Revenge best served cold: Les Canadiennes win Clarkson Cup

In a rematch of last year’s Clarkson Cup final, Les Canadiennes defeated the Inferno 3-1.

Last year, Les Canadiennes entered the Clarkson Cup final as favorites to walk away with the championship and CWHL supremacy. However, the Calgary Inferno had other plans, and upset Les Canadiennes 8-3 to take home the Clarkson Cup for the first time in the Inferno’s history. The loss would stay with Montreal throughout the summer and into the following season. Stepping onto the ice at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon, Les Canadiennes had one goal: revenge.

For the second time in as many years, Les Canadiennes and the Inferno faced off for the Clarkson Cup. But this time around, it was Calgary who came into the game with the slight advantage. Calgary posted the best regular-season performance, finishing atop the CWHL with a 20-4 record. Montreal found themselves in an unfamiliar position as the underdog, which seems to be exactly where they wanted to be. The motivation that carried them through the year would help them win Sunday’s Clarkson Cup final.

The first period got off to a bit of a slow start, unless you were the referees, who had no problem handing out penalties early on. Both teams would exchange turns on the power play in the first half of the period, but the goalies made sure to prevent any sort of early lead.

At just over the halfway mark of the first frame, Calgary’s Bailey Bram was called for hooking. Just seconds later Katia Clement-Heydra picked up the puck during a scramble in front of the net and beat Emerance Maschmeyer with a backhander to put Montreal up 1-0. Noémie Marin and Karell Emard both picked up assists on the play.

Sarah Lefort found herself in the penalty box shortly after her team took the lead, but Montreal was able to kill off the penalty and finish the period 1-0, while also outshooting Calgary 11-5. The first 20 minutes of the game went according to plan for Montreal.

Things wouldn’t really change in the second period, with both teams exchanging a handful of scoring chances, and both goalies keeping the door firmly shut in their own zone. That was until.... Marie-Philip Poulin.

Poulin snagged the puck in the neutral zone, and with plenty of time and space, walked right into the high slot and fired a shot at Maschmeyer. While Maschmeyer almost made the save, the puck trickled in behind her. And just like that, Montreal was up 2-0.

We all know how dangerous Marie-Philip Poulin is on a normal day, but she is downright deadly in big games (please see the 2014 Sochi gold medal game, or the 2010 Vancouver gold medal game... you get the idea). Although Calgary had done their best to limit Poulin throughout the game, she managed to make the most of the fleeting opportunity that she was given.

To Calgary’s credit, shots were 17-8 for Montreal at one point in the second period, but by the time the period ended, things had almost evened out at 19-15. Play was nowhere near as lop sided as the shot count would suggest, but Calgary certainly stepped up their game in the second half of the period. They were not going down without a fight.

It all came down to this. Montreal was 20 minutes away from winning the Clarkson Cup, and avenging their heartbreak from last year. As Calgary continued to press, with their season on the line, Montreal could only stand tall for so long. With about seven minutes remaining in the third period, Calgary cut the lead in half by scoring their first goal of the game. Jill Saulnier found herself all alone in front of Montreal’s net when Rebecca Johnston fed her a beautiful pass. Saulnier made no mistake, beating Charline Labonté and bringing her team within one goal of tying this game.

Calgary wouldn’t stop there, laying on the offence as the clock was counting down. With two minutes left in the game, Calgary pulled Maschmeyer and threw on the extra attacker. But it would not go as planned.

Julie Chu broke out of the Montreal zone and fed the puck to Marie-Philip Poulin, who managed to get some space in the neutral zone, just enough to bury the empty netter. Montreal took a very comfortable 3-1 lead right to the end of the game, reclaiming their spot atop the CWHL as Clarkson Cup champions.

After the disappointment of last year’s final, the sense of relief felt by members of Les Canadiennes was palpable.

“We weren't proud of our performance last year, and we really wanted to play a complete game this year,” said Caroline Ouellette. “I am so happy and proud of this team.”

It’s always incredible to watch some of the best hockey players in the world win a championship, especially for the first time. As hard as it is to believe this is the first Clarkson Cup for Charline Labonté.

The players were so happy to be celebrating together, and it was a blast to watch them do so. Congratulations, Les Canadiennes!