Make no mistake: throughout the entire CWHL season, les Canadiennes were the team to beat. Montreal was extremely strong on all ends of the ice, from the league’s best offence, led by Marie-Philip Poulin, to the best defence and goaltending, led by Charline Labonte, not to mention the best special teams by a fair margin.
In short: Montreal was the class of the CWHL.
But that didn’t mean they were unbeatable. Just ask the Calgary Inferno, who handed them two of their three losses in the regular season, en route to their own second place finish in the league. Stacked with offensive talent from top to bottom in their lineup, all that stood in Calgary’s way was defence and goaltending that wasn’t the most consistent throughout the season.
But when everything clicks for the Inferno, it clicks. And in the Clarkson Cup – a single winner-take-all game – things clicked, right from the start. The result? A surprising, but wholly deserved 8-3 domination that saw Calgary win its first Clarkson Cup.
Right from the beginning, you could tell the Inferno came to play. They dominated offensive zone pressure immediately, and saw quick dividends when Rebecca Johnston opened the scoring just 2:26 into the game.
The Inferno continued to pile on pressure after that, but penalty trouble struck early. Brianne Jenner went off for slashing, sending Montreal to their deadly power play – and they proved exactly how deadly it is. Poulin quickly tied the game, and les Canadiennes looked to be right back in it.
Things looked like they may have been turning a corner for Montreal when Erica Kromm went off for bodychecking, but this time, the Inferno had their penalty kill on point, and they had no problems clearing the puck throughout the kill – and when they couldn’t, Delayne Brian was there to stop it.
And when Calgary got its own chance after a few missed calls, they went to work. Calgary’s first power play came as a result of Katia Clement-Heydra’s cross-checking call, and there, Jenner got her revenge. She was trying to do a cross-crease pass to Jill Saulnier, but Lauriane Rougeau got in the way – and the puck went off her and in instead, putting the Inferno up 2-1.
It was a great first period – but the intensity was only just getting started.
This was when things really started heating up.
And just like the first period, while the Inferno scored early, they also took a penalty early, as Aina Takeuchi went off for body checking Rougeau. Her teammates bailed her out, though, blocking shots and clearing the puck throughout the kill to keep their two-goal lead intact.
That two-goal lead turned into a three-goal lead midway through the frame. Caroline Ouelette lost the puck just outside the Calgary zone, resulting in Hayley Wickenheiser helping Blayre Turnbull go on a breakaway. With a nice move of her own, Turnbull went in – and just like that, it was a 4-1 game.
The defining moment of the game came just a few minutes later.
Les Canadiennes had a goal waived off due to goalie interference – and what very well may have been a high stick, as well – but that didn’t slow them. They were putting the pressure back on Calgary, and solved Brian again a few moments later, as the ever-dangerous Noemie Marin, parked right at the side of the net, tapped it home to bring Montreal back within two.
Montreal had a lot of offensive pressure prior to the goal, and they looked to be on a mission to tie the game back up. It just wasn’t to be, however, as a mere 23 seconds after Marin’s goal, Wickenheiser moved the puck back up the ice. She found Turnbull through a couple of Montreal bodies skating through the slot, and Turnbull wasted no time getting a shot off – and in it went, past Labonte, making it a 5-2 lead for the Inferno.
An immediate Inferno response to a challenging Canadiennes team restored the three-goal lead, and despite Montreal’s 18-9 lead in shots through the period, it looked like it was Calgary’s game.
It can’t be stated nearly enough: les Canadiennes are an incredible team, and you can never count them out. They outshot the Inferno 13-7 in the final frame, and 41-26 overall – but Brian came up huge for her team, and the skaters in front of her rewarded her with goals aplenty.
Just as les Canadiennes can’t be counted out, neither can the Inferno. They’d had their issues over the course of the season, occasionally letting other teams back into the game, but not this time. There was no mercy to be found when Ann-Sophie Bettez went off for hooking; instead, Campbell scored her second of the game late in the power play with a perfect tip off Meaghan Mikkelson’s point shot, making it a 6-2 score.
A few minutes later, Johnston also scored her second of the game with an absolute snipe Labonte had no chance on. With just over 10 minutes to go, the Inferno had a five-goal lead – and as much as one can’t count les Canadiennes out, things were looking pretty good for Calgary.
Nobody told Montreal that, though. Poulin evaded Inferno defenders, ensuring les Canadiennes would still have offensive zone pressure – and a deft little pass from Bettez to Kim Descehenes, evading Jacquie Pierri right at the side of the Inferno net, saw Montreal make it a 7-3 game.
The problem? There was only 7:15 left to play – and four goals over that time period is a tough ask for any team. Montreal had two power plays with which to work – a holding call on Brigette Lacquette and a too many women penalty – but the way Brian was playing, nothing else was getting past her, as she made phenomenal save after phenomenal save as time ticked down.
A shorthanded empty netter saw Jenner score her second of the game, and that was that: the Inferno put up eight goals on les Canadiennes, the top team in the CWHL, to win the 2015-16 Clarkson Cup.
While the game started off relatively even, both teams pulled away: the Inferno on the scoreboard and in general on-ice play; les Canadiennes on the shot clock, trying to get back in it. They couldn’t, though, and with four goal scorers for Calgary, each with two goals apiece, there were a lot of options for the three stars.
The third star went to Blayre Turnbull, who scored two goals in the second period. Her first was the eventual game winner; her second was mere seconds after Montreal had scored and looked to be getting themselves back in the game, almost effectively neutralizing them and shutting down any dreams of a comeback.
The second star went to Rebecca Johnston, the Inferno’s offensive force they were missing through much of the season. Not that they couldn’t score goals without Johnston, but she adds a whole other level to the Inferno’s already impressive offence, and it showed in her return. She opened the scoring, assisted on Jenner’s power play goal, and her second goal of the game proved just how lethal she can be when given a chance in the slot, all from a solo effort.
And the game’s first star was none other than Delayne Brian. She out-duelled her opposite in Charline Labonte, standing tall throughout the Montreal onslaught and ensuring the game never once got out of hand for her team, with a handful of “how did she do that?” saves to put the exclamation mark on her victory. She was the CWHL’s goaltender of the year two years prior, but received the ultimate team prize as she stopped 38 of 41 shots.
Brian had an incredible playoffs, but even more so when you think of how, in the Inferno’s final regular season game – a must-win against the Brampton Thunder to secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs – she was pulled after just 14:15, having given up three goals on 12 shots. She roared back in the playoffs though, holding off back-to-back intense Thunder efforts to tie up their games – and followed it up with the game of her life as the Calgary Inferno won their first ever Clarkson Cup.
The 2015-16 hockey season sees Calgary welcome a championship team. Be sure to come and support the Inferno when they take to the ice in 2016-17 to defend their title – because there’s no reason the CWHL has to be the country’s best kept secret anymore.