TORONTO— Marie-Philip Poulin scored twice, players from both teams gathered behind one of the nets in the third period so a fan in the first row could take a selfie, and Team Black beat Team White 5-1 in the CWHL All-Star Game on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.
“Yeah,” Team Black captain Julie Chu said, smiling, “that was a lot of fun.”
Here are five takeaways from the second annual CWHL All-Star Game.
If you aren’t already, get familiar with Marie Philip-Poulin (“Pou,” to teammates). Ever since the Montreal Canadiens started struggling, some fans have suggested that the Les Canadiennes de Montreal centre, who leads the CWHL in scoring with 26 points in 14 games, should step in and help out the NHL club. “Oh boy,” Poulin said, grinning.
The 24-year-old from Quebec scored twice in the All-Star Game, including the winner, and she was the best player on the ice. “They make me look good out there,” she said of her teammates.
The former captain of Boston University has never appeared in an Olympic final and not scored the winner. She did it in Vancouver in 2010, and in Sochi, she scored the tying goal late in the third and also netted the winner in overtime.
Poulin was the No. 1 overall pick in the All-Star Game, chosen by American national team veteran and Canadiennes teammate, Chu. “She’s one of the best players in the world,” Chu said.
Call it a comeback
Hayley Wickenheiser is back, and in all-star form. She played on a broken foot at the Sochi Olympics, and didn’t realize at the time the break was as bad as it was—her left foot was shattered in four places. The 37-year-old needed navicular reconstruction, and spent 10 months last year going through surgery and rehab.
“It’s been a very long road,” Wickenheiser said after Saturday’s game. “I didn’t walk on my foot for four months, from February to June of last year. I didn’t even touch my foot to the ground.”
And yes, it was excruciating.
Wickenheiser’s career was in question; not that she wouldn’t be able to skate again, but that she’d be able to play at a high level.
“Doctors told me that outside of one NBA player, they’d never seen a break that bad in the foot,” she said. “That makes you think twice about whether you’d be able to come back."
Her left foot now has a plate and screws in it. “You can’t tell if you don’t know,” she said. The four-time Olympic gold medallist scored Team Black’s third goal on a two-on-one, sliding the puck through the legs of goalie Charline Labonte.
“I feel really proud and happy to be able to have gone through that injury and surgery and rehab and come out the other side, and I’m still goin’,” she said, smiling.
The NWHL Effect
With the National Women’s Hockey League starting up this season, a bunch of the world’s best female players — most of them American — left the CWHL for the start-up that pays its players between $10,000-$25,000 per season (the CWHL does not pay its players). And so the CWHL All-Star Game was missing top-end American-born talent aside from Chu.
Kelli Stack, who’s the highest-paid player in the NWHL, was the No. 1 star at last year’s CWHL All-Star Game. Her Team USA teammates like Megan Bozek, Meghan Duggan, Brianna Decker, and Hilary Knight, all of whom won silver in Sochi, are some of the best players in the world, and they’re playing in a different league now. The NWHL has changed the landscape of the sport.
“Hopefully at some point, we can combine,” said Team White captain, Natalie Spooner. She was one of the best players on the ice Saturday, but couldn’t find the back of the net. “I would love to be playing against the American players. They’re great hockey players. To play with and against them would be great. And hopefully in the future we can all play together again.”
This is an exhibition for women’s hockey, and an important one. It’s also a lot of fun for the players.
At the all-star team draft on Friday night, Poulin joked she bribed Chu with a McDonald’s meal so Chu would take her first overall. Chu and Spooner, the team captains, high-fived at centre ice before the game. Team Black goalie Delayne Brian had a GoPro camera on her head. At a faceoff, Kelly Terry pretended to cross-check Poulin the face. In the first period, Katia Clement-Heydra of Team White had a breakaway and so Wickenheiser threw her stick toward Clement-Heydra, giving her a penalty shot.
“It’s fun, and, you know, one more chance to score,” Wickenheiser said. “Fans were startin’ to fall asleep there for a bit so I had to liven it up a bit,” she added, laughing.
The CWHL sold some 4,000 tickets (they were $10 each) and gave away about 1,400 more, according to the league’s PR staff. Turnout wise, it was similar to last year, but the difference was this year the tickets weren’t free.
The atmosphere was at times lively (Wickehneiser called it a “good, decent crowd”) but it would’ve been a lot louder in a building that doesn’t seat nearly 20,000. There was a solid smattering of fans in the lower bowl that could’ve nearly filled the platinum and gold sections if they weren’t spread out.
Of course, playing the game at the ACC gives the event the big-game legitimacy it deserves.
Among the fans were a lot of girls’ hockey teams: The Leaside Wildcats, the Whitby Wolves, the Burlington Barracudas. There were also many little hockey players wearing their jerseys.
“You can tell they want to be in our shoes one day,” Poulin said. “We’d love to make that happen for them, and hopefully get paid one day.”