TORONTO— Fourteen goals were scored. A captain who calls herself “a no-name player” led Team White to victory. And the Canadian Women’s Hockey League drew its largest-ever paying crowd for an all-star game.
Team White beat Team Blue 9-5 on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in a back-and-forth, don’t-look-down-or-you-might-miss-a-goal affair that featured women who’ve won a combined 21 Olympic gold medals. They also combined for eight goals in the third period alone.
As Les Canadiennes captain Marie-Philip Poulin put it, the game was “maybe not so fun for the goalies, but for us, it was really fun.”
Here are our takeaways from the third annual CWHL all-star game.
Jill Saulnier laughs when asked whether she expected to score a hat trick at the all-star game.
“No,” the 24-year-old from Halifax said. “Never.”
But that she did. And you know you’re a talent when Poulin, the woman many believe is the best player in the world, has this to say of you: “My jaw drops every time she has the puck. She’s really good.”
Saulnier and Poulin played on the same line for Team White in the second period, and they’ve also played together a bit with the Canadian national team, where Saulnier made her debut in 2014.
A member of Canada’s last two world championship teams, Saulnier has yet to play on an Olympic stage. That goal is front of mind with the Winter Games less than a year away.
“Obviously, the thought of making that team is always in our minds for sure, especially in events like this where you’re playing with all your best friends who you’re also competing with for that team,” Saulnier said. “Everything counts toward getting better and working toward that final goal.”
Poulin says Saulnier is improving as the years pass: “She’s got more confidence, she’s got more poise with the puck.”
She showed it Saturday, and with much of her family in the crowd, which is a rare occasion. Being East Coasters, the Saulniers don’t get much of a chance to see her play. It was her mom’s birthday, too, so the hat trick was a nice gift.
Saulnier didn’t get her hat-trick puck after the game, but she’s pretty sure it was taken care of.
“We have some smart girls out there,” she said. “I think someone grabbed it.”
Carlee Campbell had to think for a little while to remember the last time she was a team captain.
“Peewee,” the 28-year-old Toronto Furies defenceman said, finally, grinning. “Twelve or 13 years old. And I’m back at 28.”
Saturday was quite the day for the CWHL rookie (she took some time off hockey after her college career) who won a fan vote to captain Team White, thanks in large part to friends and co-workers who took advantage of the online voting system.
Friends, family, co-workers, kids she coached, and even an old boss were in the crowd cheering Campbell on.
This captaincy thing being a little new to her, just before the game started, Team White huddled up, and only then did Campbell remember her role.
“Everybody was kind of staring at me I was like —‘oh, this is my turn. This is what I’m here for,’” she said, grinning.
Despite the fact the game was a showcase, Campbell said the plan was always to get the win.
“We have bragging rights for the year, right?”
Spoken like a true captain.
Best-ever paid attendance
There were 8,122 people in attendance Saturday, the most ever for a CWHL all-star game that wasn’t free. (The first-ever all-star game was free).
Players are encouraged at the growing numbers, especially when it comes to the many young kids in jerseys who were sitting in the stands.
“It was really great, just knowing that one day we’ll inspire them to play in the CWHL, they’ll want to play in that game, maybe,” Poulin said. “At some point I took a look around to see how many little girls were in the stands. And we all started like that.”
“It’s huge,” Campbell added. “We had a few teams in our dressing room just now and for them to even be that close to us is really cool for them. They were asking for our autographs…For them, that’s an experience that I didn’t personally have as a kid. I can just imagine the impact it’s having on them today.”
Team Blue co-captain Natalie Spooner, who had an assist Saturday, has her sights set on more fans in the future.
“It’s getting bigger every year,” said the 2014 Olympic gold medallist. “I think eventually we’re gonna fill up this whole building.”
The woman who scored Canada’s game-winners at the last two Olympics had a four-point afternoon, with three assists and a goal.
Poulin put one top corner, blocker side, to make it 6-3 for Team White. She also set up Saulnier for her first two goals.
The 25-year-old isn’t good at bragging, so we’ll let her Montreal teammate, Caroline Ouellette, take care of that.
“Part of the reason why I still play is that I get to watch her almost daily play hockey, and that’s a masterpiece,” said Ouellette, who’s 37. “She’s the best player I’ve ever played with or against. She amazes me every day with what she can do on the ice.”
The all-star game came on the heels of an announcement Friday that the CWHL will be partnering with the NHLPA.
Players found out yesterday, too. Ask them what it means, and you’ll get some blank stares.
“We haven’t really heard much,” Spooner said.
Here’s what we know now, via a statement from the league’s director of communications and marketing, Sasky Stewart: “The CWHL is thrilled to partner with the NHLPA. This will allow our players access to the NHLPA’s research and resources, as well as further support of the league through various means.”
Whatever that means, we’ll find out in the future.
Can’t beat Kessler
Of the four all-star goalies, only one emerged with a sparkling 0.00 GAA: Christina Kessler, of the Furies.
The 28-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was unbeatable for Team White in the game’s first half, stopping all 18 shots she faced.
Fellow Furies Spooner and Ann-Sophie Bettez were on Team Blue, and had plenty of chances, but couldn’t get one by their Toronto teammate, who was named the Clarkson Cup MVP in 2014.
“I think she knows all my moves,” Spooner said, laughing. “She stood on her head. She was amazing for them.”