TORONTO — With a decent crowd on hand and a national television audience watching at home, the top players from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League wanted to deliver in their inaugural all-star game Saturday.
Team Red, led by captain Charline Labonte of the Montreal Stars, came through with an exciting 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Team White in front of 6,850 fans at Air Canada Centre.
A total of 42 players — including many from Canada’s gold-medal winning Olympic team — participated in the CWHL showcase. Rebecca Johnston’s goal stood up as the winner as Team Red scored three unanswered goals in the third period.
"I think it’s important for us, I think the big thing for us and our league is to get it out there, get people aware of our league and where we’re playing outside of Olympic years," said Johnston.
Stars forward Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux and Jamie-Lee Rattray of the Brampton Thunder had the other goals for Team Red. Natalie Spooner of the Toronto Furies and Kelli Stack of the Boston Blades scored for Team White, which was captained by Calgary Inferno forward Jessica Campbell.
Johnston, an Inferno forward, completed the comeback as her low snapshot eluded Team White goaltender Genevieve Lacasse of the Blades. Despite a late charge with the goalie pulled, Team White could not beat Thunder goalie Erica Howe, who took the crease for the final 15 minutes.
"It was a great way to end a great day," said Rattray. "There was awesome fan support. It’s not often you get to play in front of a crowd like that, in a venue like that. I think it’s huge for the league. You look at how far it’s come, and having fans show up like they did is pretty special."
Team White controlled the play in the early going. Labonte turned aside 10 of 11 shots with her only blemish coming after Inferno forward Haley Irwin scored on a tap-in after a nice passing play with Spooner.
Christina Kessler of the Furies replaced Labonte in net for the second period. She shut down Thunder forward Carly Mercer on a breakaway after a nice stretch pass from Montreal Stars forward Carly Hill, but gave up a goal on the next shift when Stack scored on a rebound.
Team Red came out strong in the third with three goals in five minutes. After the final buzzer, fans were treated to a skills competition that included a fastest-skater contest and a shootout.
It capped a day that was viewed by many as a step forward for women’s hockey.
"We’ve now (taken) the next step (by having) an all-star game," said Spooner. "To promote our top 42 players I think is really good for our league moving forward."