Choate Rosemary Hall is a boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, which happens to be the high school alma mater of both Hilary Knight (class of 2007) and Julie Chu (class of 2001). Driving into the campus on a wet, snowy Saturday night created a much different feel than a college rink or a professional arena--it was pure, small-town hockey and the tiny, packed rink was an intimate atmosphere for the usual CWHL assortment of Olympians and other elite players. With just a few rows of bleachers on one side of the ice, fans, media, team staff, arena personnel, and school faculty alike converged around the glass to watch a tight regular season matchup between two squads entering the final stretch of games before the Clarkson Cup. Knight and Chu played against each other for just the second time since the Sochi Olympics, as did Charline Labonté against Team Canada teammate Geneviève Lacasse in goal. Angela Ruggiero (Choate class of 1998, IOC member, former Boston Blade, and four-time Olympic medalist for Team USA) was also present for the ceremonial puck drop.
Montreal would strike first on a goal from Ann-Sophie Bettez after the Blades successfully killed an interference penalty to Blake Bolden. The Blades would get a power play chance of their own when Alyssa Gagliardi was hooked around her neck, featuring some brilliant scoring chances from Brianna Decker and Tara Watchorn, but the period would end with the Stars in the lead 1-0.
Early in the second, though, Hilary Knight would not be denied as she tied the game on a rebound chance, barreling her way into Labonté's crease. The Montreal defense allowed other golden scoring chances to Jillian Dempsey and Jordan Smelker before Corinne Buie went off for interference. However, the Blades began a campaign of aggressive penalty killing, frequently using Knight and Decker as the forward pair on the disadvantage and using the their speed and strength to generate more offensive chances, killing the penalty. Labonté and Lacasse traded sparkling saves on breakaways against Casey Pickett and Bettez respectively.
With about five minutes to go in the period, Smelker went off for roughly sending Noémie Marin into the boards, and the Blades added more shorthanded chances by Dempsey and Decker. Just after the kill though and with 45 seconds remaining, the Stars would turn the play around and get a goal from Kim Deschênes, taking the lead again despite the fact that the Blades had generated the majority of offense in the period. Brianna Decker had a clean breakaway on Labonté with just 15 seconds on the clock, but Labonté made the best save of the night on the chance. Boston went to the locker room again down by one.
The Blades started the third period again determined to tie the game, drawing a penalty early on. Decker weaved her way into the slot and took a perfect pass from Kacey Bellamy, snapping one past Labonté to tie the game at 2.
After that, it seemed only a matter of time before the Blades took the lead, as the rookies got some reward for the energy they had been bringing to the game all night. Smelker and Buie entered the zone together, and Buie took the pass, waited, and placed a slapshot blocker side on Labonté which gave the Blades their first lead of the game. By then, time was short for the Stars, and they pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker at 2:00. Lacasse held the fort and Knight was able to skate in on the empty net to increase the lead to 4-2 with 1:31 to play. The Stars did not relent, and kept their net empty after the goal in an attempt to tie, but Lacasse made the necessary saves to preserve the score.
"I haven't played here since 2007. It's been a wild run," said Knight after her two goal performance on her former home ice. "I remember when I went here, I saw Angela and Julie's picture on the wall, just having my dream of being part of their team and being on Team USA."
"It reminds me of going to watch older players when I was younger," Corinne Buie said of the journey down to play at Choate's small rink surrounded by young fans. "The atmosphere was awesome, the music was going, it was a packed crowd." On her game-winner, Buie's first thought was to pass, but she had to change her mind: "Smelker just took it over the blueline and passed it to me in the slot. I was driving over towards the middle looking to maybe give it back to her, but no one was with me, so I just wound up for a slapshot and it went in. It was awesome."
The Blades take that win into their next series with the Furies this upcoming weekend in Toronto. They dropped both games to the Furies the last time the two teams met, thanks to a show-stopping performance in goal by Christina Kessler, who stopped 83 of 87 shots she faced that weekend. A strong performance against the Furies would set the stage for their three-game trip to Calgary in the middle of February, after which only four games remain on the season before the Clarkson Cup tournament begins.
- The Clarkson Cup format has changed this year, with two best-of-three series to be played against #1 and #4 and #2 and #3 in the standings, the winners of which will face off in the final game of the tournament for the Cup. The league standings therefore determine the entire playoffs this year, and the matchups are still very much up in the air, with every playoff spot in tight contention. Barring a dismal showing over this last month or so of games, the Blades will almost definitely be in the Clarkson Cup tournament, but they could face a series against any of the teams in the league for the opportunity to play the championship game. So far, the Furies have been the team that has frustrated the Blades the most (much as they did last Clarkson Cup Final), bearing in mind that only 3 of the Blades losses on the record are "actual" losses. The other 2 came as forfeits to the Stars during a labor dispute.
- The girls' varsity hockey coach at Choate, Nicole Stock, dressed as backup goaltender for the Boston Blades. Stock is a Choate alum (class of 2005) and Brown University graduate who was selected by the Blades in the 7th round of the 2014 draft.
- According to Monique Lamoureux's Twitter, she is currently serving a suspension.