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‘It’s our Stanley Cup, for sure’: Les Canadiennes de Montreal savour victory

Les Canadiennes forward Noémie Marin hoists up the Clarkson Cup to celebrate winning the CWHL Clarckson Cup against The Calgary Inferno March 5, 2017 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/the globe and mail

It was an act she'd seen dozens of times on television, a million times in her dreams.

The championship trophy – in this case the relatively young Clarkson Cup – is handed over to the team captain, who instantly raises it to the sky while teammates roar their approval and the standing crowd cheers wildly.

"Amazing!" was all Marie-Philip Poulin could say about the feeling, once her Les Canadiennes de Montreal had defeated the Calgary Inferno 3-1 to claim the women's hockey title for all of Canada. Poulin's two goals – one into an empty Calgary net – were hardly comparable to her heroics seven years ago when she scored both goals for Canada in the gold-medal game of the Vancouver Winter Games. And perhaps not to the overtime goal she scored, again against the United States, to defend gold at the Sochi Olympics.

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But this victory had its own sweetness. "It's our Stanley Cup, for sure," she said of the gleaming trophy as it was handed from teammate to teammate.

It was a small but important statement against something said seven years ago in Vancouver that offended every woman who had ever laced on skates and put stick to rubber puck.

On the very day that Poulin had scored those first two championship goals, then International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge had dampened the celebrations by suggesting that if women's hockey didn't get its act together it could well face the prospect that had once befallen to the live pigeon shoot – being dropped from the Olympics.

As he rather dryly put it, "We cannot continue without improvement."

His thinking, shared by more than a few, was that other teams were not competitive enough. Had Rogge known his Olympic history better, however, he might have seen that this was also once the case in men's hockey, with Canada winning gold medals effortlessly and once, in 1924, whipping little Switzerland 33-0. In the 2006 Turin Winter Games, the Swiss beat Canada.

In Sochi three years ago, 13 million Canadians watched the Canadian women defeat the Americans in overtime, thanks to Poulin's heroics.

Next year in Pyeongchang, millions more will tune in to a sport that is today beyond argument worthy of the Games.

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This year's Clarkson Cup saw Sportsnet televise the final and the playoffs to reach the final. More than 130,000 tuned in to watch Montreal defeat the Brampton Thunder in the playoffs. Some 4,000 came out to Canadian Tire Centre to see Sunday's championship match, hundreds of them in team uniforms, obviously numbering among the nearly 87,000 registered female players in the country.

What they saw were two teams of roughly equal calibre, the Inferno defending champions and Les Canadiennes determined to avenge a lopsided loss in the Clarkson Cup final last year.

The women play exceptional positional hockey – both teams are well coached – passing is crisp and skating is quick. Few possess big-league shots – Poulin an obvious exception – but only a fool would compare women's hockey at its best to NHL hockey.

"The game of hockey is our game as much as anybody's," Canadian Women's Hockey League commissioner Brenda Andress said. "We are different."

Different, but also good. Montreal went ahead early in the game when, seven seconds into a power play, Katia Clément-Heydra reached out her right hand to pluck a sailing puck out of the air, dropped it onto her backhand and beat Calgary goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer into the far corner.

"We came out a little flat," Calgary captain Brianne Jenner said of her team's opening 20 minutes. "I think we were in a bit of a daze."

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Montreal went ahead 2-0 just more than five minutes into the second period when Poulin – "Pou" to her teammates – broke up ice and fired a hard wrist shot that went off the goalie's glove and somehow squeezed past Maschmeyer into the Calgary net.

"As a goalie, you want to take back every goal," Maschmeyer said. "Poulin does a really good job of shooting through the [defence]. … I thought I got it but it leaked through."

Poulin called it a "breather goal" – putting the team up two goals and seemingly on its way to victory.

However, Calgary had other ideas and pressed hard in the third period. Rebecca Johnston took the puck in behind the Montreal net and fed a nice pass out to Jill Saulnier, who quickly batted the puck in under Les Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonté.

Labonté was chosen first star of the game and Poulin second star. At a special banquet held Friday night at Carleton University, Labonté was chosen top goaltender of the year and Poulin league MVP. (Calgary's Meaghan Mikkelson was chosen top defence, while Brampton's Laura Stacey was selected as rookie of the year).

Calgary played without a goaltender for the final two minutes of the game but could not beat Labonté – and then Poulin found the empty Inferno net with a shot from outside the blueline.

This event marks the end of the league's two-year agreement with the Ottawa Senators to hold the event in the nation's capital, including as part of this year's Canada150 celebrations. It is not yet known where the 2018 Clarkson Cup will be held.

The only certainty is that it will be held, and women will again play in the Olympics – and the women's game has continued, with improvement.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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