For the first time in their 10 year history the Montreal professional women’s hockey team would play a home game at the Bell Centre. This was a big step for women’s hockey; a step towards legitimacy. Legitimacy that is so richly deserved. Players like Cammi Granato, Kim St. Pierre (who was in attendance along with other Montreal alumni), Angela James, Cassie Campbell, Geraldine Heaney, Danielle Goyette, and Angela Ruggiero had poured their blood, sweat and tears into this moment. Due to their association with the Montreal Canadiens Les Canadiennes (formerly the Montreal Stars) would play a regular season home game at the over 21,000 hockey stadium. A great sign of how far the women’s game has come along with this is that almost 6,000 hockey fans were in attendance filling up the lower bowl of the Bell Centre. It made for a nice atmosphere that these hard working and talented women deserved.
Despite the fact that this was just a regular season game it featured two of the best sides in the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League). The CWHL has teams in Boston, Toronto, Brampton, Calgary, and Montreal. Montreal is in 1st place with Calgary right behind them in 2nd.
Most of the best female hockey players from North America (primarily) play in the league with plenty of top drawer players on the Montreal (10-2-1) and Calgary (9-2) sides. Montreal has the league’s top three scorers in the league – Caroline Ouellette, Marie-Philip Poulin and Anne-Sophie Bettez with Calgary featuring two top 10 scorers in Brianne Jenner and Jill Saulnier. Plus you get several high profile players on each side like Montreal’s Julie Chu, Lauriane Rougeau and Charline Labonté and Calgary’s Rebecca Johnston, Meaghan Mikkelson and Hayley Irwin.
It was an anticipated match up made even more so because in last year’s final (Clarkson Cup) Calgary crushed Montreal 8-3. This was to be their first meeting since that game. Montreal had to be looking for some redemption. After being destroyed by Calgary the Montreal players must have felt like they had to prove they could play with Calgary. Also important for Montreal as they have been off form of late and must have wanted to right the ship quickly.
Despite all the firepower on each side this turned into a battle between the two goalies with Charline Labonté coming out on top with a shutout, but the only reason this was not a three or four goal victory for Montreal was the stellar play of the Calgary netminder, Emerance Maschmeyer. She made about a half dozen sparkling saves on the 32 shots directed at her. They include two saves on the woman who is widely acknowledged as the best female hockey player today, Marie-Philip Poulin. The two saves I’m speaking of had Poulin standing there shaking her head with a wry smile on her face. Labonté was steady making 25 saves for her third shutout of the season. An interesting backstory to the two goaltenders is that they are Team Canada teammates and represent the past (Labonté) and future (Maschmeyer) of Canadian women’s goaltending.
Fittingly, the only shot on the day to elude either of the goaltenders was by the Montreal captain, Poulin. It happened just past the midway point of the 1st period. Poulin deftly completed a passing play between herself and her linemate, and former Dawson Blues player, Bettez at the 11:53 mark.
The rest of the game, despite the low score, was back and forth with each goaltender being called upon to make big saves. This was not boring defensive hockey. It featured big shots from the point, end to end rushes, partial or full break aways, nicely angled passing, and goal mouth scrambles. The crowd, which featured plenty of young girls watching their heroes and seeing what they could be in the future, applauded often and loudly in approval.
The game was as well played and exciting as you would expect from these two quality sides. It really was a demonstration of how far the women’s game has come. These women shoot the puck hard, skate fast, are tough, and have great individual skills. If not for the excellence of both goaltenders the score could have been much higher.
Bottom line was that it was an important game for both sides with Montreal now pulling three points ahead of Calgary in the battle for 1st place. Though Calgary has played two fewer games. As is usually the case, this was the fist of a back-to-back weekend for the two sides with the second game being Sunday afternoon at the Etienne-Desmarteau Arena.
-Goals: 1st Period:
11:52: Montreal – Marie-Philip Poulin assisted by Anne-Sophie Bettez and Cathy Chartrand
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 32
Calgary – 25
-3 Stars: 1) Marie-Philip Poulin – Montreal
2) Emerance Maschmeyer – Calgary
3) Charline Labonté – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
Calgary – 0