In a nod to the legacy of Les Canadiennes, captain Marie-Philip Poulin got down on one knee to present the Cup to her childhood hero whom she used to watch on television. And as the Cup was raised, it was evident that a Montreal hockey team had produced yet another dynasty.
Les Canadiennes de Montreal exacted revenge on the defending champion Calgary Inferno with a 3-1 win Sunday to win the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. It’s Montreal’s fourth title in seven finals appearances over the 10-year span of the league.
Poulin, who scored two goals including the game-winner, presented the trophy to Caroline Ouellette — a mainstay in the franchise and a four-time gold medalist with Canada’s Olympic team. Poulin, 25, watched as a child when Ouellette, 37, won her first Olympic medal at the 2002 Games.
And neither was even named MVP nor first star of the game. Those honours both went to 34-year-old goaltender Charline Labonte who became just the third goalie to join the triple gold club — Olympics, world championships, and a Clarkson Cup.
It was a disappointing end to the season for the first-place Inferno, who set a team record with 20 wins in 24 games. The club’s strength all season has been its goaltending, split between Emerance Maschmeyer, Genevieve Lacasse and Delayne Brian.
Maschmeyer, a rookie, got the start but it easily could have gone to Lacasse who won gold in Sochi. Brian, meanwhile, was last year’s Clarkson Cup MVP when the Inferno destroyed Les Canadiennes 8-3.
The 22-year-old Maschmeyer was brilliant at times Sunday but gave up a Poulin shot from far out that turned out to be the winner.
But it was the line of Ouellette, Poulin, and Ann-Sophie Bettez that took control of the game from the first period, creating chances but also blocking shots and frustrating Calgary defensively. The trio finished in the top three in CWHL regular season scoring, with Poulin tied for first with Jess Jones of the Brampton Thunder.
The relationship between Poulin and Ouellette is evident, not just from the Cup presentation, but from the way they hold each other in high regard.
“I love ‘Pou’, she’s unbelievable,” said Ouellette after the game. “She’s always a great player and is the one who works the hardest. She’s been a great captain this year, she made it fun, she made people play with confidence. She’s someone everyone wants to follow.
“I haven’t seen the Cup in a while and [I said to it] ‘I miss you!’ It’s a gorgeous cup and I couldn’t wait to lift it.”
After last season, Ouellette gave off the impression that she wasn’t sure if she was going to continue her career. She told reporters that she hasn’t made a decision about retirement just yet and looks forward to being an assistant coach with Team Canada at the upcoming world championships in Michigan.
“Caro means so much to me as a hockey player and a person,” said Poulin. “It was really emotional and a night I’ll remember, especially with Caro who helped me so much over my career.”
Poulin, who idolized Ouellette growing up, not only scored the winner Sunday but was behind the last two game-winners in Canada’s previous two gold medal games at the Olympics.
Ouellette, meanwhile, made history this season by becoming both the league’s all-time points leader and goal scorer.
Labonte may have gotten the most satisfaction out of this singular performance as she was in net for all but one of the eight goals Calgary scored against Montreal in the 2016 final and was missing this particular hardware in her trophy case.
“Yesterday I was telling you guys that [last year] I messed up and felt so bad for my team,” said Labonte. “When you lose that badly, you have to learn something and I think that’s what we did. It was always in the back of my mind and every time we played Calgary, I wanted to beat them. I wanted to get right back here again to get some revenge because that wasn’t our team last year.
“Tonight was definitely our team. They’re some of my best friends in the last 10-20 years.”
As this reporter went to ask about the feeling Labonte had when Calgary scored a late goal, both Calgary goaltenders interrupted the post-game scrum to hug and congratulate Labonte on her performance.
“I’m sorry, what was the question?” Labonte had to ask.
The love-in was shared by all.
“It might be corny but love is stronger than anything and that’s what we have on our team, from our coaching staff to our players,” said Ouellette. “We play for one another. It felt like a perfect performance and I’m so proud. I’m so happy.”
And the love was extended all the way up to the stands where GM Meg Hewings, who hoped for one more Cup for a roster that may not play together again, got to see the fruits of her labour.
“She’a a great friend to all of us,” Ouellette said of Hewings. “I experienced the beginning [of the CWHL] when we had to do everything: we had to organize the auction at our breast cancer game, we did our own meals on the road, players had to sharpen their own skates. She’s surrounded herself with amazing staff that care just as much as she does.
“She’s our leader, the person we want to win for. She’s the best GM and we’re the luckiest players to have her.”
Said Poulin, “We’re a family.”
A family now with nothing left to prove.