The Montreal power play had talent, but it was clear that the lack of practice was something that was plaguing them throughout the tournament. With just over five minutes to go, it finally broke through.
Ottawa native Rebecca Leslie circled the zone with the puck and used the extra space to her advantage when she finally found a soft spot at the left circle and fired a shot past Toronto goaltender Erica Howe. The goal gave Montreal a 2-1 lead they would hold and the championship in the Sonnet Showcase at the Nepean Sportsplex in Ottawa on Sunday.
“The power play is something we really haven’t worked on,” said Montreal forward Jessie Eldridge, mentioning the team’s lack of practice. “It wasn’t pretty but when we needed it most it cashed in.”
Eldridge had been centralized with Canada’s Olympic team for part of the year, and after being cut was part of the PWHPA All-Star team that played the Canadian team in exhibition games.
“The Montreal girls welcomed me back with open arms,” Eldridge said. “We have such a great crew on the ice, off the ice, no matter what. It has helped me push through the low times and also enjoy the high times.”
“Montreal’s been shut down, we really haven’t practiced together and coming out and playing the game we love... it’s always nice to win too, it’s a cherry on top,” Eldridge said.
“We just have fun off the ice,” said Montreal forward Sarah Lefort about how the group’s camaraderie helps when they had so little practice time. “We just try to get together, and it just makes our communication a little bit more clear on the ice and it translates to the game.”
The Leslie goal came after a great defensive battle that included some physicality, a five-minute major, and a lot of blocked shots.
The Toronto power play was not able to break through on Marie-Soleil Deschênes who was once again spectacular in Montreal’s net. Montreal had to kill a five-minute penalty when Catherine Daoust was given five and a game for contact with Victoria Bach. The play seemed more like a sloppy collision and interference, but when Bach stayed down on the ice, the officials changed the call to a major.
Alexandra Labelle, one of the many Team Harvey’s (Montreal) players to stand out with a great performance drew a penalty while shorthanded shortly after Eldridge had a shorthanded chance to negate two minutes of the major.
The tide turned later in the period when Toronto got into some penalty trouble. Leslie’s power play goal to win the game came after five-on-four after Montreal had a five-on-three for around 30 seconds.
Toronto’s goaltender Howe made several saves early in the first period, including a breakaway by Labelle in the game’s opening minute. The game remained 0-0 after the first period despite chances from both sides.
The second period started with Deschênes making two big saves, one on Bach on a Toronto power play, and one on Kayla Vespa on a partial break.
Montreal took the lead, however, when Eldridge set up Ann-Sophie Bettez on a two-on-one rush. It was Bettez’s fourth goal in two games this weekend, and her sixth goal in four PWHPA games this season. She suffered a serious lower body injury in last year’s PWHPA showcase.
Toronto scored just a few minutes later. During four-on-four action, Laura Fortino hit the post behind Deschênes and when the play went back in the neutral zone, she fed Loren Gabel for a breakaway. The former NCAA player of the year made no mistake and beat Deschênes with an absolute rocket.
Gabel had another opportunity when a penalty shot was called shortly after. This time, however, Deschênes adjusted and make a huge save to keep the game at 1-1.
After Leslie’s goal in the third period, Toronto pulled the goaltender with under two minutes to go, but were unable to get the tying goal giving Montreal their first showcase win of the year after losing the last Truro, Nova Scotia showcase final to Calgary in a shootout back in November.
“We knew coming out of Truro, we would have two big games here so just keeping things simple, getting back out there, just having fun, that was our recipe today,” said Lefort.