Brandon Taylor, CWHL
The Montreal Stars ran away with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s regular season title. However, their players and coaches know that when they take the ice tonight at the Markham Centennial Centre for the 2014 Clarkson Cup, it’s a completely different season.
On Wednesday night, they lost their opener to the Boston Blades 1-0 after a delay in the third period caused by the arena losing power. They now face a must-win game against the Calgary Inferno tonight at 7:30 p.m. Live streaming is available at CWHL.ca.
Kate Buesser scored the only goal of the game for the Blades in the third period and Brittany Ott made 32 saves for the shutout.
The Stars lost their last regular season game to the Blades 5-1. It was their first loss in regulation since the season’s opening game in November. They have now lost two games in a row for the first time all season.
“It puts things in perspective,” said Stars head coach Dany Brunet before the team left for Markham. “It allows us to evaluate things and get to know our opponents better.”
Not only is the four-team, three-game round robin tournament held over four days a short playoff push, most of the teams involved will get the added boost of players coming back from their National Team commitments and the Olympics adding to the uncertainty.
“There are two seasons this year,” said Brunet. “We have played the great majority of our games without our Olympians and our opponents as well. That was one season, and now it’s all restarting.”
The Stars will be getting back two Olympians, Caroline Ouellette and Julie Chu. Toronto will be adding one (Nathalie Spooner). Boston will be adding five or six Olympians according to Brunet while the Calgary team will be adding none.
Leading the Stars in the absence of their Olympians was Ann-Sophie Bettez. Bettez led the league in scoring with 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points in 23 games. Bettez was the league’s Rookie of the Year last year and this year won the league’s Most Valuable Player as well as the Angela James bowl for top scorer.
Stars held the first four spots in the scoring race with Bettez’s linemates Vanessa Davidson and Sarah Vaillancourt and team captain and league’s top defenceman Cathy Chartrand holding the next three spots.
“Being in the top four in the rankings shows that it’s not a one-man show. It could have been any of the girls it just happened to me,” she said. Bettez benefited from an existing relationship with Davidson – her center – who played together while at McGill.
“Playing with girls you’ve already played with brings you to a comfort zone because you know what you accomplished with them,” she said. “At McGill we won three National championships. We know we had that chemistry and chemistry doesn’t just go away like that.”