BROSSARD - In a season filled with highlights, records, and accolades, Les Canadiennes saved their best for last.
On Sunday afternoon, members of Les Canadiennes de Montreal, the city's professional women's hockey team, took to the ice in Ottawa and came away as champions, beating the Calgary Inferno 3-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre.
This season's championship game was a rematch of sorts for Les Canadiennes, having lost 8-3 to the Inferno in a heartbreaking finish a year prior. With that memory still fresh in their minds 365 days later, the team headed to the nation's capital and skated away with the franchise's league-record fourth Clarkson Cup title.
"Earlier this season when we played Calgary at the Bell Centre, I said that this wasn't about revenge, it was about redemption," explained defenseman Lauriane Rougeau, who will join captain Marie-Philip Poulin and Les Canadiennes forward/Team Canada coach Caroline Ouellette at the 2017 IIHF Women's World Hockey Championships in Plymouth, MI. "To me, it was about proving that we could beat them and proving that we were a better team than what we showed at last year's Clarkson Cup. This year in the final, we beat them with our speed and with our team game. I'm very proud of the way our team played."
Video: The Clarkson Cup champs discuss their CWHL victory
The championship finish capped what had already been a dream campaign for Les Canadiennes in the CWHL's 10th season. In addition to raising over $16,000 for breast cancer research during the team's annual fundraising game, they also set all-time viewership records for a non-Olympic women's game during that February 4 Sportsnet broadcast. On December 10, Les Canadiennes played at the Bell Centre for the first time in team history in front of nearly 6,000 boisterous fans.
In 2016-17, Ouellette potted her 130th career CWHL goal to tie Jayna Hefford for the all-time lead in that category, Team Canada and Les Canadiennes captain Poulin won three major awards at the end of season gala, including League MVP honors. Les Canadiennes consistently played in front of capacity crowds during home games and saw massive spikes in social following on the club's various digital platforms year-over-year. With the help of the Canadiens, who announced a partnership with Les Canadiennes in 2015, they also found two new major sponsors in Ford and Esso this season.
Having previously won the Clarkson Cup in 2009 as a teenager before continuing her career in the NCAA with the Boston University Terriers, Poulin has not only witnessed but also been a significant contributor to the growth of women's hockey over the last decade. She's also living proof of the power of having inspirational role models to look up to, having grown up idolizing Ouellette before eventually calling her a teammate.
"Women's hockey reaches more girls now than ever. We see how passionate they are about hockey," said Poulin, who scored the gold medal-clinching goals in each of the last two Olympics for Team Canada. "When I won my awards last weekend, I thanked those young girls who decided to play hockey for helping grow our game and for sharing our passion. We're trying to be role models for them so they can grow up dreaming of playing for Les Canadiennes or the national team one day. That's one of our goals. It's been incredible to see how much the sport has evolved."
About to embark on her national team coaching career with Team Canada, Ouellette already has some experience under her belt when it comes to developing young talent, having most recently guided an all-girls team at the International Quebec Pee-Wee Championships in Quebec City. While she admits that she's astonished to see how far women's hockey has come since she first managed to fight her way onto the ice as a 13-year-old, Ouellette knows there's still plenty of work to be done.
"I often hear people saying that they can't believe how good we are, and that comes from people who never watch our game," said Ouellette. "Of course TV slows everything down, so when we can get people to come see us live, they can't believe how good the quality of hockey is. That's our challenge and our ongoing battle. But what gives me hope is that when I ask girls on my [Pee-Wee] team what they want to be when they grow up, half of them say they're going to be professional hockey players for Les Canadiennes one day."
To support the growth of women's hockey, learn more about the CWHL's "25 for 10" campaign: thecwhl.com/support