Wednesday, 23 April 2014

She Shoots She Scores selects its 2013-14 CWHL All-Star Team

In the aftermath of the 2013-14 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season, the opportunity for players to rise to the occasion in the face of Winter Games Centralization resulted in an exciting chapter where new superstars emerged. From fresh-faced rookies to established veterans eager to shine, the season did not disappoint.

First Team All-Stars

Forwards

Ann-Sophie Bettez, Montreal

 Having claimed the 2014 Angela James Bowl, marking the fifth consecutive year that a Montreal player grabs the coveted scoring title, Bettez helped Montreal to the regular season title. Her sparkling 40-point campaign resulted in a league-best (HOW MANY GAMES) scoring streak in which she also led the circuit in goals scored, assists, plus/minus ranking and game winning goals. For her efforts, she was also bestowed the Most Valuable Player award.

Jillian Dempsey, Boston

             The Harvard alum excelled in her rookie season with the Blades. With the absence of top scorers such as Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Kelli Stack to Centralization, Dempsey took the team on her back and emerged as an offensive catalyst. Her 28 points not only paced all skaters for the black and gold, but she led all CWHL rookies. The winner of the 2014 CWHL Rookie of the Year, her season would end with an appearance in the Clarkson Cup championship game. 

 Sarah Vaillancourt, Montreal
  
            Despite retiring from the Canadian national team, Vaillancourt proved why she is a world-class talent. Finishing as the runner-up to Stars teammate Ann-Sophie Bettez in the race for the Clarkson Cup with an astounding 35 point performance, she was a key component in the Stars regular season dominance. Her ability as a play maker was evident throughout the season. Of her 23 assists, 13 came on the power play, a league best.
  
Defenders
  
Cathy Chartrand, Montreal

             Having inherited the Stars captaincy from team founder (and CWHL co-founder) Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, it was a role that Chartrand took seriously. A former captain with the nationally renowned McGill Martlets, she was up to the task of providing a strong leadership for the Stars. For the second consecutive season, she would lead all CWHL defenders in scoring. Of her 30 point performance in the regular season, 17 of them came on the power play, testament to her ability as a key performer on special teams.
  
Blake Bolden, Boston

             Entering the 2013-14 season, Blake Bolden had already made history. Selected in the first round by the defending Clarkson Cup champion Blades in the 2013 CWHL Draft, Bolden became the first African-American selected in the opening round of the CWHL Draft. Bolden would quickly prove she was worthy of being a first-round pick as she provided solid play on the blueline for a depleted Blades lineup. Leading all CWHL rookie defenders in scoring with 19 points, she was one of five Blades rookies to finish among the Top 25 scorers in league play.  
  
Goaltender

 Catherine Herron, Montreal

             With the Stars seeing its two goaltenders Jenny Lavigne and Kim St. Pierre forgoing the season due to pregnancy, it opened the door for Catherine Herron to assume the starting job. Having established herself at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, Herron is one of several second-generation stars in the CWHL. Of note, her uncle Denis won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens. Posting a remarkable 14-2-0 record in 2013-14, Herron would also earn a league-best three shutouts while pacing all backstops with a 2.11 goals against average. Playing for a Stars teammate renowned for its offensive prowess, Herron’s consistent play between the pipes preserved many close victories for the Stars on their way to another regular season title.


Second Team All-Stars
  
Forwards
  
Vinny Davidson, Montreal

            One of the most underrated players in the CWHL, Davidson had another solid season for the Stars. Her 31 points ranked third in the CWHL scoring race (which featured four Stars players in the top four) while she led all players with a remarkable 8 power play goals. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment was earning career point 100. Of note, she would be one of three Stars players (including Lisa-Marie Breton Lebreux and Emmanuelle Blais) to reach the century mark during the season, a league first.

Carolyne Prevost, Toronto

            After a solid rookie season with the Stars in 2012-13, Carolyne Prevost relocated to Toronto in order to pursue her education. Such a move would serve to greatly benefit the Furies. Not only would Prevost earn an assist on the overtime goal that would bring the blue and white the 2014 Clarkson Cup, she would finish the regular season as the club’s leading scorer. Playing on a line with rookie sensation Alyssa Baldin, the two would each finish the season with 23 points. Prevost’s presence supplied the Furies with the leadership the squad needed on offense. 

Danielle Stone, Calgary

            Providing the franchise with its first-ever scoring threat, Danielle Stone propelled the Calgary Inferno to its first-ever Clarkson Cup postseason appearance. In its previous incarnation as the Alberta Honeybadgers, the squad struggled miserably to find Jenna Cunningham a fellow playmaker on offense. Danielle Stone (and fellow draft pick Julie Paetsch) would fill the gap while providing Calgary with a long-awaited winning season. Stone would not only shatter the Inferno’s scoring records but her 25 points would rank second among CWHL rookies and sixth among all players. Her 14 goals, 14 assists and five power play goals were all new franchise standards as she helped inject a sense of confidence into a club that is poised for better years ahead.

Defenders

Tessa Bonhomme, Toronto

            After a heart-breaking release from Canada’s centralization, it would have been completely understandable for Tessa Bonhomme to take the rest of the year off. Instead, she returned to the Furies and provided the club with a strong leadership presence. Armed with a remarkable enthusiasm, Bonhomme was a key factor in keeping the club competitive throughout the season. Her season would end with a Clarkson Cup victory, making her one of only 12 women to have earned IIHF gold, Winter Games gold and the Clarkson in a career.  

Kelsey Webster, Calgary

            With the Calgary Inferno losing three of its defenders (Jocelyne Larocque, Meaghan Mikkelson and Tara Watchorn) to Canada’s centralization, one of the league’s elite defenses was decimated. Such a loss was compounded by the retirement of emotional leader Bobbi-Jo Slusar to retirement. The losses would result in Kelsey Webster providing one of her finest seasons. Appointed as team captain, Webster anchored a defense that not only contributed to Calgary’s first winning season in franchise history but earned its first postseason berth.

Goaltender

DeLayne Brian, Calgary

            Just like fellow rookie and teammate Danielle Stone, several franchise rookie records would also be re-written by DeLayne Brian. Having helped Team Canada win the 2013 World Women’s Ball Hockey Championship, Brian brought that momentum to an ambitious Calgary Inferno franchise. Her 8 wins and 2.52 GAA not only represented new rookie records for Calgary, they were also franchise records. The first goaltender to record a winning season with Calgary, she would also earn her first shutout in dramatic fashion. On the last day of the season, Brian shutout the Brampton Thunder, resulting in Calgary earning their first-ever winning season.  

Friday, 11 April 2014

Picard and Potomak score twice as Canada makes it three in a row at IIHF U18 Worlds

Heading into the seventh annual IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Hockey Championships, Canada and the United States were the proud recipients of three gold medals each. With Canada having won the last two consecutive gold medals, it only added to the United States motivation.

After a scoreless first period at the Budapest Ice Centre, which saw Canada unable to capitalize on two power play opportunities, Sarah Potomak of the Pursuit of Excellence in British Columbia would provide Canada with the lead. After her goal at 15:04 of the second, the flood gates would open as three unanswered goals provided Canada with a three-goal cushion

Just 68 seconds after Potomak slipped the puck past US backstop Erin O’Neill, Eve-Audrey Picard of CEGEP Saint-Laurent added to Canada’s lead as Alexandra Labelle (also her teammate at CEGEP Saint-Laurent) and Stephanie Lalancette earned the assists. At the 18:34 mark, Sam Cogan of the PWHL’s Nepean Wildcats made it 3-0 for Canada. Karly Heffernan, who scored the gold medal winning goal in 2013 was credited with t he assist.

Attempting to change the momentum, the United States logged the first tally in the third period, as Alexandria Laing scored on the power play at 2:45. Of note, it was a five-on-three power play for the US as Canada endured five penalties in the third.

Despite the numerous power play opportunities, the US only managed to outshoot Canada by a 9-6 tally. Canadian goaltender Shea Tiley nullified any chances for the US to reduce Canada’s lead.

With 4:37 remaining, Picard would log her second goal of the game for Canada as the US faced another three goal deficit. Once again, Labelle earned an assist on Picard’s goal. Only 88 seconds later, Potomak would score her second goal of the game. It was a case of irony for Potomak as she scored the first goal of the game, and her third period marker would serve as the last of the game.

Having emerged as the first country to earn three consecutive gold medals at the IIHF Under-18 Women's Worlds, Canada also becomes the first country to nab four gold medals overall. Victoria Bach, Lauren Wildfang, who also served as Canada's captain and Shea Tiley were named the top three Canadian players at the event. 

Clarkson becomes first non-WCHA team to grab NCAA Frozen Four in high scoring contest

A total of nine goals were logged in a pulse-pounding NCAA Frozen Four contest destined to go down in history as one of its most important matches ever. With the defending two-time national champion Minnesota Golden Gophers entering the contest with a 38-1-1 mark, the crowd at High Point Solutions Arena in Hamden, Connecticut (site of the 2014 Frozen Four) could be forgiven if they believed the Gophers were the heavy favorites.

Opposing the Golden Gophers was an ambitious Clarkson Golden Knights program that had reached several milestones. From winning its first-ever ECAC regular season title, the Golden Knights were also competing in their first-ever Frozen Four.

Clarkson certainly entered the game with a significant boost of morale. The night before, the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award was bestowed upon Jamie Lee Rattray, the all-time leading scorer in Golden Knights history. Having beaten Gophers skater Hannah Brandt for the honor, it was a foreshadowing of things to come.

After nine minutes of scoreless play to open the first period, Sarah Davis scored the game’s first goal. The senior from Paradise, Newfoundland provided the Golden Gophers with the 1-0 lead. Rachel Bona logged her 38 assist of the year on the opening tally.

With 1:23 remaining in the first, Clarkson would tie the game. Christine Lambert slipped the puck past Gophers backstop Amanda Leveille, who entered the contest with an NCAA-best 38 wins this season. Earning the assist was Shannon MacAulay, who would go on to have a memorable game.

Only 63 seconds later, Clarkson obtained their first lead of the day. Jennifer Shields and Shelby Nisbet would combine for the 2-1 advantage. It would prove to be costly for the Giolden Gophers as Rachel Ramsey was called for hooking.

Heading into the second stanza, Clarkson capitalized on the power play opportunity. Jamie-Lee Rattray would score at the 38 second mark as Minnesota faced a two-goal deficit. Assists were credited to MacAulay and Brittany Styner, who registered her 34th assist of the campaign.

The Gophers would bounce back with their own power play tally. With Clarkson sophomore Renata Fast being called for interference, Maryanne Menefee scored on Erica Howe to reduce Clarkson’s advantage to one goal. Less than two minutes later, Bona would tie the game as she logged her second point of the title game. Kate Schipper and Megan Wolfe logged the assists.

Despite outshooting Clarkson 12-4 in the second, the Gophers could not get back the lead. The first half of the third period would also result in a defensive stalemate as neither team was able to capitalize on power play opportunities (at 2:27 for Minnesota and 7:45 for Clarkson).

At the 11:32 mark, the tie was broken as Vanessa Plante logged only her third goal of the season. Gagnon and Rattray earned the assists as the Clarkson faithful roared in approval. Four minutes and 12 seconds later, Shannon MacAulay provided Clarkson with a two-goal cushion. Of note, she would be the only player in the game to log a point in each period.

Refusing to give up, the Golden Gophers struck back. Baylee Gillanders would score at 16:19 with Kelly Terry logging her 32nd assist of the season. Reducing Clarkson’s lead to just one goal, the Gophers continued to press, hoping to tie the game and force overtime.

Despite their best efforts, Erica Howe was solid between the pipes, nullifying any opportunity. Registering 34 saves (compared to Amanda Leveille’s 23), she helped preserve the 5-4 victory as the Golden Knights became the first non-WCHA program to claim the NCAA Frozen Four.


Rattray would finish her remarkable weekend by earning the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award. She was also recognized as the Second Star of the Game, while MacAulay earned First Star nods. Minnesota’s Rachel Bona earned the Third Star. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Toronto Furies road to Clarkson Cup a modern-day Miracle on Ice

For the Toronto Furies and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the 2014 edition of the Clarkson Cup was filled with drama, excitement and another exciting chapter in the lore of the event. The donnybrook between the Boston Blades and the Toronto Furies resulted in an outcome that provided numerous historic firsts.

With Britni Smith having buried the puck past Blades goaltender Brittany Ott just 33 seconds into overtime, it marked the first Clarkson Cup to go into an overtime period. Becoming the first-ever team with a fourth-place regular season finish to hoist the coveted Cup was complemented by the fact that the Furies were the first championship squad with a .500 regular season record.

The road to the Clarkson Cup began with a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Inferno, who were making their postseason debut in 2014. Toronto battled back from a 1-0 deficit to prevail by a 3-2 tally. Two-point performances by Meagan Aarts, Tessa Bonhomme and Natalie Spooner helped contribute to the victory.

On March 20, the Furies competed against the Boston Blades, a preview of things to come by week’s end. A pair of power play goals provided Boston with a 2-0 advantage. Despite an unassisted goal by rookie Holly Carrie-Mattimoe, the Furies were unable to capitalize on the power play as Boston hung on by the narrowest of margins.

Tensions were high on the morning of March 21 as the winner of the contest between the Montreal Stars and the Furies would advance to the championship game against Boston. The game was a tense, defensive stalemate as 13 power play opportunities were nullified in regulation play. Jenelle Kohanchuk scored 26 seconds into the second stanza, while Emmanuelle Blais tied the game at the 2:30 mark of the third.

As overtime failed to resolve things, a shootout was required. Furies goaltender Christina Kessler displayed nerves of steel as she rejected Caroline Ouellette, Ann-Sophie Bettez (the 2014 CWHL scoring champion and league MVP) and Sarah Vaillancourt. Furies skater Natalie Spooner would bury the puck past Stars backstop Catherine Herron as their ticket was punched for a rematch with Boston.

Entering the contest as the defending Clarkson Cup champions, the Blades were definitely favorites to repeat. Stakes were high on both sides as each team had a player that was on the verge of accomplishing a unique feat. Boston’s Genevieve Lacasse and Toronto’s Natalie Spooner were teammates on the Canadian contingent that claimed gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. A Clarkson Cup triumph would make one of them the first-ever to win Olympic gold and the Clarkson in the same year.

Defensive play was the story of the game as neither team scored a goal in regulation play. With the Blades rookie backstop Brittany Ott between the pipes, she provided an admirable performance as the black and gold managed to outshoot the Furies by a 25-23 mark in regulation. Of note, Ott stumped the Furies on five power play opportunities, including the last 1:46 of the third, as rookie Rachel Llanes was called for body checking.

Only 33 seconds into the overtime frame, Brtini Smith solved the rookie backstop as the Furies clinched their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history. For Smith, this was not the first legendary goal in her career. In November 2012, Smith would score the first CWHL regular season goal in an NHL arena (Toronto’s Air Canada Centre).


Ironically, Furies backstop Christina Kessler also has a unique connection with Smith. Of note, Kessler also played in that November 2012 contest at the ACC would earn the first CWHL regular shutout in an NHL arena. Considering that Christina Kessler earned the shutout in a 1-0 upset win, it marked the third time that a shutout was recorded in a Cup win.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

McGill and Montreal renew rivalries in confrontation for Canadian national hockey title

The premier rivalry in Canadian women’s hockey played itself out on the ice at Grant Harvey Centre in St. Thomas University as the McGill Martlets faced off against the Montreal Carabins in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport National Championship. With a rivalry as intense as Duke vs. North Carolina in basketball or Miami vs. Florida State in football, these two hockey powerhouses provided another epic confrontation.

With McGill legends Charline Labonte and Melodie Daoust (both competed with Canada in a gold medal effort at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games) participating in the ceremonial face-off, it provided the fans at St. Thomas with a rare chance to see two of the finest in the game today. Complemented by Tessa Bonhomme providing on-air commentary (the match was broadcast on SportsNet 360), there was definitely a major league feeling to the contest.

Gabrielle Davidson, who led her conference with 28 goals scored, would open the scoring for McGill at the 5:55 mark of the opening frame. Winning was of great importance to McGill as the Carabins spoiled their undefeated regular season during the 2013 playoffs. The momentum would propel the Carabins to their first national title, defeating Calgary in the 2013 national title game.

Carabins forward Ariane Barker would attempt to restore some confidence for the black and blue by slipping the puck past Taylor Hough to even the score. With neither team showing any signs of panic, the period would expire with each club having logged one goal.

The defensive stalemate would continue in the second stanza as both sides played with grit. McGill would manage to break the deadlock by capitalizing on a power play at 14:55. Davidson would help the Martlets recapture the lead as the Martlet faithful in attendance roared with support.

Heading into the third period, McGill tried to hold on to their 2-1 lead. After a tough ten minutes which saw both sides play a grueling, physical style of hockey, the power play would factor into the game once again. Michelle Daigneault, a senior from Hay River, Northwest Territories, would provide McGill with a 3-1 lead as the Carabins’ title hopes were slowly slipping away.

Just 43 seconds after Daigneault’s marker, the Carabins struck back. Janique Duval helped reduce McGill’s lead as the tide was beginning to turn into Montreal’s favor.
As Carabins goaltender Elodie Rousseau-Sirois was nullifying various offensive attacks by McGill, Barker helped her cause as she managed to slip the puck past Hough with 3:13 remaining. With a 3-3 tie, neither team could score in the dying minutes of the third, forcing overtime.

Strong defense told the story as the first overtime frame resulted in the continuation of the 3-3 tie. Once again, the power play would serve to provide the needed advantage. With Sophie Brault called for holding with 20 seconds remaining in the first overtime, it would have an effect on the outcome.

Brittney Fouracres, a defender from Calgary, would manage to beat Rousseau-Sirois with a snapshot just 37 seconds into the second overtime frame. Scoring McGill’s third power-play goal of the game, succeeding with the player advantage throughout the game was the key factor in the victory.

During the regular season, Montreal’s power play was a league-best 29% but was unable to score on seven power play opportunities in the title game. Despite winning 49 faceoffs, Montreal was outshot by a 33-24 margin. With McGill’s backstop, Hough, working to shut down the Carabins’ potent power-play attack, it gave McGill its fourth national title. Another hero for McGill was Leslie Oles, who contributed three assists in the contest, including the helper on the game-winning tally.


Of note, two McGill players (Brittney Fouracres and Gabrielle Davidson) and two Montreal players (Elodie Rousseau-Sirois and Ariane Barker) were named to the All-Tournament Team. Davidson would earn Championship MVP honors. Having also helped Canada claim the gold medal at the 2013 Winter Universiade in Italy, the season would prove to be a coming-out party for Davidson, who has emerged as one of the top snipers in CIS hockey. With three years of CIS eligibility remaining, it is likely that another national title will follow in the future.