The first chance to watch the Canadian stars of the PWHPA was a welcome one. Off the ice until their first practices the day before the Canadian leg of the Dream Gap Tour, it’s been over a year since these players were in a lineup together.
For some young stars, it was their pro debuts. For others, like Marie-Philip Poulin, it was the opportunity to see greatness again ahead of the delayed, upcoming World Championships.
Poulin scored the game-winner for Montreal to lead them to a 4-2 championship win over Toronto on Monday. The Montreal, Toronto and Calgary squads competed in a week-long tournament in Calgary, where Montreal and Toronto earned berths in the title game.
Jesse Eldridge had a goal and an assist, Catherine Dubois also scored and Sarah Lefort picked up a goal as well to wrap up the championship scoring.
The entire week was a glimpse at some players who will play in Worlds — and, perhaps, the Olympics — along with potentially the future of the program in Canada, and pro hockey.
Here’s some thoughts from the first Canadian-only Dream Gap Tour.
Poulin was Poulin
The star of Canada did everything one could expect. She led the tour with five goals and six assists.
The last time we saw Poulin play, she was injured in her return to Worlds in 2019. Since the tourney was cancelled last year and postponed this spring, she didn’t get back on the ice.
It doesn’t appear like she’s missed a beat and still is the elite of the elite.
“It’s obviously amazing just to be on the ice with (Poulin),” Montreal forward Ann-Sophie Bettez told reporters last week. “And the first shift of the game being up one goal is always amazing. But, as I said, it was keeping things simple and we’ve had success.”
For the championship Montreal squad, Poulin worked at even strength in addition to the penalty kill and power play. She led the team in clean zone entries, she blocked shots. Essentially, Marie-Philip Poulin was Marie-Philip Poulin, and that’s good news for everyone in Canada.
Loren Gabel made noise
After not making the Canadian centralization roster, there was plenty of second-guessing for Gabel. She had a goal and assist in a game pretty early in the tournament, and when interviewed during intermission, spoke about what it’s been like for her.
After graduating Clarkson, Gabel didn’t have anywhere to play for some time, opting out of going overseas and the NWHL. Her pro debut was long-awaited, and it was great to see her perform against other elite players.
It’ll be interesting to see how fueled Gabel is going forward. This was a great chance for her to show what she can do at this level, and all in all, she played pretty well. It won’t give her another chance to get rostered this Olympic cycle, but there’s no way she’s done being considered as one of the future stars of the Canadian program.
The rise of Kristen Campbell
When Campbell made the Canadian centralization roster over other experienced goalies such as Genevieve Lacasse, she had a target on her. Was the 23-year-old goalie ready for the moment?
Her pro debut says, perhaps. Her .919 save percentage in her two games for Calgary was the second-best in the tournament, behind only Ann-Renee Desbiens.
Campbell posted a huge 38-save win right after top defender Meaghan Mikkelson was injured in front of her. It was a statement type of win at the pro level for Campbell.
It isn’t likely Campbell plays a ton on the international stage, with Desbiens and Emerence Maschmeyer ahead of her. The former Wisconsin goalie, though, has performed at a high level in tight spots before — she’s the only NCAA championship goalie to not allow a goal through an entire national tournament — so she could be the future in the crease.
Between her and Shea Tilley, the future in the crease is in good padding.
Shea Tilley shows off
Speaking of the former Clarkson goalie, Tilley made an impact for Toronto. She finished with a .892 save percentage and 3.02 goals against, but in a tournament with limited time, she showed flashes of being a future option in net for Canada.
Her three games played were matched only by Montreal’s Desbiens and her goals-against certainly went up with the 4-2 loss to Desbiens’ championship squad on Monday.
“Shea played unreal,” Toronto forward Victoria Bach told reporters last week. “She stood on her head. Some of the saves she made — we were all pretty hyped up on the bench.”
Consider that all of Tiley’s games were against Montreal, a powerhouse squad offensively, and it’s more impressive that she performed as she did against so many high-danger chances.
Sarah Potomak, a star
Potomak scored five goals to lead Calgary, and she was a standout the entire tournament. She scored in every Calgary game.
“She’s a pure goal-scorer,” said teammate Bridgette Lacquette.
Like Gabel, the 23-year-old Potomak is a young star who wasn’t invited to be a part of the centralization roster.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 29, 2021
Her scoring prowess was only matched by Poulin, which is probably the best class you can be in as a women’s hockey player.
If anyone second guesses that Canadian roster, they can point specifically to the kind of tour Potomak had. She’s going to be an elite player for a long time, whether it’s with Canada or the PWHPA or anywhere else. This tournament was a clear indication she’s arrived.