Montreal's home opener was one of the best regular season hockey games I've ever seen – an instant classic that will be remembered for years, with great back-and-forth play between two teams confident in their identity and strategy. On top of that, the Verdun Auditorium crowd got to experience both the thrill of an OT winner and the disappointment of an OT loss, all within minutes.
This closely contested matchup started slow but built into unforgettable action, kind of like Speed (1994). But it was the kind of regular season hockey drama that you simply couldn't script. In the scoreless first period, it felt like Montreal had the best chances and were feeding off of an awesome home crowd atmosphere, but Boston and goalie Aerin Frankel held steady. Montreal defender Dominika Lásková found herself in the box twice, but her team killed the penalties easily and limited Boston to just one shot on both power plays.
All hell broke loose in the second period, with Erin Ambrose getting her first of the season just 33 seconds into the frame. Montreal immediately started swarming the zone and putting pressure on Aerin Frankel, who made a few stops but did not freeze the puck. The puck cycled back up to Erin Ambrose, who took her time and shot through a few bodies to beat Frankel low. On the very next shift, Kristin O'Neill forced a puck deep by sheer will and it was picked up by Tereza Vanišová, who found Laura Stacey in the slot. She didn't miss and it was 2-0 just 1:02 into the second.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse for Boston when Emily Brown ended up in the box for roughing. But a big save by Frankel on the PK led to transition the other way, and in the midst of players maybe thinking about changing, suddenly Taylor Girard was all alone in the middle of the ice. Gigi Marvin found her with a pass and she went 1-on-1 with Desbiens, putting a quick shot past her and freeing Brown with a jailbreak shorthanded goal. Not long after, Boston tied the game on a clinical goal by their second line, with Rattray shooting the puck from up high, and Schafzahl tipping it between her legs to find Brandt, who was able to hammer it past Desbiens.
And so the 2-2 score would remain through the rest of the second and third period – but not without a lot of great end-to-end hockey. Frankel in particular was spectacular, if occasionally slightly wild – she made big saves, came out to challenge, played the puck assertively, and occasionally let up some huge rebounds, but continually managed to keep the puck out of her net. Desbiens was not as active, but made the saves she needed to make, including a beauty on Gigi Marvin with her shoulder when Marvin had picked the top corner.
The game went to overtime, as so many of the best games do. Just 21 seconds in, Marie-Philip Poulin thought she had ended it, poking in a rebound off a scramble in front of Frankel. But Boston coach Courtney Kessel initiated a challenge, and the goal was overturned – evidently due to goaltender interference on the part of Laura Stacey, who pushed her stick into Frankel while digging for the rebound that was eventually picked up by Poulin. Knight also made contact with Stacey and moved with her into the crease, but the stick into Frankel seemed to be what did it. With the entire Montreal crowd chanting, the goal was overturned.
After the goal was erased, Boston took the ice with renewed energy and didn't let up in the offensive zone, thanks to strong play to protect the puck in the offensive zone through several straight line changes. Leading up to the goal, it was Rattray and Marvin who kept the puck deep, and Amanda Pelkey found herself wide open to knock in a rebound with Desbiens unable to recover, sealing Boston's first victory of the season.
Three up, three down
↑ Cami Kronish's jersey? – Aerin Frankel had a memorable performance in goal while wearing #35 Cami Kronish's jersey, which she donned for the entire game due to an "equipment issue" with her own jersey. Hopefully no one is too superstitious, because Frankel had an amazing bounceback game, effectively challenging shooters and making unreal saves. (The jersey issue was unfortunate and may have felt an uncomfortable reminder to the days when players would mysteriously wear different numbers or nameplates would be missing on CWHL road trips. But it did make a big difference that the team tweeted about the problem and made sure the media and fans were aware of it.)
↓ Too much hockey? Is there such a thing? – By the time the puck dropped in Verdun, I'd already watched three women's hockey games between the PWHL and U18s, sometimes at the same time. The intermissions between the USA-Finland semifinal in Zug and the Ottawa vs. Toronto game were more or less aligned. There were also 21 NCAA DI women's games played today. This isn't really a down – just an expression of something like exhausted elation at how much is happening in the sport right now, in early January 2024, and how much of it is watchable on TV and online.
↑ Quebec hockey vibes – The home opener at Verdun Auditorium was electric, with 3,245 loud fans in the building, chanting and booing and reacting strongly to everything. Ceremonial faceoff duties were shared by Quebec women's hockey legends Danielle Goyette, France Saint-Louis, Kim St. Pierre, and Caroline Ouellette, plus Ouellette's two daughters Liv and Tessa, and Montreal general manager Danièle Sauvageau. The arena music was also immaculate, with Celine Dion remixes, ABBA, the Spice Girls and Gloria Gaynor. What a great barn to be in for Montreal; what an awesome moment.
↓ More reps – Boston had a long layover between their home opener and this game thanks to the weather-related cancellation they had last week. Ottawa, their opponent in the rescheduled game, faced the same circumstance. In both games today, the more well-rested team was hungry to avenge their opening losses and came out on top.
↑ Best-on-best – Liz Knox, providing color commentary on the broadcast, mentioned how special it was to see the three-player groups selected to start OT: Keller, Knight, and Müller for Boston; Poulin, Stacey, and Ambrose for Montreal. It was so cool to watch two extremely talented teams so evenly matched and clearly having so much fun duke it out in an overtime.
↓ Home teams, again, still – Minnesota remains the only team with a home victory – and they have two of them. No other home team has won a PWHL game to date.
VP's Player of the Game
Gigi Marvin – The 36-year-old forward had two primary assists and played a hardworking role for PWHL Boston on both offense and defense. When Boston's depth forwards get cooking, they are a downright scary team.
- Game replay link (YouTube)
- Game data
- In other PWHL action, Toronto scored their first goal at home, but ultimately fell 5-1 to Ottawa at Mattamy Athletic Centre. Ottawa's offensive depth was on full display, as they scored three goals in the first period and never looked back. Gabbie Hughes scored two, and Kateřina Mrázová, Daryl Watts, and Natalie Snodgrass also tallied. Erica Howe got her first action in net for Toronto as Kristen Campbell was pulled after the first period, having allowed 3 goals on 11 shots. Emerance Maschmeyer made 23 saves for Ottawa. While Toronto did get some strong chances, they looked disjointed and struggled to manage possession on offense as well as maintain gap control on defense. The season is still young, but there is probably some real soul-searching from Toronto after this one. On the other side, Ottawa has shown they can get offense from all four of their lines and they might have the most underrated defensive core in the PWHL.