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Les Canadiennes season preview: Montreal has a chip on their shoulder this year

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After stunning Clarkson Cup collapse, Les Canadiennes have eyes on the prize

Michelle Jay / TheIceGarden.com

They may be coming off a successful regular season (21-3-0), but Les Canadiennes de Montreal don’t want to look anywhere but forward. Last year’s regular-season success was followed by a disappointing loss in the Clarkson Cup Final to the Calgary Inferno, something they want to put behind them coming into this season.

Les Canadiennes kicked off their 2016-17 season with a two-day selection camp over the first weekend of September. They’ve eliminated one player from the roster, sending goalie Taylor Hough home, and traded Nachi Fujimoto to Boston.

The selection camp saw some familiar names, including Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette, Julie Chu and Charline Labonte. But a number of fresh faces also donned the red, white and blue.

Who to Watch

Among the new players were 2016 draft picks Sarah Lefort (forward), Cassandra Poudrier (defender) and former NWHL netminder Amanda Makela (goaltender), along with six other 2016 draft picks. Lefort was the team’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, and could bring an added scoring touch to an already powerful forward line-up.

Les Canadiennes still have some cuts to make to their final roster this year.

Playing with Boston University last year, Lefort broke the team’s scoring record (previously held by new teammate Poulin) with 183 points (92G, 91A) in 146 games. Needless to say, her offensive abilities could come in handy to a team looking to add some forward depth.

The Quebec native is looking forward to playing somewhat close to home after being in Boston and away at boarding school for so long. She describes herself as a power forward with a strong shot. Being a new member of the team, Lefort looks forward to learning from the veterans on the team.

"I'm definitely excited to see Poulin. I'm also excited to see some familiar faces who I played with before, whether that be through Hockey Canada or just in passing in some other camps, so names like Charline Labonte come to mind as well."

There’s little doubt they’re looking forward to having her on their side.

While this may be Cassandra Poudrier’s first season with Les Canadiennes, she probably doesn’t feel like the new kid on the block. Poudrier played with Lauriane Rougeau at Cornell University, where she served as captain last season. Scoring 13 points in 28 games, Poudrier looks to bring some added offence to the blue line, which is something she credits herself with developing in recent years.

"I think that over the years I've become more and more offensive," said Poudrier. "I'm a really intense player. I like to make sure I win every single battle on the ice and I think my intensity is something I like to use to describe me. I'm always working hard; it's not always going to be pretty but if your effort's there it's definitely a good thing."

Newly drafted goalie Amanda Makela has the not-so-desired challenge of battling to be back-up to two-time defending goaltender of the year Charline Lebonte. She is one of three remaining goalies fighting for this role. Makela joins Les Canadiennes from the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, where she served as back-up goalie last season.

Making the trip all the way from Japan, Nachi Fujimoto also debuted at camp. Fujimoto spent last year playing for Sapporo International University, serving as an example for how the women’s game is growing outside of North America. Her sister, Nana Fujimoto, served as goalie for the New York Riveteres (NWHL) in 2015-16. Fun fact: Fujimoto’s jersey was #1 in sales for New York last season.

Early last week, Nachi Fujimoto was traded to the Boston Blades for “future considerations.” The last CWHL trade of this nature ultimately ended with Genevieve Lacasse shipping up to Calgary, leaving Blades fans brokenhearted. While this trade may not reap immediate rewards for Montreal, look for them to cash in on this in the future.

Key to Success

Les Canadiennes have no shortage of veteran talent. Marie-Philip Poulin returns as reigning CWHL MVP and Angela James Bowl winner, joined by runner-up Ann-Sophie Bettez. A strong rookie class, led by Katia Clement-Heydra, helped to bring incredible depth to Montreal’s roster. Scoring depth should continue to be a hill to stand on for Les Canadiennes. The addition of Lefort to the already-stacked roster should keep Montreal comfortable atop the scoring chart.

The only potential hiccup is on defense, where the availability of Team USA legend Julie Chu will be shaky. Chu, formerly an assistant coach at Concordia University, was promoted to head coach this offseason. She was already making limited appearances last season, and the blueline missed her dearly at times. She’ll play part-time this season, splitting her time between Les Canadiennes and her coaching duties at Concordia, with Concordia taking precedence on days where the schedules conflict. Having played forward for a large part of her career before switching to defense, Chu is an invaluable asset on Montreal’s special teams.

That being said, the other veterans on the blueline should have no trouble holding down the fort. Captain Cathy Chartrand led Les Canadiennes brilliantly last season, in which they outscored their opponents 114-36. Les Canadiennes have only gotten stronger over the offseason and should be a favorite to return to the Clarkson Cup Championship without making any major changes.

After last season, one thing is for sure: Anything less than a championship for Les Canadiennes would be considered a failure in their own eyes. They saw what they’re capable of last year, but weren’t able to take home the championship. Their goal now is simple: Win it all.

Important Dates

Les Canadiennes final preseason matchup will be October 6 against Universte de Montreal.

The team will start their regular season on the road, against the Brampton Thunder on Oct. 15. Montreal will play two games in Saint-Georges, Quebec this season. They’ll host the Boston Blades at the Centre Sportif Lacroix-Dutil on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 1:30 p.m.

Both Poulin and CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux hail from the area. The team hopes to provide those in the area with the opportunity to see some of the world’s best players in women’s hockey. For more information on these games, visit their website.

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