clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The CWHL All-Star Game was kind of a big deal

The Canadian Women's Hockey League put on its first All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, with three fun periods, a few pranks, and your usual reminder that your favorite Olympians also have day jobs

Kelli Stack takes a shot on Charline Labonté earlier this year in the Sochi Olympics. Stack would have the opportunity to score on Labonté again during the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Kelli Stack takes a shot on Charline Labonté earlier this year in the Sochi Olympics. Stack would have the opportunity to score on Labonté again during the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If you follow the men's league of any professional sport, their All-Star Game is probably a bit of a lull in your schedule. For one, the game doesn't matter in the standings, and usually isn't terribly exciting. It's a fun opportunity to see your favorite players in a more relaxed environment, coming together to celebrate their sport and have a good time while showcasing their talents, but if you ended up having to miss it, well, it's not like it's the playoffs.

The first annual CWHL All-Star Game, however, was must-see. As the first All-Star Game for professional women's hockey and certainly the first one to ever be shown on national television, it was a special and historic occasion for all involved. The time was ripe for the game: the CWHL has been in existence for eight years and women's hockey has been growing exponentially, particularly in light of the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics which highlighted the rivalry between Team USA and Team Canada. The women's game has a rich and storied history already, one that most general audiences don't know about. With a little help from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Air Canada Centre, Sportsnet, and NHL Network, the CWHL was able to get its All-Star Game broadcast nationally across two countries and into the living rooms of new and longtime fans.

The game itself had a pretty good script. Captains were elected by fan vote, with Charline Labonté of the Montreal Stars and Jessica Campbell of the Calgary Inferno winning the vote. Labonté and Campbell (of Team Red and Team White respectively) each selected five picks, and the rest of the rosters was decided by pulling sticks. The teams played three fifteen-minute periods in a slightly abbreviated game. Team White was on top 2-0 after two on goals from Natalie Spooner and Kelli Stack, and had dominated the puck possession.

But Team Red stormed back, scoring three goals in just under three minutes early in the third period. While Team White was awarded a late power play and Spooner peppered goaltender Erica Howe with shots, they were unable to tie the game before the horn. Geneviève Lacasse had been burned early and the deal was sealed by Rebecca Johnston, who split the unsuspecting defense for a breakaway goal. Team Red won by a final score of 3 to 2.

With player profiles, on-ice reporting by Jennifer Botterill, and color commentary by Cassie Campbell, the televised event was enthusiastic and informative. (Obviously, would have loved to hear a talented female announcer do play-by-play, too--alas.) Every CWHL player who was interviewed during the game seemed to be on cloud nine skating at the ACC, especially league co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, a 37-year-old veteran with the Montreal Stars, who skated with Team Red on Saturday.

Lacasse, who had an unlucky third period goaltending performance for Team White, managed to be a highlight in other ways. She shoveled snow onto Team Red's Tessa Bonhomme during a commercial break and rather hilariously (illegally) left her glove, blocker, and stick in her crease when she was pulled towards the end of the game.

The game did, however, have its surreal elements. A free-to-the-public ticketed event in a well-known NHL arena was a far cry from the usual experience of a CWHL game at a much smaller facility. (According to Sports Illustrated, the game drew a total of 6,850. The capacity of the Air Canada Centre for hockey with standing room is over 20,200.) Fans in attendance mentioned on Twitter that they were let in as the Detroit Red Wings morning skate was ending. The Air Canada Centre wasn't totally dedicated to this event, after all, and needed to be wrapped up well before the 7:00PM NHL game between the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs. Without explanation, Sportsnet signed off its broadcast after the game, despite the fact that a skills competition would follow. Team Red took the skills competition, which featured a fastest skater competition and an all-team shootout.

Cassie Campbell spoke on the Blades' Kelli Stack as Sportsnet named her the #1 star of the game: "She's only played two games this year because she actually has a real job." It was also mentioned earlier in the broadcast that Meghan Agosta-Marciano, a three-time Olympian with Team Canada, is a constable training in the Vancouver Police Department, choosing not to return to CWHL play with the Montreal Stars after the 2014 Olympic season. In 2012-13, Agosta-Marciano led the league in scoring with 16 goals and 30 assists in 23 games.

This is the constant reminder in a big event for women's ice hockey: these are players who have to fit their sport and training in alongside making a living. Despite the moments of triumph and glamor, most of them still have to go to work on Monday. The CWHL All-Star Game showcased their exceptional talent in a way that feels much more special than your typical ASG weekend.

In a men's pro league, such as the NHL, an All-Star break is taken for granted by fans and players alike. It's a break from the action, a fun television event, some light entertainment. For the Canadian Women's Hockey League, it was a coming-out party. It felt a little awkward, a little fantastical, but it was also pretty exhilarating. The CWHL isn't taking this for granted. At this rate, they might be able to fill a few more real arenas between now and next Olympics.