Photo credit: Michelle Jay/michellejay.com
The Outdoor Women's Classic happened in Foxborough, Massachusetts yesterday, after much anticipation from the women's hockey community.
The arena was slowly filling up with fans for the alumni game and half the rink was bathed in sun when the players walked down the runways and to their respective benches, then headed to the ice for team photos and abbreviated warmups.
Both teams were introduced on the video board, player by player and in number order, and very quickly, the game was underway. Charline Labonté for Les Canadiennes and Brittany Ott for the Pride started in opposite nets.
Both goaltenders were sharp early on some back and forth play; the finest save came from Ott on a shot by Julie Chu from the point and through traffic.
Les Canadiennes also converted first on a cross-crease feed to Kim Deschênes from Noémie Marin to bring the score to 1-0, as Deschênes was able to stuff it past Ott's right post.
Shortly after the goal, though, on a normal-looking play in the corner, the Pride's Denna Laing went down and was not moving. It took a significant amount of time for her to be placed on a stretcher and moved from the ice; she was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital and spent the night.
As in the NHL, players went right back to the ice and continued. The injury occurred towards the end of the first 15-minute period, but the clock was allowed to run out instead of stopping. When play resumed, the clock read 12:00 for the second and final period -- three full minutes had been docked from the already-abbreviated matchup.
The game was a little bit faster as it went on, with some exciting back-and-forth action and crisp passing from both teams. With 3:21 left on the clock, Blake Bolden was able to convert on a short give-and-go with Rachel Llanes, deflecting a hard pass past Labonté to tie the game at 1-1. And that's how the game would end.
Laing's injury, while horrible to see, was not attributed to the soft ice conditions in the corners that Bruins players had commented about after their morning skate. "I thought the ice was very firm here, no problems at all, and the sun wasn't really an issue. The ice was good," said Pride head coach Bobby Jay. "It was a hockey play and she was going into the corner and she stepped on a stick."
The production value of the event can't be overstated -- the video board was an excellent addition, with the slick graphics for player intros and multiple angles for replays available to spectators, which are the types of things we take for granted when watching any men's professional sport.
The quality of the hockey and the size of the stage also made for a wonderful spectacle for any fans who arrived early for the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game and took the time to stop and watch, instead of picking up a beer or checking out the Winter Classic merch. "Coming here to speak with you guys, I was thinking that people who haven't really been exposed to women's hockey or just the average fan: the skill is there, it's fast, exciting," Bobby Jay said. "For the more educated fan, you break down film, you watch them, you pick it apart -- they know what they're doing, they're very organized, they're very good systematic players."
Marie-Philip Poulin, playing in Boston for the first time since leaving Boston University, compared it to her old barn, Walter Brown Arena: "It was a little bit bigger, for sure."
The atmosphere after the game was a mix of solemnity and pride. The game ended in a tie and a horrible injury to a hockey player, but there were also two beautiful goals and extremely skilled game play on what was potentially the biggest stage that the women's hockey game has yet to see outside of an Olympic year. Players, coaches, and league executives were all thrilled that the game had happened, but they were also hungry for more.
"Hopefully next year we're introduced to the game again a bit earlier so there's even more promotion of the event," Julie Chu said. When asked what could be done to improve the event, Blake Bolden simply said "A third period."
Les Canadiennes coach Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux was satisfied about the outcome as a tie: "It's historical. It's great. It's just ending the way we want. There is a rivalry, of course, but it's even now."
Framingham native Marissa Gedman had the opportunity to play in Gillette as a lifelong Patriots fan, coming from a family that "breathes, eats, sleeps Boston sports." "I couldn't get enough. It was amazing. I could do this for the rest of my life," Gedman said. But time was short, as players were continually reminded. "It was more about the experience," Breton-Lebreux said. And on the 1-1 draw? Bolden explained: "But you know, time wasn't there for us. It's okay."
"I hope they know how much it means to us as players, as people, and as professionals," Gedman said of the NHL's support in getting this event off the ground.
It will mean more, of course, if we can do it all again next year, and even better. More on that later, as Jashvina will examine the background, execution, and ramifications of the Outdoor Women's Classic.