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Selecting the All-Time CWHL First Team

Six of the best to play in the CWHL

Toronto Furies Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three months since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League officially ceased operations. The league’s site is down, the majority of its trophies are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the majority of its most popular players have aligned themselves with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

The CWHL is over, but it would be a terrible mistake to forget the role that the league played in the history of women’s hockey and the accomplishments of its hundreds of alumnae. Two months ago, we looked at the last wave of the CWHL’s 100-point club in part to better preserve the history of the league. Today, we are taking things one step further.

We asked a select group of women’s hockey media members to pick their top six forwards, top four defenders, and top two goalies. From those selections, we narrowed the list down to the players who received the most votes in order to identify the CWHL’s All-Time First and Second Teams.

Today, we are turning our attention to the CWHL’s All-Time First Team, which features a Hockey Hall of Famer and five legends of The Montréal Stars/Les Canadiennes de Montréal franchise.

A special thanks to Michelle Jay, Meredith Foster, Eleni Demestihas, Kirsten Whelan, Jared Book, and @Baseball_Annie_ for participating in the media voting.


The First Team

Marie-Philip Poulin | Forward

Poulin finished first in our voting for a reason. It’s one thing to be consistent, and quite another to be consistently brilliant. Poulin was undeniably the league’s best player in the three years she played after finishing her collegiate career at Boston University. In effect, she was the CWHL’s last true superstar.

An unselfish player, Poulin’s ability to make something out of nothing made her one of the game’s most entertaining players for years. After putting up a ridiculous 43 points in 16 games as a teenager in 2007-08, Poulin played just six games the following season before starting her collegiate career south of the border.

Poulin’s CWHL trophy case is as impressive as they come. She brought home the Jayna Hefford Trophy and was named the CWHL’s MVP in all three of her post-collegiate CWHL seasons. She also won two Clarkson Cups (2009, 2017) and won the Angela James Bowl three times as the league’s top scorer.

Through 93 career regular season games she averaged 1.98 points per-game (Pts/GP); only Meghan Agosta and Jennifer Botterill had higher Pts/GP in their own brilliant careers. One could even debate that Poulin’s career scoring rate rivaled Agosta’s 2.52 Pts/GP because the quality of play and talent of the league was at its height during the CWHL’s last three seasons. Agosta’s scoring rate is also tied to a smaller sample size; she played 50 games compared to Poulin’s 93.

We also can’t discuss Poulin’s excellence in the CWHL without mentioning her longtime linemate Ann-Sophie Bettez. Together, they formed the most formidable scoring duo in CWHL history. In the three years that they played together in Montréal, Poulin led the league in scoring and Bettez was never more than two points behind her.

One indicator of just how influential Poulin was to Les Canadiennes’ offense during her five-year career is her primary point production. In her last three seasons, 103 of Poulin’s 133 points were primary; only Bettez eclipsed her. Because of her ability to make magic happen with her incredible hands and vision, Poulin’s play away from the puck has often been overlooked. In her last three seasons in the CWHL she was on the ice for 102 even strength goals for and just 22 even strength goals against.

We’ll never know how many CWHL records the now 28-year-old Poulin would have chased down and/or smashed if the league hadn’t folded. The 184 points she amassed in 93 career regular season games is good for fourth all-time in CWHL history — the three players above her played at least 48 more games in their career.

Caroline Ouellette | Forward

Ouellette is the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer with a staggering 315 points in 184 games. She is one of just three skaters to record a 60-point season in league history and she’s the only player to accomplish that feat twice. Furthermore, Ouellette is the only player in CWHL history to record at least 125 goals and 125 assists in her career and is the sole member of the CWHL’s 300-point club.

Caro is truly in a class of her own when it comes to longevity and production.

The 5-foot-11 Montréal native was the perfect combination of strength and skill with and without the puck on her stick. Ouellette helped establish Montréal as the league’s premier franchise in the early stages of her professional career. She was voted as the league’s MVP in her first and third seasons and helped the Stars/Les Canadiennes win four Clarkson Cups (2009, 2011, 2012, 2017).

Caroline Ouellette during a game at Walter Brown Arena in Boston, MA on Jan. 08, 2017.
Michelle Jay

As you can imagine, there’s a lot to unpack from Ouellette’s nine-year career. The stat that likely jumps off the page the most is her unrivaled 184 career assists in 176 games. If Ouellette never scored a single goal in the CWHL, she would still be tied for fourth all-time in career points with Poulin. Just think about that for a second. As it turns out, she is second all-time in career goals (130), just one shy of Noémie Marin’s now unbreakable record.

As if all of that wasn’t impressive enough, Ouellette began her CWHL career just before she turned 30. Her production dropped significantly after the 2011-12 season, in which she became one of just three players in CWHL history to record 30 goals in a season. After she turned 32, Ouellette’s Pts/GP dropped to 1.03; before that, she averaged a blistering 2.06 Pts/GP.

The fact that Ouellette was still better than a point per-game player in the twilight of her career speaks volumes about her skill level and ability to process the game. When you consider the numbers that she put up in the Canadian National Women’s Hockey League, the Western Women’s Hockey League with the Minnesota Whitecaps, and as a true icon of the Canadian women’s national team, there’s no doubt that Caro is one of the best ever.

She has to be a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Jayna Hefford | Forward

Jayna Hefford is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame primarily for what she achieved during her tenure with the Canadian women’s national team, but she was also one of the CWHL’s earliest and brightest stars.

Back in 2007, the CWHL needed star players to help sell the game and attract fans to the new league. It didn’t take long for fans to fall in love with Hefford and her Brampton Thunder teammates. The Thunder won the first-ever CWHL championship thanks in large part to Hefford scoring three goals — one of which opened the scoring in the final — and picking up two assists in the playoffs. She was even more brilliant in the regular season that year, scoring 58 points in 27 games to become the league’s first scoring champion.

Hefford was, without a doubt, one of the CWHL’s most prolific goal scorers — if not the greatest in league history. She was downright deadly with the puck on her stick whenever she was in the offensive zone, especially at even strength. Hefford led the league in goal scoring in 2008, 2009, and 2011 and led the Thunder in goals in each of the five full seasons she played with the team.

The league’s last acting commissioner averaged an incredible 1.01 goals per-game in her 128-game career. The 130 career goals she scored are good for first all-time in Thunder franchise history and third all-time in league history, just two behind Marin and one behind Ouellette. Heford is also one of just four players to score 200 or more points in her CWHL career and has the highest Pts/GP (1.82) among that select group of skaters.

Just three years after Hefford’s final season in the league, the CWHL began presenting the Jayna Hefford Trophy to the league’s most outstanding player of the regular season as voted by the players. It was a fitting acknowledgement of her legacy.

Cathy Chartrand | Defender

In the six seasons Chartrand played with the Stars/Les Canadiennes she established herself as one of the best defenders on the planet. The fact that the big, smooth-skating defender never played for Canada’s national team for a World Championship or an Olympic tournament is the source of much controversy. She intimidated opposing players with her size and strength in the defensive zone and her big shot in the offensive zone throughout her CWHL career.

The 5-foot-11 Quebecker is the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer among defenders. Like many who play her position, some of her production was directly tied to the strength of the team she played for, but Chartrand was by no means a spectator to Les Canadiennes’ offense. She scored 30 goals and picked up 47 primary assists from Montréal’s blue line, finishing her career with 123 points in 144 games. The next-highest scoring full-time* defender in CWHL history was Laura Fortino, who had 82 points in 96 career games.

On a Les Canadiennes team that was best known for its speed and skill, Chartrand was an imposing physical presence despite the fact that she began her career after her 30th birthday. She regularly won puck battles against younger, faster forwards and finished her career with 148 penalty minutes. Opposing teams knew they would have to pay the price if they wanted to stand in front of Les Canadiennes’ net, and they knew it was Chartrand who was ready and willing to collect the toll.

Even with the amount of time she spent in the box, Chartrand did far more good than harm for Montréal. She finished her career with a remarkable 70.41 percent even strength goal-differential (ES GF%), which is also a testament to just how dominant Montréal was during her half dozen years with the club. Chartrand was routinely one of her team’s best penalty killers and her big shot played a role in her picking up five or more primary points on the power play in four of her six CWHL seasons.

Chartrand is one of just three defenders who was twice named the CWHL’s Defenceman of the Year and is the only blueliner to not win the award in consecutive seasons. She won the Clarkson Cup with Montréal in her penultimate season and remains the franchise’s all-time leader in penalty minutes, games among defenders, and points among defenders.

*= Julie Chu finished her CWHL career with 90 points, but began her career as a forward.

Catherine Ward | Defender

There is no defender in CWHL history that made a mark as large as Ward did in two seasons or less. Twice the recipient of the Best Defenceman of the Year award, Ward was a superb two-way defender for the Montréal Stars who played like she was in a class of her own.

There are few defenders on the planet who are as proficient with the puck on their stick as Ward was at the height of her powers. She notched 30 primary assists in the 56 combined regular season and playoff games she played in the CWHL. Impressively, 19 of those 30 primary assists were registered at even strength, which demonstrates just how gifted Ward was at moving the puck regardless of how many skaters the opposition had on the ice.

Ward is one of just three defenders in CWHL history to register 30 or more points in a single season. She also ranks first in Pts/GP among defenders who played in at least 30 regular season games during their career. One could definitely build a case that she was the best two-way defender to ever play in the CWHL.

Hockey Canada Cup - Canada v Sweden Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Both in her international and professional career Ward had a reputation for being a clutch performer who stepped up her game when it mattered most. Her reliable play in all three zones helped Montréal lift the Clarkson Cup in 2012 after she notched two goals and 29 assists in the regular season. The following year, she was named the MVP of the Clarkson Cup Playoffs despite the fact that the Boston Blades defeated the Stars in the final.

Ward finished her career with eight points in eight CWHL Playoff games, which makes her the only defender in league history to play five or more postseason games and average at least 1.00 Pts/GP. Now that’s clutch.

The outstanding blueliner chose to hang up her skates at the age of 28 after winning her second Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in Sochi.

Charline Labonté | Goaltender

During its 12-year history, the CWHL featured some of the most talented goaltenders in the world. With that being said, all of the media members involved in selecting our CWHL All-Time First and Second Teams named Labonté as the greatest goaltender in league history. Yes, she was that good.

It may be hard to believe after you see her numbers, but Labonté was more than likely underrated during her career because of the quality of the skaters who played in front of her. According to data provided by Giants in the Crease, Labonté faced an average of just 23.5 shots against per 60 minutes during her career. But that stat doesn’t tell the whole story.

Les Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonté makes a save during the Clarkson Cup Final against Calgary Inferno at Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa, on March 13, 2016.
Michelle Jay

Whenever Labonté was in net, Montréal’s skaters knew that she’d give them every chance to win. As a result of her team’s aggressive style of play, she faced a lot of breakaways and rushes over the years but almost always had answers for the opposition’s prime scoring chances.

The consistency of her play is evidenced by her career .734 quality start percentage, which ranks second all-time among CWHL goaltenders who appeared in at least 35 games. It is further evidenced by how rarely she turned in a bad game; Labonté allowed four or more goals five times in her last three seasons.

Labonté’s .925 career save percentage is good for third all-time among CWHL goaltenders who had at least 25 career starts. Her 47 career regular season wins ranks second all-time, behind only fellow CWHL legend Sami Jo Small*, who played around 3,000 more minutes in her career. Labonté is also second to Small in all-time career shutouts. However, if we include postseason shutouts she is the league’s all-time leader in clean sheets with 17.

Labonté was named the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year in 2015, 2016, and 2017 after winning gold with Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics. She was also an All-Star in all three of those seasons and led the league in wins in 2016 and 2017.

The greatest accomplishment of Labonté’s storied CWHL career is the fact that she was named the MVP of the Clarkson Cup Championship in both 2015 and 2017. She and her teammates lifted the Clarkson Cup in her final CWHL game on Mar. 5, 2017.

*= Goaltending data for the 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons are incomplete.


All data courtesy of Richard Scott’s Who’s Who in Women’s Hockey Guide, eliteprospects.com, Giants in the Crease, and Jeff Craig’s CWHL Tracker, and the author’s own tracking.