There were definitely strong feelings of déjà vu as the Montreal Stars faced off against the Boston Blades for the 2015 Clarkson Cup. Of note, the clubs battled for the 2013 edition of the Cup, as Montreal’s Charline Labonte opposed Genevieve Lacasse. Fast forward two years later and both goalies were still occupying their respective club’s crease. The only difference was that the two were proud owners of gold medals earned as teammates at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
In both 2013 and 2015, the Blades would enter the postseason as regular season champions while Lacasse entered the Cup finals as the winner of the CWHL’s regular season Goaltending Championship. Once again, the final outcome resulted in Lacasse and her Blades teammates hoisting the coveted Cup over their shoulders.
From Montreal’s perspective, the loss was made more visceral because team founder and CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton Lebreux was playing in the final game of her CWHL career. As a side note, the impact of the loss was compounded by the opportunity for Charline Labonte and Lauriane Rougeau to earn Triple Gold Club status (a women’s hockey player to earn gold in the IIHF Worlds and the Winter Games, plus the Cup win).
Labonte would post shutouts in all of the preliminary postseason matches in 2013 and 2015, providing the Stars strong momentum heading into the final. Sadly, Labonte’s efforts were not enough to defeat a very strong Boston squad.
Less than one minute into the first period, Montreal had the momentum in their favor as Ann-Sophie Bettez scored on Lacasse for the 1-0 advantage. After dumping the puck into the corner, Caroline Ouellette fought off two Blades players and made a backhand pass to Bettez for the game’s first goal.
Afterwards, Labonte played solid between the pipes, nullifying a pair of power plays and showing why she was named the CWHL’s Most Outstanding Goaltender for the 2014-15 season. Before the period would expire, Labonte’s postseason shutout streak of over 130 minutes was snapped.
Boston managed to solve Labonte and tie the score on their third power play of the period, shattering any hopes of another postseason shutout for Labonte. Blades captain Hilary Knight was the catalyst on the offensive attack. Firing a pass to Kacey Bellamy, she placed herself in position near the Stars net, completely uncovered.
As Knight approached the Stars net, Bellamy found Brianna Decker, the 2015 CWHL Rookie of the Year. As Decker fired a shot towards the Montreal net, which was blocked by Labonte, Knight grabbed the rebound and placed into the net to tie the score.
Despite a scoreless second period that saw the Blades pepper Labonte with frequent shots, Montreal was unable to match the Blades’ aggressive efforts on offense. As Labonte continued to play valiantly throughout the second, the Blades just appeared more confident having outshot the Stars in every period.
Once again, Boston capitalized on a power play opportunity. With Stacie Tardif in the penalty box for holding, Decker scored at the 6:17 mark of the third period, as assists were credited to Monique Lamoureux and Hilary Knight.
Sensing their season coming to an end, Montreal stormed back and tied the game at 9:54 with Emmanuelle Blais netting the equalizer. Tensions mounted afterwards as neither team was able to score for the remainder of the period. With no more penalties in the period, both teams appeared cautious in play, not wanting to take a risk and lose the game on a careless play.
Overtime would be required to solve the deadlock. The Blades did not have positive memories of competing in overtime. Last year, the Blades and the Toronto Furies took a 0-0 score to overtime in the Clarkson Cup championship game. With Toronto emerging victorious in the upset win, the Blades were hoping not to be haunted by a similar outcome.
Taking into account the heroics of players such as Decker and Knight, it would have been easy to expect them to duplicate such feats again. Instead, it would be a first-year player from Austria that made the Blades championship dreams come true.
At the 2:12 mark of the overtime frame, Austria’s Janine Weber logged the Cup-winning tally. With assists by Tara Watchorn (the 2015 CWHL Defenseman of the Year Award winner) and Corinne Buie, who played with Weber for one season at Providence College, Weber became the first European player to score a Cup-winner.
For Boston sports fans, Weber’s goal was similar to Malcolm Butler recording the Super Bowl winning interception for the New England Patriots a few short weeks ago. Both may have risen from anonymity to become Boston sports heroes, but their efforts have helped solidify the city’s status as the City of Champions.
Image obtained from Twitter