The CWHL Awards were presented last night at the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University. The ceremony, held before the Clarkson Cup Final, is a chance to celebrate individual accomplishments from the regular season before heading into the championship contest. However, all of the players from the Inferno and Les Canadiennes are looking forward to Sunday, and everyone else is looking ahead to next season.
Jessica Campbell (Calgary Inferno) — Humanitarian of the Year
Campbell has been working with Do It For Daron (DIFD), a charity that raises awareness for youth mental health, with a focus on ending the stigma of mental illness and encouraging young people to find support networks and talk about their mental health. The Calgary Inferno have skated in purple jerseys on DIFD "Start the Spark" game nights, with the jerseys subsequently being auctioned off for charity.
"I poured my heart and soul into the Inferno and into the organization and into the cause, and definitely tonight I couldn't prepare a speech because just the thought of being nominated for such an award was so humbling," Campbell said. She also spoke on how the CWHL's role in the community helps to grow the sport: "I think the only way that we're going to keep growing the game and growing the awareness of our sport and how good the caliber is is if we get in the community. And to me, doing a cause like this is near and dear to my heart but there's so many amazing things going on all across our league," she said. And on the CWHL: "I really think it's the best kept secret in our country, and in the world of hockey."
Scott Reid (Calgary Inferno) — Coach of the Year
Reid coached his team to a first place finish in the CWHL with a record-setting 20 wins. He beat out Dany Brunet of Les Canadiennes and Brian McCloskey of the Boston Blades for the award.
"This award is all because of the girls. Their hard work. They're the ones who are out there putting their effort in, and winning close games and things like that to make our record what it is. So, this is for them and this is theirs," he said.
He's right to say so -- even the most talented group of teammates is nothing without hard work and effort, and Calgary has an overwhelming amount of talent throughout their lineup that propelled them to their historic regular season finish and back to the Clarkson Cup Final. Reid spoke to the challenge of obtaining their record: "To have 20 wins--I'm very proud of the girls and how we found a way to win some of those games, it could have easily gone the other way. Toronto took us to three in the playoffs, but you know what, I was expecting that, because we went into overtime twice with them. We had two other one-goal games," he said. "The parity in the league is unbelievable."
Looking ahead to Sunday's game, Reid was not yet sure which of his three goalies would start, and expects to know and inform his team after practice today. He also expects the contest to be close, perhaps an overtime contest, in contrast to his team's overwhelming 8-3 win over Montreal last year. "It's going to come down to a dogfight. It's going to be a close game," he said. "It might even go into overtime. so we gotta be prepared for anything. And hopefully with our depth it can kick in. But they're well-coached, they have a great time, a world-class goalie, and their defense is very solid. There's not much difference between the two teams."
Perhaps the most valuable quality in a CWHL coach is a clear understanding of how hard it is to win in this league. Scott Reid never underestimated his team's opponents, and it showed in the Inferno's results in both the regular season and in the playoffs so far.
Laura Stacey (Brampton Thunder) — Rookie of the Year
Stacey was the second-highest scoring member of the Thunder this season, netting 11 goals and 13 assists in 20 games for a 1.20 points-per-game average. Stacey joined the Thunder after four seasons with the Dartmouth Big Green and had also played for Team Canada on the U18 squad. The 22-year-old Mississauga native beat out the Inferno's Iya Gavrilova and Toronto's Renata Fast for the award.
Stacey's favorite moment from the season was her team's trip to Montreal to compete in the semifinals. "There was something different on that bus ride," she said. "Unfortunately it didn't work out in the best way for us, and it's not a weekend that we necessarily are gonna remember because of the wins column or the goals or any of that, but I think it's a very memorable moment for me in terms of how well our team came together... We still kept pushing and kept trying, and we were down 7-1 and we still never gave up, and I think that's something we're never gonna forget."
Her transition to the CWHL from college play was also notable to her; not only did she speak to having to take on more responsibility as an individual athlete, but she found the level of play in the CWHL to be especially challenging. " My first weekend, I woke up on the Monday after and I was like wow, I'm kind of lucky I don't have to go to work right now because I can barely walk. And it was kind of surprising. Because I was sore in college, I had really tough weekends, but my first CWHL weekend I remember like, [thinking] this is going to be a long year. The skill level is so concentrated and so condensed with the five teams, that every game you play in is a battle, every single game is highly competitive playing against some of the best players in the world."
Stacey certainly rose to the challenge, however; while the Thunder won't be playing this weekend, it wouldn't be surprising to see her in a future Clarkson Cup Final scoring a goal or two. Her pro career is just beginning.
Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid (Calgary Inferno) — Defenceman of the Year
Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada who has been with the Calgary Inferno on and off since 2011 and has gradually become a bigger and bigger part of her team's success. This year, she played 22 games, scoring 5 goals and 10 assists for a career high in points. Fellow nominees Cathy Chartrand and Laura Fortino scored more points, but neither stepped up as much to become such a crucial member of the roster.
Mikkelson-Reid's husband is Inferno coach Scott Reid, so some of the Inferno's success has very much been a family affair. "Obviously for anybody who's outside a team it's hard to kind of understand the team dynamic that goes on, but we really do have a very special group. Really just a great, fun, just passionate, committed, dedicated group of players, and it's been an absolute pleasure to be a part of that team," she said. "For Scott and I personally, obviously to juggle what we both do with our 17-month-old son, but it's been a great learning experience for us, too. And to be able to see him win that award -- I know the countless hours that he puts in behind the scenes as a coach. As a player, it's something I'm very thankful for."
Mikkelson-Reid is also expecting a tight game on Sunday: "I don't think anyone can guess which way that game is going to go. All season long we've had really tough, hard games with Montreal. And they're a great team that we definitely have a lot of respect for." On the possibility of repeating, she knows what a tough challenge that is: "I think winning one was special. And I think it's tough to get to the top, but I think it's even tougher to stay there."
Charline Labonté (Les Canadiennes de Montreal) — Goalie of the Year
Labonté dealt with some injury trouble this year and did not start as many games as she did last season. However, when she did play, she was as consistent as ever, posting a 1.53 GAA over 15 games, earning her win over Geneviève Lacasse and Christina Kessler.
"It's classified as an individual award, but it just shows the consistency that we have as a team. It's very flattering to be honored and to be the recipient. But to me, I'm missing one, and it's the Clarkson Cup," she said.
On what her team's advantages are: "I think we are two teams that have a lot of depth. There's no weak link in the Calgary Inferno. And I don't think there's a weak link in Les Canadiennes. It's always a great matchup. I guess the advantage that we can have is that we have been playing together for a very long time," she said. "Calgary is very new, and for us, I've been playing with some of them for 10 or 15 years. So we are not only teammates but we're really good friends. And they're all my best friends. And I think that fact can really take us a long way."
"It has to be different," Labonté said when asked how she expected Sunday's game to go compared to last year. "I feel we brought our worst game at the worst timing. [This year] it's been different... We've been really focused on the process -- just talking about the Clarkson Cup and winning it. So we've enjoyed every single step."
The goaltending in the sport overall has improved, according to Labonté, making her award even tougher to win. "You've seen a goalie can steal a game now. We saw Dahm in Boston that came up. She's a rookie. The numbers maybe don't look as good because she's getting about 90 shots a game. But she had an amazing season and she gave her team a chance to win every time."
Marie-Philip Poulin (Les Canadiennes de Montreal) — Angela James Bowl co-recipient, Jayna Hefford Trophy winner, and MVP of the CWHL
Poulin had yet another year of dominance, scoring 37 points in 23 games to share the Angela James Bowl with Jess Jones. She was also voted MVP by her fellow players to win the Jayna Hefford Trophy, and received Most Valuable Player of the CWHL as voted by coaches and GMs.
Poulin is already a legend in Canadian sports and the hardware she earned at the CWHL Awards are just new entries on a long and growing list of accolades.
"We're really focused on one mission right now and that's to get the Clarkson Cup," she said. "I know there's three trophies there, but I don't have the one that I really want."
Jess Jones (Brampton Thunder) — Angela James Bowl co-recipient
Jess Jones has been essentially doubling her point totals every year she has played in the CWHL. This year she was challenged by her GM, Lori Dupuis, to become the team's leading goal-scorer, a task she handily accomplished, netting 17.
"Honestly I think I've grown a lot as a player and a person," she said. "Each year the league gets better and better and I feel like I have to up my game every year just to compete, and fortunately I've been able to do that and hopefully I'll be able to continue to do that for the next coming years."
On their trip to Montreal for the semifinals, she said: "Every time you jump on a bus or a plane it's a team-building experience because you're together for the whole weekend, you're together the whole time. We faced a lot of controversy throughout the whole weekend--forgetting our jerseys, delays in the games, there was a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that brought us together, that's what it's all about though. Hopefully we'll go into next year and use that, bring everybody back, and have that same atmosphere."
The Clarkson Cup will be contested tomorrow at 4:00 PM Eastern at the Canadian Tire Centre and will be broadcast on Sportsnet nationally.