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PWHPA: Poulin, Desbiens lead the way as Montreal opens Dream Gap Tour with win

Timely scoring and great goaltending lead the way over Toronto.

Dave Holland/PWHPA

The Montreal-Toronto hockey rivalry went through Calgary on Monday, as Team Bauer, based in Montreal, defeated Team Sonnet, based in Toronto, 3-2 to kick off their Dream Gap Tour.

Marie-Philip Poulin’s shorthanded goal turned out to be the eventual game-winning goal as Ann-Renée Desbiens, from La Malbaie, Quebec, made 40 saves in her first start playing for Montreal.

“I remember on the bus the girls talking about the games between Montreal and Toronto in the [PWHPA],” Desbiens said. “There’s always a rivalry. We’re looking forward to playing them again.”

The Dream Gap Tour is a double round-robin tournament between Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary where the top two teams face off in the championship game on May 30. The standings are based on a modified points system. Not only does Montreal get two points for the regulation win, but add a third point for Poulin’s shorthanded goal.

“I didn’t think about [the extra point], to be honest,” Poulin said about her breakaway goal. “It’s just when I turned around and saw the bench jumping a little higher than usual that I realized we were getting an extra point.”

The teams have had to quarantine when they arrived in Calgary, which meant a several days without being on the ice and most teams have struggled to even get ice time due to COVID-19 restrictions around the country. Montreal has practiced upwards of five times a week as they have special status due to Centre 21.02, a high-performance facility that is recognized like similar centres for speed skating and diving, among others in the province. Toronto and Calgary, however, have struggled to find any ice time.

Both teams had a practice and morning skate before Monday’s game. For Toronto, it was their first full-team practice this season.

“With women’s hockey, we’ve always fallen victim to not getting repetitions,” said Toronto forward Sarah Nurse. “We’re not like the NHL guys who get 82 games, who get to practice almost every day. We don’t have that familiarity with our teammates simply because we’re not on the ice enough together.”

The final two games of the round robin will be broadcast on Sportsnet TV in Canada, as well as the championship game. It is the first time these athletes will be on television in Canada since the Canada/USA rivalry series in February 2020. Stops on the US leg of the Dream Gap Tour, between New Hampshire and Minnesota, were also televised in both countries.

“We know that nobody cares that we haven’t been on the ice together, they just want to see us perform,” Nurse said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”

Montreal had an early power play when Natalie Spooner got called for hooking at 1:41. There was good puck movement, but they were not able to beat Toronto goaltender Shea Tiley, who made 28 saves in a losing effort.

Toronto was able to take the lead during four-on-four action at 12:51 of the first period. Loren Gabel’s backhand pass from behind the net made it through a sea of legs and found defender Ella Shelton, who made no mistake to pot a goal in her first PWHPA game.

Montreal finally tied the game up early in the second period on their third power play of the game. Poulin made a diving play to keep the play alive in the offensive zone, and Jessie Eldridge made a great cross-ice pass to Erin Ambrose whose wrist shot beat Tiley from the right circle

The game remained tied until midway into the third period. Both goaltenders were relied on to make big saves as defensive breakdowns saw both teams get odd-player rushes and each team failed to score on 2-on-0 breaks.

The third period was the game’s best period as the pace improved. Montreal took the lead at 9:48 when Ann-Sophie Bettez’s shot from the point was tipped home by Rebecca Leslie. It was Leslie’s first game for Montreal. Alexandra Labelle also got an assist in her first PWHPA game.

Poulin’s shorthanded goal with less than seven minutes remaining made it a 3-1 game. Poulin picked up the loose puck at the defensive blue line, and was immediately off to the races. She placed a perfect wrist shot in the top corner.

That goal ended up being the game-winning goal because of a Toronto push with the goalie pulled. Eventually, Natalie Spooner added a goal when the puck redirected off of her skate and past Desbiens, but it was much too-little-too-late, as the 3-2 goal came with only three seconds remaining.

Lineups

Montreal’s next game will be Tuesday evening at 5:00 p.m. Eastern when they take on Team Calgary. The game will be streamed on Sportsnet Now and Sportsnet.ca.