With the start of the NWHL and CWHL seasons creeping ever-closer, we’re kicking off a series of season previews for both leagues where we will encompass what all new fans need to know about last season, what might happen next season, who to keep an eye on and which player we’re oh-so-glad (or sad) to be rid of.
Today we end with Les Canadiennes de Montreal.
Recap of last season
Last season was… not the season Montreal hoped to have. How could it be? Montreal’s 2015-16 season was peculiar, boasting amazing play and a sudden, confusing, and disappointing ending that seemed to come from nowhere.
The team earned the best regular-season record by far, notching 20 regulation wins, adding a shootout win to that and dropping only three games for an 0.833 winning percentage. Les Canadiennes breezed through the first round of the postseason, earning a spot in the Clarkson Cup Final, only to drop that final, most important game in awful fashion, 8-3.
Where Calgary had the postseason momentum, it seemed Les Canadiennes had spent all of theirs between October and February, despite marquee names such as Noemie Marin, Emmanuelle Blais, Charline Labonté, Marie Philip Poulin, Julie Chu and Cathy Chartrand. This time around, with many of the same players on the roster, Montreal is going to be laser-focused on taking that Cup home.
Montreal’s first-round pick this year in the CWHL draft was Sarah Lefort, the newest oh-so-shiny, oh-so-awesome player on the market. And like the first-round pick every year, she was quite the get. Lefort, a Boston University Terriers teammate of Poulin’s, broke Poulin’s scoring record just one year later with a program record for goals (91) and points (183).
She appeared in all but three games her entire collegiate career; she spent those three games on the ice for Team Canada at the Four Nations Tournament in November. As a sophomore, Lefort also became the first player in program history to earn a spot as a top-ten finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
While Montreal is loaded with excellent skaters and scorers up front, expect Lefort to hold her own among the forwards and earn herself a spot on the top three within a season or two.
Neither Sydney Aveson (G) nor Chelsey Saunders (D) will be returning to Montreal, with the former heading to Austria for the season and the latter moving due to employment reasons.
They are the only two from last year’s roster to not make an appearance at the team’s preseason camp, which is something of a relief considering the rumors floating around last season that former respective Canadian and U.S. national team leaders, Caroline Ouelette and Julie Chu, were considering retirement from the CWHL as well. As every Canadiennes fan knows, Ouellette and Chu are regular spokeswomen for the team, and dynamite players, besides. Losing them would be heartbreaking for fans and teammates.
Player to watch
Name a player on this team. Any of them. Cut up their names, jumble them up in a bowl and pick one. That’s the one. Personally, I’ll be watching Poulin (because her play is dazzling) but you could pick anyone rostered on Montreal and be happy as a clam with your choice.
Montreal has, frankly, a few too many strengths to choose from. The defense is gifted and excels at adding to the offensive momentum. Les Canadiennes has the largest staff of any in the CWHL and is incredibly well-taken-care of, from nutrition to workouts and as such, players frequently come off the ice at the end of a game looking like they could head right back out. But Les Canadiennes’ forwards take the cake and everyone knows it.
Montreal’s offense is terrific, with a roster full of skilled athletes who understand the game on a high level and have on-ice vision to rival the best player on any team. They play together extremely well and nearly all of them have a thirst for scoring, making them the highest-scoring team in the 2015-216 season, outscoring the Boston Blades, the lowest-scoring team in the league, 6-1.
Adding to that, Montreal allowed only 36 goals against, nearly half of what the second-place team, the Calgary Inferno, allowed during the regular season.
Montreal is truly elite.
While Labonté is a clear number-one goaltender, Montreal will be faced with a bit of a logjam for the second spot and could find it difficult to whittle the numbers down there. The real question of the season, however, will be momentum: can Les Canadiennes sustain it throughout the post, or will the team take its foot off the gas during the Final once again?
Bold and overly specific prediction
If Les Canadiennes don’t win the Clarkson Cup with this All-Star roster again a certain writer named Kate Cimini will posit that the team was cursed when the league decided to change its name from the Stars to Les Canadiennes. She will be right.
You can put her in your pocket