If the CWHL rewarded a competitor in league play with a Most Improved Player Award, such an honor this year would definitely be bestowed upon Kim Deschenes of Les Canadiennes de Montreal. Her superlative season resulted in a staggering 19 point improvement compared to her rookie campaign.
Having amassed an impressive 33 points, Deschenes finished third in the scoring race for the Angela James Bowl, one that saw the top four scorers all skate for Les Canadiennes de Montreal, the second time in three seasons such a feat has occurred. Finishing ahead of Caroline Ouellette, Deschenes was topped by Ann-Sophie Bettez (the 2014 winner), and Marie-Philip Poulin, who captured the first Bowl in her prodigious career.
Of all the skaters that finished in the top 10 in the scoring race, Deschenes was one of only two to have less than 10 penalty minutes. Finishing with six penalty minutes, she was tied with Brianne Jenner of the Calgary Inferno, who also led all CWHL rookies in scoring. Of note, her plus/minus ranking of +33 ranked second in the league, trailing teammate Bettez, who led the league with a +34. In addition, Deschenes’ 20 assists tied with Brampton’s Laura Fortino for third in the league.
Preparation was certainly a key part of Deschenes’ success in her second season. An increased commitment complemented a better sense of what the professional game entails, serving as a strong motivational factor. In reflecting on said season, Deschenes credits one particular attribute as a key factor in her success, “Definitely it is my physical preparation. Heading into this season, I arrived knowing what to expect.”
The first player born in New Brunswick to be selected in the first round of the CWHL Draft, Deschenes had already made her mark in Montreal women’s hockey. As the captain of Les Carabins de Montreal in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) play, she not only served as team captain, but was a member of the Canadian team that captured the gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the 2013 Winter Universiade in Trentino, Italy.
Having also led Les Carabins to their first CIS national title, Deschenes was destined to eventually play at the CWHL level with Montreal. With such great promise, Deschenes endured the adjustment that is a difficult reality for so many first year players. While it was a respectable rookie season with the Montreal Stars in 2014-15, one that resulted in her 14 points leading all rookies in team scoring, sixth overall among all skaters, it was a humbling experience.
Logging her first career point, an assist in a 2-1 win against Calgary on October 24, 2014 in just her second career CWHL game, she would have to wait until November 29 for her first career goal. The rite of passage would take place in a hard-fought 4-3 shootout loss against the Toronto Furies. Overall, she would show signs of offensive brilliance, assembling a four-game scoring streak. Although Montreal would enjoy an 8-5-0 mark when Deschenes logged at least one point during the season, said season ended on a sour note as the club suffered an overtime loss in the Clarkson Cup finals.
With a new name and team logo entering a 2015-16 filled with tremendous optimism, Deschenes came into her own this season, mirroring the feeling of rejuvenation within the club. Notably, she would open the season with a 4-game scoring streak, compiling 10 pts, while quickly establishing herself as a contender for the Angela James Bowl.
Such momentum would only progress throughout the season. Of note, she would follow up her solid start to the season with a 9-game scoring streak from December 13 to January 31. During said streak Montreal enjoyed a sparkling 9-0-0 mark, while Deschenes accumulated 15 points on the strength of 10 assists.
Complementing this remarkable time was the fact that Deschenes had the opportunity to make history. Competing with her teammates against the NWHL’s Boston Pride in a New Year’s Eve match at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, it was the first-ever outdoor professional women’s ice hockey match. Dubbed the Women’s Winter Classic, the match consisted of two periods, and was followed by an alumni match between the NHL’s Boston Bruins and Motnreal Canadiens.
Deschenes scored on Pride goaltender (and former Clarkson Cup champion) Brittany Ott, providing Les Canadiennes with the lead while simultaneously becoming the first woman to score a goal in an outdoor professional match. Later in the game, Blake Bolden would score for Boston, making her own mark as the first American-born player to do so as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
A few weeks later, Deschenes would continue to establish herself as one of the CWHL’s premier forwards. Selected by All-Star captain (and Canadiennes teammate) Julie Chu, Deschenes skated for Team Black in the second CWHL All-Star Game. Held at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, the initial announcement of her selection as an All-Star participant was a great point of pride for her, contributing to a growing confidence,
“When I first heard the news, I was happy and excited. At the same time, I was very proud to be part of such an event, considering that I am just in my second year in the league.”
Skating alongside the likes of teammates Cathy Chartrand, Caroline Ouellette and Marie-Philip Poulin (who would be honored as All-Star MVP), all members of Team Black, it marked another special milestone in her promising career. With 6:38 left in the third period, Deschenes scored against Team White goaltender Genevieve Lacasse with Laura Fortino earning the assist as Team Black prevailed by a commanding 5-1 tally.
Of note, Toronto would prove to be part of another exciting moment during her second season. During the first month of the season, a two-game series against the Furies at MasterCard Centre proved to be more than just a coming out party for Deschenes, but it signaled a turning point in her career. One in which she had truly arrived as an elite scorer, ready to elevate her exciting game to a new level and live up to her potential as an elite scorer.
“My most favorite moment this season involved a weekend series in Toronto when I experienced two dream matches.”
The first match against the Furies saw Deschenes break the 0-0 deadlock at the 6:33 mark as Leslie Oles (a former CIS rival with the McGill Martlets) and Karell Emard earned the assists. Overpowering the host team with a commanding 41-11 shot margin, Deschenes would score with 1:14 remaining in the third as Oles logged her second assist of the game. As a side note, she would also earn assists on goals scored by Ann-Sophie Bettez in the second, and a third period marker by Emard, as Deschenes logged at least one point in every period. For her efforts, she was recognized as the First Star of the Game.
Montreal’s dominance would continue in the second game. Victorious in a 5-2 final, Deschenes logged her fifth and sixth points of the series in similar fashion. Scoring the first goal of the game at 15:02 of the opening frame, as Chelsey Saunders (another McGill rival) earned the assist. Deschenes would score an empty net goal with 35 seconds remaining, logging the game’s final goal. For the second consecutive day, she would score the first and final goals of the game, a rare feat. Representing a tremendous boost to her confidence, such a strong showing in the series would propel Deschenes on the path towards her breakthrough season.
Overall, Les Canadiennes were 18-1-0 when Deschenes logged at least one point in 2015-16. As a side note, the only loss took place on February 13, 2016, a 4-2 road loss vs. Calgary. During such an eventful season, one particular game featured a unique connection to Les Carabins, enhancing her memorable time.
With the final series of the season taking place at home against the Boston Blades, former Carabins teammate Elizabeth Mantha (who also played for Canada in the Winter Universiade) served as one of the two referees during the first game, a 14-0 whitewash. In a convincing performance that saw Les Canadiennes prevail by the largest margin of victory during the 2015-16 CWHL season, Deschenes logged three points, all in the third period, as she assisted on a pair of goals by Ann-Sophie Bettez (who logged a game-high six points) while scoring the 12th goal of the game.
As Les Canadiennes clinched first overall in the regular season standings, Deschenes now has her sights focused on the postseason, where she hopes she can become part of a rare class of competitors that have won both a CIS national title and a coveted Clarkson Cup. Regardless of the outcome, Deschenes is already a winner, having seen her career take on new growth and confidence, while establishing herself as another of the empowering role models that suits up for Les Canadiennes, giving young female players from the Maritimes a new hockey hero to look up to and emulate.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook