Charline Labonté. Top corner. Glove side. Pucks almost never go in there. Up until the Clarkson Cup Final game on Saturday, March 7, Labonté's glove had been literally flawless through two games. In back to back shutouts for the Montreal Stars (62 saves), none of her stops were as fine as the one where she stonewalled the Calgary Inferno's Louise Warren, who was shooting glove side high into a wide open net. Labonté usually protects her glove side best--not to take anything away from her pads; she works the bottom of the net equally as well. Watching the Clarkson Cup Final and Labonté's season, it was hard to not beg the Boston Blades to get traffic in front of her. You had to think: if one's going to go in here, it's going to be a dirty one.
Especially after the Blades went down 1-0, which had been the effective end of the Calgary Inferno's season just a few days before. Just 31 seconds into the game, Montreal drove to the net on Geneviève Lacasse, and Caroline Ouellette flipped a backhander, which deflected into the net off of Ann-Sophie Bettez's stick.
With about 4 minutes left in the first period, though, the Stars' Casandra Dupuis put a puck over the glass, and after much discussion with the officials about whether it deflected, she was assigned a penalty for delay of game. Less than a minute later, Hilary Knight found herself parked next Labonté's blocker side, completely undefended. Brianna Decker shuffled the puck across the ice, and veteran defense Kacey Bellamy shot it. Knight found the rebound, and for the first time all tournament, Labonté wasn't there. The game was tied 1-1.
After Lacasse surrendered the first goal, the Blades made the game about possession. Shots in the first finished at 10-4, and while Boston started the second on the penalty kill, they prevented Montreal from getting any shots. And they did start getting traffic in front, frequently from the likes of Jessica Koizumi, Rachel Llanes, and Jillian Dempsey. Labonté also made saves on Decker and Casey Pickett in the slot. Throughout the second, she pounced to many loose pucks with tons of players piling up around her. She wasn't just sharp--despite Knight's goal, she again looked unbeatable. And after every save she made, Montreal fans in the stands were ecstatic and raucous.
The third period started tense, as most potential scoring chances were broken up by alert stick work by both teams. Then Rachel Llanes drew a hooking penalty on Stacie Tardif, as Llanes was using her speed to cycle deep around the net. Boston would take their first lead of the game on a power play goal by Brianna Decker, who took the puck along the boards and dangled with it, drawing two Montreal defenders down to the ice, and finally shot it as she reached the far circle. Her perfectly placed shot beat Labonté blocker side as she was moving right to left, going just inside the corner and out. Decker fist pumped after the goal. It's worth watching the .gif of this one on loop.
The lead was short-lived, however, and the Stars drove to the net around Lacasse at the other end, and Lacasse went down. Emmanuelle Blais got a stick on it by holding her position in front of the net, and it was 2-2. It took awhile to be put up on the board, and Knight argued with the officials about it long after they pointed to center ice to confirm a good goal. The Stars came hard again in the final minutes, as Kim Deschênes shot the puck in on Lacasse, who held it. It knocked loose and into the net after the whistle had blown and the net was knocked off by Montreal players crashing into the paint. Time ticked down, between whistles, as officials tried to keep the play moving, while both Stars and Blades found themselves in immovable puck battles along the walls.
A full intermission followed. Full, 20-minute sudden death overtimes would be played until someone scored.
OT began with a brief heart-stopper, as Lacasse let up a huge rebound to Bettez and had lost her net challenging the shot, but Tara Watchorn cleared it out of danger. Jordan Smelker came very close to scoring while on a rush with Corinne Buie--Labonté made the save, but she got some help from her post as well. A few seconds later, Montreal was pinching at their own blueline, and it led to a turnover. Buie drew two players (veterans Ouellette and Cathy Chartrand) and passed to the middle. Suddenly, there was a 2 on 1. Smelker drove the net while Janine Weber came down the right wing. She shot it, and it went in. Top corner, glove side. And so the Blades hoisted the Clarkson Cup in 2015, thanks to a shot from the stick of a rookie, from Austria, who beat a world-class goaltender at her strongest.
Last quotes of the season. . .
- Janine Weber, reacting at ice level to her goal:
I saw an opening. Glove side high. It just happened so fast and I hadn't realized yet what happened.
- Kacey Bellamy, modestly, on the Blades' rotating lineup throughout the season:
It's hard because a lot of people have full time jobs, myself included. Sometimes I can't make practice or games. But, everyone's just doing what they can.
Her advice to young girls who want to make it in hockey:
Have fun. Do what you love. The moment that gets away from you, stop playing, because those are the two most important things.
On the Montreal Stars and Charline Labonté:
They're just solid all the way around. Obviously Caroline Ouellette, she's been an enemy on the Canadian national team. Off the ice, we say hi to each other. Obviously Julie Chu's on the other team. We're very good friends. But once you step on the ice, it's a battle. They're a very talented team, so we knew we had to chip the puck, work hard, and get shots to the net, because Charlie's gonna stop everything she sees. If she sees it, she's stopping it. So we said, we've gotta move her. She's so talented back there. She's a rock.
- Jillian Dempsey, on getting shifts with Knight and Decker:
Our lines are pretty fluid. It changes mid-game all the time. Games like this, it's all about the bounces.
On the bench's reaction to Weber's Cup-winning goal:
I think it was almost disbelief at first. The goal happened, and then nobody really moved, because it was a late celly, and then once everybody realized, you just kicked over the boards and sprinted over full speed. Last year we were the OT losers, so we've been on that end of it. We were hungry for it this year.
- Digit Murphy, on her rookies (such as Buie, Smelker, and Weber, the forwards on the ice for the winning goal), and apparent prescience:
At the beginning of this tournament I looked at the rookie lines--I put them together because they're big strong kids. And I said you guys are gonna make the difference in this tournament.
- Hilary Knight, on Janine Weber:
Janine! Janine’s a hero. She's a great player. You probably didn’t notice her all year long. And towards the end of the year, she started getting great ice time and doing some amazing things on our power play. Hats off to her for that goal. What an incredible goal.
- Julie Chu:
I don't have these red puffy eyes just because I'm excited to lose. I think the Clarkson Cup for us, that's our Stanley Cup. It's our chance to win a championship. We care about it, we work hard for it, and to come up short, it's disappointing. I look at our team, and if we didn't feel this way, I don't think we would care as much about it as we do. The league is growing and our team is continuing to grow. I was proud of our team, because in the third period, when a team takes a lead, it's easy to get back on our heels.
On playing in Montreal:
Montreal is great. We have one of the best support staffs around. We make sure we're accessible to our fans as well. Our team's not just the players, it's everyone around us.