The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
For Montreal, the biggest change happened off the ice. The team rebranded from the Stars to the Canadiennes and formed a partnership with the Canadiens. On the ice, Montreal lost 10 players. Five were forwards, three were defenders -- and the most notable departure was Catherine Ward, the former Olympian who retired from competitive hockey in the offseason.
Montreal retains many important pieces of its team, including leading scorers Caroline Ouellette, Anne-Sophie Bettez, and Noémie Marin. The Canadiennes also welcome back netminder Charline Labonté.
"We’re going to have a team that has a lot of chemistry," General Manager Meg Hewings said. "A lot of players know each other [and] they played with and against each other. I think it’s something that’s always defined our club, sort of style-y, classic team [and] hard working."
Some of the new, young players bring talent, including rookies Leslie Oles, Katia Clément-Heydra, and Olympian Marie-Philip Poulin.
"Poulin is a huge acquisition for us and we’re really excited to have her back in Montreal," Hewings said. "She just lights up the ice everywhere she is. We’re excited for local fans to finally be able see her in action in regular games. [She's] clearly a key payer that we’re hoping plays a big role for us up front."
The return of former Olympians Ouellette, Poulin, and Julie Chu gives Montreal a solid leadership group. Another leader is Karell Emard, who joins Montreal for her first season of professional hockey after coaching at Colgate.
"She’s really a mature player; she obviously knows the game well [and] she comes at it from now a coaching perspective," Hewings said, "I’ve been really impressed by what we’ve seen from her in our selection camp and we know that she’s game ready and ready to play in the [CWHL]."
Offensively, Hewings tabbed Marin as an underrated forward. Hewings also said she expects Kim Deschênes, the team's top 2014 draft pick, to be a veteran leader with more production this year. Deschênes finished last season with 14 points.
"Often people don’t realize quite how high the jump is to professional sports from university play. The girls are a lot bigger, it’s a little more physical, everything happens at a faster speed," Hewings said. "It usually does take university players a few months to settle in."
Labonté is Montreal's returning goaltender, and she'll look to lead the team after recording a league-high .927 save percentage.
"She had one of the best seasons that we’ve seen from a goalie, I think, in the history of our league last year," Hewings said. "She’s an incredible talent, so there’s a lot of solidity that we gain from having her backstop us.
Some other personnel changes included Chelsey Saunders' switch from forward to defense. Montreal added Sydney Aveson as the second-string goaltender and Jessica Anderson as a veteran netminder.
With seven 2015 draft picks, four 2014 picks, several former returning players, and Olympians to boot, Montreal's roster provides a mix of new skill and veteran leadership.
"Figuring out the lines for our coaching staff is something that we’ve been working with," Hewings said. "[We're] tesing different things in our preseason exhibition games, looking at who fits were and how the chemistry works with the different lines."
Here's the complete roster:
F Ann-Sophie Bettez
F Emmanuelle Blais
F Emile Bocchia
F Katla Clement-Heydra
F Kim Deschênes
F Sara Lachance
F Noémie Marin
F Audrey Morand
F Jordanna Peroff
F Marie-Philip Poulin
F Melinda Prevost
F Leslie Oles
F Caroline Ouellette
F Alyssa Sherrard
D Sophie Brault
D Cathy Chartrand
D Julie Chu
D Karell Emard
D Carly Hill
D Lauriane Rougeau
D Chelsey Saunders
G Jessica Anderson
G Sydney Aveson
G Charline Labonté
Photo credit: CWHL.ca/Jess Desjardins
Filed under: cwhl; ice hockey; les canadiennes de montreal; meg hewings
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