Elite of Women’s Hockey Battle for Clarkson Cup

The 2015 Clarkson Cup, often referred to as the Stanley Cup of women’s hockey, has been a highly entertaining showcase of skill, speed, athleticism and professionalism.

A format change saw the four qualifying teams (Boston, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto) play a best-of-three series with the winners moving on to the Clarkson Cup championship game.

Setting the Scene

The Boston Blades finished first overall in the CWHL regular season standings and as the top-seed drew the fourth-seed Toronto Furies, the defending Cup champions.

The Blades had a breakout season from CWHL Rookie of the Year, Brianna Decker, posting 16 goals and 32 points in 12 games played. Maybe more impressive, and certainly speaking to the team-first mentality in Boston instilled by head coach Digit Murphy, is the fact that the Blades didn’t have a single player suit up for all 24 regular season games. Despite the lack of consistency during stretches, Boston only had one player finish the season with a minus number in the plus-minus stat column.

The Toronto Furies had some moments of adversity down the stretch of the regular season, especially when team leading scorer Jenelle Kohanchuk sustained a season-ending injury. The Furies got strong seasons from Carolyne Prevost, Natalie Spooner and Kelly Terry. Christina Kessler was a significant factor in Toronto’s 2014 Cup championship, and the Furies would need her to be at her best again.

With Calgary as the second-seed, the Inferno drew a difficult matchup against the three-time Clarkson Cup champions Montreal Stars.

The Calgary Inferno had an incredible season, finishing second overall and boasting the CWHL top scorer and Angela James Bowl Winner, Rebecca Johnston. RJ6 scored 17 goals and 37 points, playing in all of Calgary’s 24 regular season games. Prior to getting injured for the season, Haley Irwin scored eight goals and 20 points in a mere 13 games for the Inferno.

A perennial favorite, the Montreal Stars are working towards their fourth Clarkson Cup championship. Caroline Ouellette, finishing third in league scoring with 26 points in 22 games, broke the CWHL all-time points scoring record surpassing the former mark held by Jayna Hefford. The Stars also got a standout season from the CWHL Goaltender of the Year, Charline Labonté. “Charlie”, as she’s affectionately called, posted a record of 9-7-0-0 in 16 games with a .927 SV% and 1.89 GAA.

Best-of-Three Series Summary

Toronto Furies (4) @ Boston Blades (1) – Game 1

The Boston Blades had a score to settle with the Toronto Furies.

Brianna Decker, the CWHL Rookie of the Year, scored a natural hat-trick in her Clarkson Cup debut. (Brandon Taylor/CWHL)
Brianna Decker, the CWHL Rookie of the Year, scored a natural hat-trick in her Clarkson Cup debut. (Brandon Taylor/CWHL)

Boston came out flying and really brought early pressure to Toronto. The first period went back and forth, with the teams exchanging shots and scoring chances, but it remained a scoreless game.

The second period had more quality scoring chances. Both goalies, Christina Kessler and Genevieve Lacasse, were on top form.

Fast-forward to the third period when Brianna Decker scores her first of three, amassing a natural hat-trick in her Clarkson Cup debut.

A 26 save effort from Lacasse and the three goals from Decker was all Boston needed for a 3-0 win and a 1-0 series lead.

Boston Blades (1) @ Toronto Furies (4) – Game 2

24-hours later, the Blades and Furies were back on the ice inside the Markham Centennial Arena. Christina Kessler got the nod again for the Furies, with Boston turning to Brittany Ott.

This time it didn’t take nearly as long for the goals to come. Four first period goals, all coming via the power-play, and the teams were tied 2-2 after one.

Boston would assert their dominance and exact their vendetta against the Furies with four second period goals. The Blades outshot Toronto 19-5 in the second period, which included a hat-trick goal from former CWHL MVP Hilary Knight. The US Olympian, who practiced with the Anaheim Ducks earlier this season, finished the game with three goals and five points.

Toronto pulled Kessler and turned to one of the league’s founding members, Sami Jo Small to defend to net for the final 20 minutes. The teams exchanged goals in the third period, and when the final buzzer sounded, the Boston Blades booked their ticket to the 2015 Clarkson Cup championship game with a 7-3 game two win and 2-0 series sweep over the Toronto Furies.

Montreal Stars (3) @ Calgary Inferno (2) – Game 1

The season series between these two teams was as tight as it gets. Montreal and Calgary split their head-to-head games 3-3-0-0 with both teams scoring 15 goals for and allowing 15 goals against. But Montreal would prove that sometimes the biggest difference makers are the off-ice intangibles.

The Stars relied on experience and veteran savvy in trying to mitigate the high-flying Calgary Inferno. One of the fastest skating teams in the CWHL, the Inferno outshot Montreal 10-8 through the opening twenty minutes.

With just under three-minutes into the second period, Caroline Ouellette snuck in behind the Calgary defence and slid a shot five-hole past Inferno goalie Delayne Brian to give Montreal a 1-0 lead. Noémie Marin would add another before the period was up, and the Montreal Stars were in control with a 2-0 advantage.

The Stars got a quick marker to start the third off the stick of Kim Deschênes, which is when Calgary head coach Scott Reid opted for a goaltending change, putting Camille Trautman into the game. Midway through the period Montreal would seal the deal with a fourth goal scored by Ann-Sophie Bettez. Calgary outshot Montreal 30-25, but ultimately were unable to solve Charline Labonté. Montreal took a 1-0 series lead.

Calgary Inferno (2) @ Montreal Stars (3) – Game 2

The All-Canadian semi-final between the Calgary Inferno and the Montreal Stars was set to resume with the Inferno’s hopes of capturing a franchise first Clarkson Cup in jeopardy.

The Inferno went back to Delayne Brian for game two, and Montreal remained steadfast with Labonté between the pipes.

The opening period of game two was much a much tighter defensive battle. The Stars were staked out to a 1-0 lead when Emanuelle Blais opened up the scoring with less than four minutes remaining in the period.

A tight contest and a goaltending duel kept the scoreline unchanged until the dying moments of the second period. The Montreal Stars doubled their lead courtesy a Mariève Provost goal. Montreal received another outstanding effort from Charline Labonté, as she turned away 32 shots for her second consecutive shutout win.

Goaltender Charline Labonté was absolutely spectacular in the Montreal Stars 2-0 series sweep over the Calgary Inferno.
Goaltender Charline Labonté was absolutely spectacular in the Montreal Stars 2-0 series sweep over the Calgary Inferno. (Jess Desjardins/CWHL)

The Montreal Stars swept the series versus Calgary 2-0, and were on their way to the 2015 Clarkson Cup championship game.

2015 Clarkson Cup Championship Game

Montreal Stars (3) @ Boston Blades (1)

First Period – Record Setting Start!

The game starts with a bang! Montreal scores a record setting goal, just 31 seconds and scored by Ann-Sophie Bettez! With Caroline Ouellette and Emmanuelle Blais drawing the assists, its a Clarkson Cup record for the fastest goal in the Cup final, beating previous mark of 1:22.

Boston respond with Brianna Decker’s first quality chance; a slapper from the top of the far face-off circle. Charline Labonté is equal to the task, making a good kick save with her left pad.

The Blades get their first power-play chance when Montreal’s Emmanuell Blais is called for hooking. On the ensuing advantage, Hilary Knight rips a big shot from the top of near circle. Labonté makes the save. Montreal kill off penalty but do give up a few quality scoring chances against.

Boston head back to the PP when Montreal take a too many skaters bench minor. The Blades don’t generate much in the first 30-seconds of the power-play, and then in a physical battle in front of Montreal’s net, Brianna Decker takes penalty for body checking Loriane Rougeau. The teams play 1:13 of 4-on-4 hockey. When Montreal get their truncated power-play, they generate two good chances, one for Blais and one for Julie Chu, but Genevieve Lacasse turns away both shots.

Montreal send Boston back to the power-play at the 15:56 mark of the first period, when Casandra Dupuis is called for delay of game. There is a lengthy debate between the game officials, but they ultimately choose to call the penalty against Montreal. Just 33 seconds later, Hilary Knight finishes off a beautiful tic-tac-toe play to equalize for Boston.

It’s the first goal the Montreal Stars Charline Labonté has given up at 2015 Clarkson Cup. Her shutout streak is snapped at 136:29. Knight get’s her third of the Cup finals, with the assists going to Kasey Bellamy & Brianna Decker.

With less than five-tenths of a second let in the period, Knight is called for a hooking penalty. The period ends with a 1-1 score and shots 10-4 in favour of Boston.

Second Period – Tight Checking Play, Labonté Shines

The second period is much closer. The play is not nearly as open. As a result, both teams are able to generate fewer quality chances. Lacasse and Labonte continue to make timely saves.

Boston get a power-play chance when Montreal are called for too many skaters on the ice. Boston don’t generate much. Montreal kill off penalty. As Kim Deschênes comes out of the box, she gets a good scoring chance that’s turned away by Lacasse.

Boston take a slashing penalty on the Deschênes chance, Decker to the box for slashing. Montreal have good puck movement, generating one or two solid chances, but they can’t beat Lacasse. At the end of penalty-kill, Boston get a 3-on-1 transition chance, but it’s broken up by a strong back check, and a meek attempt on net is eventually covered up by Labonté.

The period ends with the same 1-1 scoreline. Boston continue to dominate shots on goal, with a 19-10 advantage over Montreal.

Third Period – Edge-of-your-Seat Drama

Montreal catch a break when Boston are called for too many skaters. The Montreal power-play comes just 2:04 into the period. Boston kill the PP with relative ease, as Montreal only generate one decent chance

Play is very tight. Neither team wants to make a critical error. Labonté continues to have a sharp glove-hand, snagging a double-deflected shot with 14:38 left in the third.

Montreal are penalized when Stacie Tardif is called for hooking. Boston are back on the PP.

That’s when leading scorer at the Clarkson Cup, Brianna Decker, finds the back of the net with an outstanding individual effort.

The power-play goal, Decker’s 5th gives Boston their first lead of the game. Olympic teammate Monique Lamoreaux draws the lone assist on Decker’s power-play tally. Boston have the lead with 13:43 remaining in regulation.

Montreal press for a response, and with 10:06 to go, Montreal score a tying goal.

It comes from a goalmouth scramble and Boston’s Lacasse gets bumped prior to the puck sliding past her. Lacasse chases down the refs to protest the goal. Upon review, the goal stands. Montreal tie on a goal from Emmanuelle Blais, with assists to Loriane Rougeau and Caroline Ouellette.

In the final five minutes of regulation, Boston are pressing. Labonté continues to come up huge, keeping the game tied.

With less than 3 minutes to go, Montreal appear to beat Lacasse on a 2-on-1 shot by Deschênes, but refs waive if off before goal light goes on.

Regulation ends with the teams deadlocked at deuces. Shots in the third are recorded as 8-4 for Boston, and after 60-minutes, Boston leads Montreal 27-14 in shots on goal.

Overtime – An Unlikely Hero for the Blades

In the opening 40-seconds of overtime, Montreal get bouncing puck shot on goal. Genevieve Lacasse makes the save.

A tight checking game, teams battle for the puck through the neutral zone.

Then with Digit Murphy putting her third-line out, Boston streak up the ice on a 2-on-1 lead by Janine Weber (Innsbruck, Austria). At the 2:12 mark of overtime…

The Boston Blades win their second Clarkson Cup championship in franchise history. The joy could only be captured in one way; an on-ice selfie with coach and star rookie!

Post-Game Reaction & Interviews

Digit Murphy, Boston Blades head coach

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Hillary Knight, Boston Blades

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Julie Chu, Montreal Stars

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