Ottawa launched its inaugural PWHL season on Tuesday, Jan. 2, in front of a sold-out crowd of over 8,300 fans. Despite the team’s opening game loss to Montréal in overtime, 3-2, the atmosphere has remained overwhelmingly positive.
After a scoreless first, Mikyla Grant-Mentis tucked a backhand into the Montréal net in the second period for a goal celebration that blew the roof off the arena. The goal was erased after a review that showed that the goaltender had raised the net off the ice, and the puck had slipped into the net through the gap between the ice and the bottom of the post.
It was a frustrating moment for excited fans, but head coach Carla MacLeod's message on the bench was positive. “That’s part of the game,” MacLeod told reporters following the game. “We said on the bench that it’s pretty exciting when we get an almost goal, so let’s go get a real one and see what this crowd will do.”
That was precisely what Ottawa did. Hayley Scamurra scored Ottawa’s first goal just a few minutes later. The game went back and forth and was tied 2-2 after regulation. Ann-Sophie Bettez scored the winner in overtime for a Montréal win.
Coach MacLeod was all smiles when she walked into the post-game press conference. She said she was astonished by the crowd and the crowd of media covering the game. “I think I’ve been wiping away subtle tears,” MacLeod said. “It’s a moment that isn’t lost on me.”
Team captain Brianne Jenner said she was bummed about the outcome but that the team couldn’t be bummed about the way they played.
MacLeod didn’t appear bothered by the loss her team posted. “It wasn’t going to be about the result tonight; it was going to be about the experience," she said. "I thought offensively we moved the puck pretty well. And that’s what we’re looking to do. We want to be a puck-moving team, we want to be creative, we want to free our players up to use their gifts and talent.”
Ottawa forward Lexie Adzija told The Ice Garden after practice on Thursday that the first-ever game was a moment she would never forget. “One of the coolest and best experiences of our lives,” she said.
And with the excitement of the first night mellowing out, MacLeod and her team were ready to shift their focus to their next game.
“The breakdowns resulted in goals, but those are fixes. That’s why there’s a coaching staff,” MacLeod told reporters. “It’s just a couple of little tweaks here and there that will probably go a long way to helping us down the road.”
At practice on Thursday, the team practiced screens in front of the net. Players took turns placing their bodies in front of the goalies to inhibit their ability to see and stop the puck.
MacLeod told her team on the ice that all the goalies in the PWHL are elite, so screens are the difference maker. Adzija echoed her instructions following the practice. “You’re looking at the top 12 goalies in the world, so you’ve got to get screens and cover their eyes to try and get pucks to the net. I think that’ll be a bit focused moving forward,” she told The Ice Garden.
Aneta Tejralová said she felt terrific before, during, and after Tuesday’s game despite the outcome. “When we stepped to the ice and looked around, it was amazing because I’ve never seen that before,” she said.
Tejralová is approaching the season's next leg with an offensive mind: “We need to work on driving to the net and shooting. That’s the key for the next games."
The team kept joy in the locker room high while celebrating Tejralová's birthday. The team decorated her stall and taped a red balloon to her helmet. They also ended their practice by surrounding Tejralová and singing Happy Birthday.
Ottawa will play their second game on the road in Boston, who also lost their home opener. The game will be Ottawa’s first away from home and Boston’s second game of the season. Local viewers can watch the game on NESN, and Canadians can watch the matchup on TSN. The game will also be available on YouTube for those outside the broadcast regions. Puck drop is at 6:00 p.m.
(UPDATE Jan. 8 2024, 10:53 a.m.: Following the publication of this article, the PWHL announced Monday night's game will be postponed to a later date due to weather impacting player travel. TIG will have more information up as it is made available.)