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PWHPA: Montreal captures Dream Gap Tour championship with win over Toronto

Marie-Philip Poulin — who else — scores the game-winning goal.

Dave Holland / PWHPA

It was a week-long tournament where the two top teams played five games over seven days, but when the clock ran out and the buzzer sounded after Montreal’s 4-2 win over Toronto at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, it felt like the end of a long season.

Marie-Philip Poulin’s shot into the top corner with 5:32 remaining in the game popped the water bottle and was the goal that allowed Montreal to pop champagne in the locker room after they hoisted the Canadian Secret Cup for winning the Canadian Dream Gap Tour stop.

Poulin fired a one-timer off of a Jessie Eldridge pass to beat Toronto goaltender Shea Tiley. It was her third point of the game, as she also had two assists. She finished the tournament with five goals and six assists for 11 points, leading all players in the three categories.

After the win, the celebrations seemed more like what you would see after a long season and a championship.

“It felt pretty special,” Poulin said. “It’s been awhile that we’ve had the chance to lift a cup and overall this was a great week that was a lot of fun.”

For Poulin personally, it was the first championship game for an event longer than three games that she played in since 2018. She dressed but did not play a shift in the 2019 Clarkson Cup, where Montreal lost to Calgary, the last game in CWHL history. She also left that season’s World Championships with an injury and didn’t play in the bronze medal game. In 2020, the World Championships were cancelled, and the PWHPA only played short events.

Montreal had a leg up over the other teams in the tournament because they have been able to get on the ice several times a week, even with COVID-19 restrictions. It put pressure on them to perform, but it also allowed them to have a bond after months of scrimmages against each other. It was no sure thing they would even get a chance to play games as a group against other teams.

“It was awesome to be able to win it with the friends that you’ve played alongside for a long time and getting this reward after a tough year,” said Montreal’s Karell Emard. “I was standing at the blue line watching everyone. [Jill Saulnier] made it seem like it was so important and she plays at the [international] level. There’s no words to describe it. It was what we wanted. We came here to do this.”

The game had no goals through the first 20 minutes as the two teams traded scoring chances. Tiley stood tall, as did Montreal goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens.

Just under five minutes into the game, after a Toronto penalty expired, Eldridge scored her third goal of the tournament when she batted home a rebound out of the air to give Montreal the 1-0 lead.

They doubled their lead just over the midway mark of the second period. After Poulin made her way into a dangerous spot, she couldn’t hang on to the puck. It went right to Catherine Dubois, who scored her first PWHPA goal by putting it under Tiley.

Only 18 seconds later, Toronto got one back. Sarah Nurse skated through the neutral zone and over the blue line and fired a puck at Desbiens. She got a piece of it, but it bounced up in the air and over her before bouncing into the net.

The goal made it 2-1, and gave Toronto life.

They almost tied the game shortly after. Desbiens went to play the puck, but played it off Toronto’s Brianne Jenner. Jenner picked up the loose puck and, with Desbiens out of the net, had time and the open net. However, her shot was saved by Erin Ambrose to save a sure goal.

Jenner would eventually tie the game anyway. After Nurse won the faceoff back to her, she fired a shot past Desbiens with only 23.3 seconds remaining.

In a scene that would have been reminiscent to anyone who watched Saturday’s NHL playoff game between Montreal and Toronto, the team from Ontario dominated the period after tying the game.

Montreal wouldn’t get their first shot until the nine minute mark of the period, but they made them count. They only had seven shots in the third period, compared to Toronto’s nine, but Montreal outscored Toronto 2-0 in the final period.

Poulin’s winner was one, and after yet another Desbiens save — she made 28 saves in the win — Sarah Lefort chipped the puck off the boards to herself and fired her shot into the empty net with 1:39 remaining.

That sealed the deal, and gave Montreal the win. They likely won’t get another game this season as a team, and it may be a while before they get a chance. With Canadian Olympians being centralized next season, the PWHPA intends to still play but as a group they may not get a chance until the 2022-23 season.

Montreal and Toronto split their two games in the double round robin. Montreal was without forward Ann-Sophie Bettez, who missed the final two games. She went on the ice after the game to celebrate with her teammates.