The Lowdown: Clarkson Cup Edition

Calgary Inferno forward Hayley Wickenheiser takes a shot from the point during the Clarkson Cup Final at Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa, on March 13, 2016. (Photo by Michelle Jay/Along the Boards)
The Lowdown: Clarkson Cup Edition
Jill Olson

It’s all over but the crying. The Montreal Les Canadiennes, the favorite to take the Clarkson Cup, will certainly be crying now. In a true underdog story, the Calgary Inferno (who’ve never made it to the Final let alone hoisted the Cup before) have defeated the Montreal Les Canadiennes. Although “defeated” is putting it lightly. If this was a war, the Inferno took no prisoners and left no survivors. It was a bloodbath. I could, and shortly will, analyze where the Les Canadiennes went wrong systematically, but it really came down to heart. The Inferno had it and Les Canadiennes did not. Plain and simple. Les Canadiennes went in over-confident and got majorly out-worked and out-battled.

The Lowdown

And then there was the goaltending. Yikes. Just nights after winning CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year, Montreal Les Canadiennes starting net minder Charline Labonte dropped the ball. Big time. We’ve all heard the saying that the play has to go through five other players before it reaches the goalie. And that’s true, in degrees at least. But Labonte was giving up goals that she had clear view of from easy angles which is very out of character for her. In all fairness though, her teammates hung her up to dry more than a few times over the course of the game. In total Montreal gave up a staggering 8 goals when in the whole regular season they only allowed 36 goals against. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Yikes.

First Period Dissection

The first Inferno goal of the game starts from a dump into Les Canadiennes end where Montreal defender Sophie Brault picks it up behind the net. Brault sends it up to Montreal forward Caroline Ouellette on the half wall but Calgary forward Jill Saulnier intercepts. Saulnier sauces it into the high slot where Inferno forward Brianne Jenner tries to get a piece of it. Inferno’s Rebecca Johnston picks up the rebound and sneaks it past Labonte. Had Labonte been on her game she likely would have nabbed this one, but sadly she was not.

But let’s back up the bus.

Brault forced the pass to Ouellette, but Ouellette was too high. The Montreal forwards should not be exiting the zone without total puck possession. And that includes cheating! Ouellette tries to head off the anticipated pass but the pass gets picked off and by this point she is too far out of position to do anything about it. There’s mistake number 1. Montreal defenders Chu and Brault were both caught on the same side of the crease leaving the whole west side of the net, and Johnston, wide open. There’s mistake number 2.

The second Inferno goal of the night starts with a face off in Montreal’s end with Montreal losing the draw. Montreal is short-handed, which has been their strong suit this season. The puck comes back to the Inferno point where Inferno defenders Megan Mikkelson and Brigitte Lacquette switch off trying to shake Montreal’s Marie-Philip Poulin. Mikkelson feeds it to Lacquette. Poulin over commits and attacks Lacquette leaving Inferno’s Brittany Esposito unguarded on the wall. Lacquette discharges it to Esposito.

The Inferno transition into a cross forecheck or a 1-3-1. Lacquette sits on the blue while Esposito, Mikkelson, and Saulnier form a horizontal 3 man attack with Inferno Captain Jenner sitting patiently in the crease. A badly positioned Poulin races back to get to Esposito but Chu has to over compensate for Poulin’s initial mistake by stepping up into Esposito’s shooting lane (leaving an equally enticing passing lane open to Jenner). But Esposito doesn’t shoot. Instead she sends it to an uncovered Jenner in the crease (Chu’s man). Goal by Jenner. What a Domino Effect. One of Montreal’s largest issues in this game was over-compensating and not knowing exactly what each players role was.

Chu plugs the shooting lane but leaves the passing lane to Inferno's Jenner open. (Photo: Jill Olson/Along the Boards)

Chu plugs the shooting lane but leaves the passing lane to Inferno’s Jenner open. (Photo: Jill Olson/Along the Boards)

Second Period Dissection

By the second period both teams should have been able to shake off any first period jitters. The Inferno did. Les Canadiennes did not. The Inferno hops back into the game with an early goal. The Inferno’s Jacquie Pierri starts the play with a rocket from the point. It hits some shin pads and settles mid circle. The Inferno’s Sarah Davis scoops it up and is able to walk in unchallenged. Montreal defender Karell Emard attempts an ill timed dive as a last ditch effort but Davis just steps around her leaving Labonte high and dry on a 2-0. Campbell knocks in a rebound that Labonte didn’t have much of a shot at. Labonte made the first save, but she couldn’t save all of the fourteen shots that immediately followed. This really speaks to the collapse of Montreal’s defensive zone coverage as well. Montreal got beaten squarely in a foot race back leaving three unchecked Inferno players in high quality scoring positions. Though Labonte had the initial save she was overwhelmed by the sheer number of un-cleared rebound shots.

When Montreal finally got the power play they were waiting for, five minutes into the second, the Inferno completely shut them down. The Inferno shifted between a wedge plus 1 penalty kill defense and a diamond defense. The wedge plus 1 was the most effective way to shut down Montreal’s formidable PP. The wedge plus 1 features three in front of house with the strong side or puck side corner player attacking and applying HARD pressure. Montreal, not used to teams playing with such intensity on the PK, floundered. The Inferno occasionally transitioned back into a diamond and always effectively rotated positions. Montreal got at best 2 quality shots off the whole PP.

Read: The Showdown: Clarkson Cup Edition

The wedge plus 1 PK formation via

The wedge plus 1 PK formation via

The Inferno’s fourth goal was the direct result of a dangerous neutral zone turnover by Montreal’s Ouellette. Ouellette tries playing east to west instead of north to south and gets challenged mid ice. She tried to carry it through the blue, instead of taking it wide or putting it deep, but is met by Inferno’s Louise Warren. Warren passes it off to the Inferno’s Hayley Wickenheiser. Wickenheiser sends it up to Blayre Turnbull who takes it wide and dangles around Montreal’s Bettez.

Near the end of the second Montreal netted a much needed goal and rallied some much needed momentum. Mere seconds after though again Montreal let Wickenheiser walk in and slide it over to Turnbull. Turnbull fires it past Labonte for the fifth Inferno goal. Talk about a response. This goal literally sucked all and any remaining wind out of Montreal lungs. Death by Turnbull. (Side note Turnbull’s celly here is on point. Dab on girl, dab on.)

That’s The Game Folks

The third period was more of the same. And depressing. It’s hard to watch such a one sided final that should really have been a close match. Halfway through the third Montreal’s Kim Deschenes managed to put one between the posts in the third but it was too little too late. Three more goals third period goals by the Inferno and there’s the game folks.

Les Canadiennes had the skill. They had statistics and the numbers backing them. They had the favorite status. They did not have the will. You need the skill and the will, but the will has to be stronger. Ultimately the Inferno played with the urgency and aggression they needed to put Les Canadiennes on their heels. They were pinching, holding the line, and playing an aggressive PK. The Inferno simply outworked and outplayed them. The Inferno burned that barn to the ground and emerged with the prize of a lifetime. The Clarkson Cup.

Jill Olson

Small town girl living up some big city dreams! I currently manage and assistant coach the AJFHL Lethbridge Eagles and am a past AJFHL alum! Live and breathe hockey!

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