and a 10 minute misconduct for head contact. On the ensuing power play, Mélodie Daoust took the puck on the left circle and fired a snap shot past Erica Howe to give Montreal a 1-0 lead. Ambrose played the remainder of the first period.

Montreal doubled their lead late in the second period with another power play goal. Catherine Daoust, who stepped up all game for Montreal, fired a shot from the point that tipped off the stick of Thunder defender Megan Bozek before beating Howe with just under 1:30 left in the second period.

“It was not a hard shot, I was hoping it would get tipped,” said the rookie defender. “I was lucky that’s what happened even if it was the other team. I knew we had players in front creating traffic.”

Daoust was tasked with Lauriane Rougeau to defend the top line of the Thunder, Victoria Bach, Jamie Lee Rattray, and Laura Stacey. They were up to the challenge.

Despite missing Ambrose, Poulin, and Desrochers, Montreal held the Thunder to just 13 shots while generating 34 on Howe. Since taking over the team, Ouellette and associate coach Danièle Sauvageau have both preached defensive zone coverage.

“That’s one aspect that we talked about,” said Ouellette. “The girls have really bought in. Collectively we were able to stop their speed and create turnovers.”

“The reality of the situation is that we need everyone to be a little bit better without Marie-Philip.”

In the third period, Hilary Knight made it 3-0 with a great individual effort. She created the turnover and put in her own rebound.

Montreal and Markham will continue their best-of-three series Saturday evening. Puck drop is 6:00 p.m. at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

Although the game is in Montreal, Markham will be the home team and have last change.

“The hardest thing to do is end a team’s season,” said Emard. “You know they will be desperate and give everything they have. It will be an intense, physical game and we’ll be ready.”

The game will be streamed free at TheCWHL.com/watch. Tickets are available here.