Although Marie-Philip Poulin was a member of the inaugural Clarkson Cup championship team in 2009, skating for the Montreal Stars with fellow teenage phenom Lauriane Rougeau, one can argue that this year’s championship may bring with it an even more profound meaning for her. Joined by Rougeau once again this year, this dazzling duo has blossomed into more than just world-class talents, but cornerstones for their respective teams.
While Poulin’s heroics at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games have gained her a place among the game’s immortals, one may argue that the somewhat shocking outcome at the 2016 Clarkson Cup added an element of tarnish. After a 9-3 trouncing against the Calgary Inferno, the winner of the CWHL’s MVP award, along with the inaugural Jayna Hefford Trophy, voted on by the players in their selection for the league’s best player, emerged without the most important prize in Canadian hockey.
Starting the 2016-17 season inheriting the team captaincy from Cathy Chartrand, it would be impossible to not lament such a visceral loss at times. Based on Poulin’s performances, it was clear that it would also be a season spent in motivation, while evolving into a prime time player.
When the Calgary Inferno visited Montreal prior to the holiday break, a game suddenly became a landmark event. Competing at the Bell Centre, home of the NHL’s Canadiens, Poulin channeled the spirits of Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, making a proud statement about the generation of women’s hockey stars from La Belle Province, scoring the game’s only goal, while an electrifying crowd roared in approval of their homegrown icon.
It was only fitting that Poulin’s next great performance would also take place on NHL ice. Skating at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Poulin tied Rebecca Johnston and Jillian Saulnier with a game-high four points as her Team White prevailed by a 9-5 tally. While teammates Saulnier and Jess Jones each logged historic hat tricks, it was Poulin who would log the game-winning tally. Testament to her talent was the fact that she was taken first overall in the CWHL’s All-Star Frozen Fantasy Draft, the second year that such an achievement took place.
Considering that the 2017 Clarkson Cup finals took place at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Senators, it was another major league venue that saw Poulin take her place as more than just the CWHL’s greatest competitor, but the world’s finest.
The entire weekend in Ottawa would prove to be a whirlwind of excitement for Poulin. Starting on Friday, Poulin not only grabbed a share of the Angela James Bowl, she would have the honors of league MVP and the prestigious Jayna Hefford Trophy bestowed upon her for the second straight year, the only player to do so in consecutive years.
Following the glory of the CWHL Awards, jubilant fans had the chance to congratulate Poulin face-to-face on Saturday morning. Of note, she was one of ten CWHLers happily on-hand to greet fans at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Scoring twice for Montreal, including the game-winning goal, Poulin did so much more than just capture the second Clarkson Cup in her career. For a team that had endured Cup losses in 2013, 2015 and 2016 (becoming the first team to lose consecutive Cup finals), there were questions as to whether this team should have the choke label applied.
Facing off against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Calgary Inferno, it was a Montreal team that entered the game as underdogs. With Calgary having won the Chairman’s Trophy for the best regular season record, its hardcore fans had visions of a dynasty in the making.
Undoubtedly, a third straight finals loss would have torn Montreal apart, likely resulting in changes at the coaching and management levels, along with possible retirements. Instead, Poulin complemented the poise of goaltender Charline Labonte, providing a calming presence, waiting for the right opportunity to strike and bring Montreal ever closer to its elusive championship.
While the Cup win was a pivotal moment in Montreal franchise history, while providing franchise foundations such as Ann-Sophie Bettez and Cathy Chartrand their first-ever Cup triumphs, the reality is that this year’s edition of the champions was truly Poulin’s team. Having ascended to the same level of superstar status as Michael Jordan, the championship was a defining moment in Poulin’s career. Extending her legacy beyond her Winter Games heroics, the win truly validated her deserving status as the game’s premier talent, while providing the CWHL with a storybook finish to its magical 10th Anniversary season.
All images obtained from Twitter