Coming into this past weekend, Calgary and Montreal’s CWHL teams were at the top of the league. They were the only still undefeated teams; the Brampton Thunder, Toronto Furies, and Boston Blades already having suffered losses at their hands.
Over the weekend’s two-game series, both fought to establish dominance, resulting in one close game – and one that left a bit more to be desired.
The weekend’s opening game delivered pretty much everything advertised. There was intense, back-and-forth action, spurned on by incredible players on both sides of the puck. Well – at least after the first period, it did.
Though the Inferno struck first with Sarah Davis’ opening marker, it was just one of two shots they had through the first period. Starting netminder Delayne Brian had to hold strong for Calgary, and was impressive as only one of les Canadiennes’ 13 first period shots made it past her to keep her team in the game.
The second period was when the game started to deliver. The Inferno found the gear they had been missing, peppering les Canadiennes’ Charline Labonte with 15 shots, scoring on four of them to bust the game wide open. Montreal responded with two goals of their own, but Jessica Campbell’s second of the game late in the second re-established a two-goal lead that seemed insurmountable with Brian in net.
While the action was just as intense in the third period, the goals didn’t come as easily. The Inferno, still with a two-goal lead, only registered six shots on net, while les Canadiennes, desperate to tie up the game, had 14.
The only other time Brian was beaten was late in the game, just to make things interesting. With a penalty shot awarded to Marie-Philip Poulin (you may remember her from such performances as the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, when she scored game-tying and -winning goals for Olympic gold) (incidentally, the only other goal scorer for Team Canada in the past two Olympic gold medal contests was Calgary’s captain, Brianne Jenner) with just over two minutes to go, things had the opportunity to get tense – and they did.
Poulin scored, and what resulted was a furious final two minutes of play, with les Canadiennes laying it all out there, and the Inferno laying their bodies on the line to keep the puck out of the net. They succeeded, and ultimately defeated the Canadiennes 5-4 to become the CWHL’s only undefeated team.
The flurry of offence the Inferno discovered the game before left them for the second game of the series. Though they weren’t as outplayed as they were in the start of game 1 – the shots were even at nine apiece, and both teams were getting chances – they failed to get on the board.
Still, the score is somewhat misleading; heading into the third period, the Inferno were only down by two, having given up powerplay goals to Poulin and Julie Chu: the former going top shelf; the latter, a blast from the point. Shots were even at 17, and it was still anyone’s game.
— ari y (@thirtyfourseven) November 15, 2015
Labonte held firm; however, she didn’t have to work quite as hard as one would have expected, as most of the play in the third was found in the Inferno’s end. Even with a 30-second 5-on-3, les Canadiennes’ netminder was unbeatable, and Poulin firmly put the game out of reach with her first CWHL hat trick.
An empty netter sealed the deal, and les Canadiennes left Calgary the same way they came in: atop the league alongside their western opponents, both now sporting twin 5-1 records.
The opening battle was an action-packed game with a nail-biting finish; the second, a bit of a sleepier affair. Stellar hockey was on display throughout, though, and both Calgary and Montreal continued to establish themselves as the top teams in the league.
The Inferno will be in Toronto next weekend, as the Furies host them Nov. 21 and 22. Here is game streaming information.
The following week, it’ll be the (now)-third place Brampton Thunder making the trip out to Calgary. The games coincide with Hayley Wickenheiser’s World Female Hockey Festival, Wickfest, from Nov. 26-29. The Inferno’s next home games are on Nov. 28 (5:15 p.m.) and 29 (10:30 a.m., so no Grey Cup conflicts to be found) in Arena A at Winsport – you know, the really, really nice one, so you should come.