In the first week back after the winter break, Les Canadiennes de Montréal swept the Toronto Furies, the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays swept their season series against the Worcester Blades, and the Calgary Inferno won both matches against the Markham Thunder to maintain top spot in the standings.
Around the League
- Marie-Philip Poulin was named Gongshow Player of the Month for December.
- Toronto Furies head coach Courtney Kessel and Calgary Inferno center Brianna Decker were both absent this weekend as they served in coaching roles with the Canadian and American teams, respectively, at the U18 Women's World Championship in Obihiro, Japan.
- Brigette Lacquette (Calgary Inferno) and Liz Knox (Markham Thunder) were voted captains for the All-Star Game, which takes place in Toronto on January 20.
- Carolyne Prévost scored her 100th CWHL point with an assist on Sunday.
- The Calgary Inferno are hosting their fourth annual Start the Spark game on Saturday, January 12.
- The Toronto Furies are continuing their adult skill clinics, with another set for January 16.
- In a true blast from the 1990s, the league announced that the Barenaked Ladies will sing the national anthem at the All-Star Game, where former NHL goalies Glenn Healy and Curtis Joseph will act as coaches. (Further coaches, including CWHL alumna Cheryl Pounder, are expected to be announced soon.)
Toronto Furies vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal
To quote the caption on the highlight package posted by RDS, Saturday's score was Toronto Furies 1, Marie-Philip Poulin 3. Ann-Sophie Bettez collected assists on all three Montreal tallies.
Les Canadiennes' captain opened the scoring by carrying the puck from her own zone all the way up the ice, passing through four Furies in the process before shooting the puck over Shea Tiley's blocker at 15:13. She followed it up with a power play goal two and a half minutes later, stepping into the slot to lift the puck over Tiley's left shoulder.
After a fairly even second period, Poulin rounded out the hat trick just 33 seconds into the third, one-timing a loose puck from a failed clearing attempt as she skated into the slot. Carolyne Prévost responded for the Furies at 14:02, backhanding her own rebound, backwards, through Emerance Maschmeyer's five-hole to break the shutout.
Les Canadiennes were 1-for-2 on the power play and killed off three penalties.
Maschmeyer turned away 18 of 19 shots in the win, while Tiley made 24 saves on 27 chances.
Sunday's match marked the first time all four members of Les Canadiennes' coaching staff were behind the bench together.
"I'm a very demanding coach, but for me it's work hard and play hard," explained associate coach Danièle Sauvageau of her approach, adding that the trip to China allowed her to get to know the players as people. "I want them to have fun doing it. I want them to, yes, hold and play under pressure, but I want them to say 'Hey, the best way we're going to get the best out of you is playing loose, having your mind there, and getting your creativity.' I often say: 'In our D-zone, this is where I own the game, but when you go over there, you own your creativity. You're better than the rest of the world, so do what you think.' But obviously on the defensive side, we own that part as coaches."
Hilary Knight got things started in the second game of the weekend, netting a rebound 3:42 in. Just before the midpoint of the period, Poulin managed what coach Caroline Ouellette was most likely thinking of when she referred, postgame, to "offensive magical moments." Poulin picked up a pass from Ann-Sophie Bettez and weaved her way through three Furies, dangling the puck between their legs before making a pass to Jill Saulnier, who tapped it in off her backhand.
Early in the second, Geneviève Bannon capitalized on a neutral zone turnover and elected to shoot on a 2-on-1 with Karell Emard, beating Elaine Chuli five-hole. The aftermath of the celebration was almost as entertaining as the goal, as Emard went sprawling on the ice before the handshake line.
"I turned and I jumped on her, that was perfect -- usually that's where people fall," Emard deadpanned. "Then I went like 'Okay let's go, start skating!' and I went to take my stride, and her foot just hit mine and I went flying. So yeah, I went all four limbs on the ice, and was trying to make it look cool, but clearly didn't. I like to be right in the mix, so that was too close. We cellied too hard, maybe that's it."
Sarah Nurse then got Toronto on the board at 2:43 after the Furies' pressure caused some chaos in the Montreal zone. Emard replied with a goal of her own, tipping in a Saulnier shot at 4:01. The play was reviewed for a potential high stick but was ultimately allowed. Bettez then made it 4-1 on a tic-tac-toe passing play from Poulin and Saulnier, exactly four minutes later.
"Yesterday Pou played out of her mind again, and her line was awesome, too, but she had some great individual efforts," said Emard of the contrast with Sunday's depth scoring. "Today it was a contribution of three lines. It's good for the team. I think when we can take some pressure off of their shoulders and we can beat their third line or beat their second line and be better than them, it's a win-win for everyone. And we take pride in that."
Jess Vella tipped in a shot from Prévost at 14:08 of the third, and Shannon Stewart added another just a minute later to narrow the gap to 5-3. A quick release from Poulin at 17:38 stymied Toronto's comeback, and Les Canadiennes held on for a 6-3 win.
"We've tried to put more emphasis on the defensive side of things, and until that short period in the third, it was pretty good, so I think it's going to continue to be our focus," explained Ouellette. "We have to be able to coach our best players to be just as good defensively, and often it's a question of details, it's a question of pride, of awareness. And they know it. Hilary Knight and Marie-Philip Poulin spoke about it, the fact that we have to take pride in it and be better and play for 60 minutes. It's even better when it comes from them."
An increased focus on defensive responsibility was a running theme, with players noting that the change coincided with Ouellette taking over as head coach.
Montreal was perfect on the penalty kill in a game where just one infraction was called.
Maschmeyer made 23 saves on 26 shots, while Chuli turned away 27 of 33.
Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays vs. Worcester Blades
Leah Lum opened Saturday's scoring for Shenzhen just past the halfway mark of the first period.
Blades goaltender Jetta Rackleff managed to keep it at 1-0 until 5:54 of the third, when Alex Carpenter doubled the advantage. Jessica Wong made it 3-0 to round out the scoring two-and-a-half-minutes later.
Both teams were perfect on four penalty kills.
Noora Räty turned away 15 shots to earn the shut-out, while Rackleff made 42 saves on 45 shots.
Shenzhen dominated the first two periods on Sunday, outshooting Worcester 40-15 and outscoring their hosts 5-0, before a far more even third.
Cayley Mercer got things started midway through the opening frame.
Hanna Bunton doubled the lead at 7:36 of the second, and Mercer added another at 13:53. Stephanie Anderson made it 4-0 less than two minutes later, and Bunton doubled up at 18:45.
Mariah Fujimagari replaced Rackleff to start the third, and Chelsey Goldberg got the Blades on the board with a power-play marker at 1:29. Carpenter responded 22 seconds later to restore the five-goal gap, but Goldberg added another two minutes after that. Carpenter rounded out the scoring at 15:54 for a 7-2 final, becoming the third Rays player to record two goals in the contest.
Shenzhen was 0-for-1 on the power play and 2-for-4 on the kill.
Räty made 28 saves on 30 shots. Rackleff allowed five goals on 40 chances, while Fujimagari stopped 17 of 19 in relief.
The Blades iced a depleted roster for the midweek game, with just 10 forwards and six defenders.
Carpenter opened the scoring at 13:28 of the first period, and Bunton doubled the advantage with a deflection in the dying minutes of the second.
Emma Woods made it 3-0 at 6:50 of the third, and a puck bounced off Carpenter and into the net at 13:15 to make it a 4-0 game.
Shenzhen was 0-for-1 on the power play and perfect on three kills.
Kimberly Newell stopped all 33 shots faced for the shut-out, while Fujimagari turned away an incredible 69 of 73 chances.
Calgary Inferno vs. Markham Thunder
After some good chances for Calgary early, Laura Fortino opened Saturday's scoring for the Thunder with a power-play marker that went five-hole at 12:57, the only goal of a period in which Markham outshot its guest 18-6. Netminder Erica Howe, who had pushed the puck up ice, earned a secondary assist on the play.
Rebecca Johnston evened the score at 12:45 of the second, and Blayre Turnbull put the Inferno ahead less than two minutes after that.
Brianne Jenner made it 3-1 at 15:20 of the third, but the Thunder quickly mounted a comeback effort. Kristen Barbara narrowed the gap to one at 17:09, and with the goalie pulled for a 6-on-5, Victoria Bach tied the game with just 31 seconds remaining to force overtime.
The match seemed destined for a shootout when, with 13 seconds left in the extra frame, Kacey Bellamy got a shot through and won it for the Inferno.
Calgary was 0-for-1 on the power play and killed off four of five penalties.
Alex Rigsby turned away 37 of 40 shots, while Howe stopped 30 of 34.
The first period once again belonged to Markham on Sunday, as they opened with a 2-0 lead. The first came when a sharp-angle Jenna McParland shot bounced off the sticks of both Bellamy and Turnbull to find its way into the net during a 5-on-3 at 11:17. Thirty-seven seconds later with the Thunder still on the power play, Megan Bozek scored on a point shot to double the advantage.
The second period, for its part, was all Inferno, as they started with 1:59 of power play time on the clock. Jenner, standing in the slot, tipped in a Brigette Lacquette shot to bring Calgary within one at 1:43, and five minutes later, Katelyn Gosling tied it up. Jenner tapped the puck in from the top of the crease on the power-play at 10:09 to put the Inferno ahead, and Johnston made it 4-2 in the dying minutes of the period.
Turnbull potted her own rebound midway through the third to add to Calgary's lead. Fortino immediately replied with a one-timer to narrow the gap to 5-3, and Jamie Lee Rattray added a power-play tally with 15 seconds remaining, but the Inferno hung on for the win.
Calgary was 2-for-3 with the extra attacker and 3-for-6 on the kill.
Rigsby made 30 saves on 34 shots, while Liz Knox stopped 34 of 39.
Coming Up Next
- Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal -- January 12 at 6:30 PM Eastern at Place Bell; January 13 at 1:30 PM Eastern at Aréna Michel-Normandin.
- Toronto Furies vs. Calgary Inferno -- January 12 at 6:30 PM Mountain at Winsport Arena A (streamed); January 13 at 12:00 PM Mountain at Pason Centennial Centre (Okotoks, Alberta) (likely streamed).
(Photo credit: Teri Di-Lauro/CWHL)