Jashvina Shah

CWHL: Clarkson Cup Preview

Les Canadiennes and the Inferno will meet again in the Clarkson Cup Final in a rematch from last year’s championship game, in which Calgary was victorious.

For much of this season, Calgary and Les Canadiennes have fought for the top spot, but Calgary earned it in the end as the Inferno finished with 20 wins, three more than Les Canadiennes’ 17. The season series was split evenly between both teams, though, and each of the three individual series was split between both teams. It started with a 1-0 win for Les Canadiennes, followed by a 5-3 victory for Calgary. In the next series Calgary won 5-4, but Les Canadiennes came back with the 4-1 win. In the last series (the one that concluded the regular season), Calgary won game one 3-0 and Les Canadiennes won game two 5-3.

"Last year we kind of put Calgary on a pedestal, and this year we realized that we can beat them,” Les Canadiennes assistant coach Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux said. “That's how we're going to come into Sunday's game, thinking that hey, you know, it's just another team, it's just another game, it's just another day at the office.”

Calgary has the deepest team in the league. The Inferno returned much of their championship-winning team and added two excellent goaltenders to form a tripartite rotation of Emerance Maschmeyer, Delayne Brian, and Genevieve Lacasse, although Reid said that he has not decided on who will play in the championship game. The Inferno have scoring depth, and captain Brianne Jenner led the team with 27 points in the regular season.

"The biggest challenge will be to keep up with their speed, their intensity,” Breton-Lebreux said. “They have three big lines that we have to counter. That'll be just to make sure we can counter like three, four big lines and keep going all game and play hard. It’s going to be hard, it's going to be physical, but we have to keep going."

Les Canadiennes again led the league in scoring after having Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Sophie Bettez, and Caroline Ouellette each cross the 30-point mark. Charline Labonté provided solid goaltending and, as Breton-Lebreux pointed out, this year Les Canadiennes had the benefit of facing more in-season adversity than last year.

"They're such a veteran group, they've experienced a lot of things over their careers, and they've been together a long time,” Calgary coach Scott Reid said of Les Canadiennes. “They're very well-coached, and plus they have a memory of last year that they want to forget about and beat us now. They're going to be a very tough and strong team and I think it's going to be a very good game to watch."

The biggest matchup will be Les Canadiennes’ offense against Calgary’s speed and depth. In the past, Les Canadiennes have shown that they can shut down the Inferno offense, but Calgary has done the same.

Les Canadiennes also had the best power play in the league during the regular season, converting 24.7 percent of their chances. Calgary's ranked third, but overall the Inferno killed off 87 percent of their opponents' power plays.

“You're going to need strong goaltending, you're going to need your top players to be your top players,” Reid said. “There's always the unsung heroes, someone that steps up that you're not expecting to, so it's going to be a combination of those three things."

The Clarkson Cup Final will be held at the Canadian Tire Centre this Sunday at 4:00 PM Eastern. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet in Canada, and US viewers should be able to stream it online. Check @TheCWHL for updates.

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