Canadiennes 2, Inferno 1: Les Canadiennes Put Out Inferno in Home Opener
Gelinas, Lefort Score in Front of Home Crowd in Tight Battle
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s Les Canadiennes opened their season on their new home ice on Saturday night, facing off against Calgary’s Inferno in a double-header with the AHL’s Laval Rocket in front of a crowd of over 1,500 people.
Captain Marie-Philip Poulin was all smiles ahead of the game as she shook the hand of each of her teammates in the opening ceremony. The team could not have been more excited to be making their season debut in the atmosphere of Laval’s Place Bell, which they now call home for the season.
“This [atmosphere] is something we need,” said head coach Dany Brunet. “We need people who make the trip to come encourage us, the players need it, the team needs it. Players notice it, and they talk about it. We’re known for having the best crowd in the league, which can be an advantage to us when a game is tight and we need momentum.”
On hand for the ceremonial puck drop in their new home was Caroline Ouellette, who also made her debut behind the bench in her first regular season game with the team— this time in a new role as technical coach—since announcing her retirement earlier this month.
Both teams came into this game on pretty even playing field, Montreal finishing the regular season a few points ahead of the Inferno last year, and Calgary beating them out in the playoffs finishing in third, two points ahead of Les Canadiennes.
Les Canadiennes and the Inferno each have star-studded rosters to boast, with Calgary dressing 13 olympians and Montreal with six olympians, and three national team players. It was bound to be a battle for the ages, even in the first game of the season.
Les Canadiennes were working with a host of new faces, including rookie Catherine Daoust, former Calgary Inferno forward Jillian Saulnier, and Maude Gelinas who made her return to hockey after a two year absence. This left the team with a few kinks to iron out, but overall managed well, due in part to the presence of strong leadership among veteran players.
“We have many new players and it’s important for the veterans to set the tone and show them ‘This is who we are,’ and what our identity is as an organization, which is desire, intensity and hard work,” said Brunet. “I liked how our veterans handled themselves [tonight] in sending that message to the younger players.”
The Inferno sent a message to Les Canadiennes early on, surprising their opponents by starting the game with four forwards. The team had to adjust quickly to the Inferno’s offensive tendencies, something they were ultimately successful in, and they themselves had a few good chances at creating offensive chemistry.
“We have many new players and it’s important for the veterans to set the tone and show them ‘This is who we are’ .” —Dany Brunet
Calgary opened scoring with Brianna Decker going top shelf over Les Canadiennes’ goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer’s blocker.
Les Canadiennes followed up not too soon after, evening the score with Gelinas tallying her first goal of the regular season. Gelinas says she’s not a goal scorer, however she’s managed goals throughout the preseason, and now the regular season.
“I’m not the biggest scorer out there,” she said. “I’m known mostly for being a passer, so it’s pretty exceptional [for me] to score in the first game of the season.”
The second period would see little action, with neither team being able to capitalize on scoring chances enough to take the lead. In Les Canadiennes’ case, the effort was there and they were doing everything in their power to try to put that puck in the net, but it just didn’t seem to want to go in. This was due in part to Inferno goaltender Alex Rigsby who had an incredible night, making 18 saves on 20 shots.
The final frame saw a battle to the very end, both teams held strong both offensively and defensively with chances on either side. However, it was Les Canadiennes’ night. Hilary Knight moved the puck up to Saulnier who put it on the net; the puck bounced off Rigsby’s pad and Sarah Lefort was there to tap it in for the game winning goal.
“I just wanted to get the puck in the net,” said Saulnier of her assist. “It was important for us to get the first win and especially with a new team. To get that was really exciting.”
With this win, Les Canadiennes are able to shake off some of those first game nerves and get to work on building some momentum for the remainder of the season.
“This was the first time we played together and there were some nerves and some excitement, a lot of different communication that we have to work out,” said Knight, who has returned for her first full season with the team after signing late last year.
“It feels great to win, and at the same time we figured out what works and what doesn’t work and we’ll go back and try it out tomorrow, and we’ll see where we are,” she said.
Now, the team looks to their next challenge as they face off against the Inferno yet again, and this time the Inferno will be looking for redemption. Les Canadiennes hope to leave this weekend series with a 2-0 record, when the take on their opponent on Place Bell’s community ice surface this Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
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