Les Canadiennes Season Preview: A New Era?
Team Will Start Title Defense With New Faces on The Ice
Reigning Clarkson Cup champions, Les Canadiennes de Montréal, are looking for another deep playoff run with a host of new faces on the blue line and in net.
“I think this year is an all new year,” said Canadiennes’ head coach Dany Brunet. “We’ve had a couple players retire, and it’s an Olympic year so we have some centralized players, but I have confidence in our team this year.”
This offseason saw the retirement of two solid defenders in Brittany Fouracres and Carly Hill, as well as veteran defenseman Lauriane Rougeau, who is headed to camp in preparation for the upcoming winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
That in mind, Les Canadiennes reloaded on defenders through the draft, adding Natalie Barrette from Windsor and Laurence Beaulieu of Université de Montreal, in addition to acquiring Nachi Fujimoto from the Boston Blades.
Backing them up in net this season will be Emerance Maschmeyer. Despite being only 23 years old, Maschmeyer is not lacking in experience.
“Emerance is a great addition, a great goaltender with some national experience,” said forward Sarah Lefort.
She has appeared in three consecutive International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships for Team Canada in 2015, 2016, and 2017, earning a silver medal in all three tournaments.
Also among the new additions to the squad is former Concordia Stinger, Tracy-Ann Lavigne, drafted in the eighth round.
Lavigne had 24 points in 60 games as a Stinger, 14 of which came in her final season with the team.
“Tracy has an adjustment period, coming into the league from USports, but I think after a month or two she’ll find her rhythm and she’ll make a great impact on the team,” said Lefort.
Despite the promise they’ve shown so far, coach Dany Brunet has made it clear nothing is set in stone.
“We’ve played a few exhibition games, and so far, they’re promising,” he said of his new players. “I think they’ll take on a depth role that will be much appreciated. With many players training for the Olympics, I think these girls have a chance to open some doors for themselves, but as of right now they’re still in the evaluation stage, so we’ll see how they do.”
Overall, the team is excited to start this new season.
“We’re going to have a great season,” said Lefort. “There’s a lot of changes in the roster—obviously Charlie Labonte was a huge loss—but there are a lot of good rookies coming in and I think it’s going to be a good one.”
The goal: To return to the Clarkson Cup finals and go back-to-back.
“That’s always the end goal, to make the Clarkson Cup. I think it will be a challenge but we definitely have a shot and we’ll work hard towards that,” says veteran Ann-Sophie Bettez.
“I’m really excited,” said Bettez, who is entering her sixth season in the league. “I haven’t touched the ice much all summer, so it’ll be great to get back out there. I’m looking forward to it.”
This season brings new challenges for the team, with the league’s expansion bringing two new opponents from China.
With two new teams, comes fewer playoff spots.
“Now that there are seven teams in the league, we’re transitioning to a format where only three teams make the playoffs versus four in the previous years,” says Brunet.
The expansion into China isn’t all challenges for the team, though.
“It’s a great thing, China has brought a lot of financial support, and it will be cool to travel overseas and play hockey,” said Bettez. “I think this will open us up to having more teams in the future, maybe in Europe. It’s definitely marking history for women’s hockey.”
League scheduling is definitely in favour of the team, as well. Les Canadiennes are the last of the North American teams to make the trip overseas to China.
“I think this gives us an advantage over the other teams in the league,” says Brunet.
The changes seen in the league since last season do not end with two new teams. In September, the league announced it would begin paying its players for the first time since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s inauguration in 2007.
“It’s the beginning, a small step,” said Bettez. “It’s not where we want to be in the end, but it took time for sustainability, and I think it’s a step towards the goal of growing women’s hockey.”
“We want there to be a point where girls can play professional hockey and live off it, and I don’t think we’ll see that maybe in my playing career, but this is a step towards that in the future,” she continued.
Overall, it’s bound to be an exciting season for the team with all its changes, which begs the question: is this a new era for Les Canadiennes?