Picking a Montreal team that came up short in the Clarkson Cup playoffs is a similar challenge to picking a Montreal team that came up short in the Stanley Cup playoffs (and there will be at least one, don’t worry).
In the 11 years that the Clarkson Cup was up for grabs, the Canadiennes (or their predecessors the Stars) won four Clarkson Cups, the most of any team. They also lost four Clarkson Cup finals.
That doesn’t leave us with much room to manoeuvre but there are still some candidates.
It could have been the 2013-14 team that went 19-2-2 but failed to even make the championship game after other teams got reinforcements following the Sochi Olympics. It also could have been the 2015-16 team that went 21-3-0 (and outscored opponents 113-36) but lost 8-3 to the Calgary Inferno in the championship game.
Those two teams got their redemption in 2016-17 when the Canadiennes beat Calgary with most of the core group remaining.
The 2018-19 team was the last one in CWHL history, and had a depth of talent on paper unlike any team in Montreal history.
2018-19 was Hilary Knight’s first full season with the team after joining the team the season prior for one regular season game and two playoff games after the PyeongChang Olympics. She would be joined by returnees Emerance Maschmeyer, Lauriane Rougeau (who also returned after the Olympics), Ann-Sophie Bettez, Katia Clement-Heydra, Sarah Lefort, and Karell Emard, among others.
The core would be joined by Erin Ambrose, also in her first full year in Montreal. Marie-Philip Poulin rejoined the team after the Olympic year, and fellow Olympians Jill Saulnier, Geneviève Lacasse, and 2018 Olympic MVP Mélodie Daoust would also join the fold.
That latter group was healthy for exactly one game together. Lacasse, who was supposed to split the net with Maschmeyer, 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.
The season also featured some unexpected turmoil when head coach Dany Brunet stepped down after a 7-1 start. He was replaced by Caroline Ouellette (who was later joined by Danièle Sauvageau) for the team’s trip to Calgary that weekend.
Poulin would dress for the Clarkson Cup hoping to spark her team and be a part of the game from the bench, but would not play a shift. The team came within a referee’s decision from tying the game in the third period.
The team fell 5-2 to the Inferno in the end. This isn’t to say that the Inferno weren’t a good team, or that they weren’t deserving of the championship. They were.
After the game, I wrote an article saying that injuries derailed their season. In it, I wrote this passage, which is almost comically optimistic in retrospect:
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.
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.
By now, you know what happened. The CWHL folded, and the core of the team didn’t get another chance in 2019-20.
On top of the current group wondering what could have been, the team would have been even better this year. Olympians Laura Stacey and Emily Clark trained in Montreal this season, and were to make the team even deeper up front. Canadian national team player Josiane Pozzebon was added to the defence.
It’s possible that the core of this team will still be together whenever there is another Montreal hockey team in a women’s hockey league. Unlike so many pro and college teams today, they did get to finish their season, albeit with an unhappy ending.
Like all teams to not win a championship, there are what ifs. Injuries played a role and you may wonder what would have happened had this team been healthy all year, or if Poulin had been healthy for the championship game, or if that tying goal to start the third period was not disallowed.
But what differentiates this team from most others in this category is that this team wasn’t dismantled due to trades, or free agency, or other factors leading to somewhat of a conclusion to the entire tale. This team was going to stick together, and even improve, but they didn’t get another chance.