MONTREAL - Almost a year after making women's hockey history at the Bell Centre, Les Canadiennes will be back to take part in another momentous game there this weekend.
On December 10, 2016, Calgary and Montreal competed on Bell Centre ice, but it wasn't the Flames playing the Canadiens that night; rather, it was the Inferno who came to town to take on Les Canadiennes. The two teams offered up a dazzling performance for the 6,000 spectators in attendance, in a game that ended with a 1-0 Montreal win in a battle of the Canadian Women's Hockey League elite.
Eleven months later, the Montreal women's squad will be back in the Habs' barn - this time, to square off against one of the CWHL's new Chinese entries, the Kunlun Red Star. While Les Canadiennes may already have one game at the cavernous Bell Centre under their belt, that doesn't mean they haven't had their date with Kunlun circled on the calendar for a long time now.
Video: Marie-Philip Poulin comes up clutch
"Playing in such a big arena is such a unique experience," outlined forward Ann-Sophie Bettez, who finished third in CWHL scoring last year with 36 points in 24 games. "We're for sure not expecting 21,000 people, but just the fact that we're getting to use such a professional ice surface, with all the professional facilities like the locker room, the ice quality, the big screens, the big crowds, it's not the kind of process we get every day.
"It's rare to find the kind of atmosphere you can have in the Bell Centre," continued Bettez, currently in her sixth season in the League. "We played at home and there were 6,000 people. You know they were there for Les Canadiennes. We're excited to have the crowd behind us again, it was really exceptional."
It was in that very game that many fans of Les Canadiennes discovered Emerance Maschmeyer, an Inferno player at the time who would go on to become the new Montreal netminder. She caught everyone's attention that day with her 31-save performance, earning the nod as the game's second star for her efforts.
Unbeaten in three starts so far in 2017-18, Charline Labonte's successor in Les Canadiennes' net is very much looking forward to re-live the experience she had last year at the Bell Centre. That said, she isn't complaining that she'll be doing so for the home side this time around.
"I'm extremely excited to play at the Bell Centre for a second time, this time in a red, white and blue jersey. Last year I was so excited to play there and it was actually my first time ever in Montreal at that point," described Maschmeyer, who also got to take in the Habs game the same night , thanks to childhood friend Brendan Gallagher. "There was so much energy. The atmosphere at that game was unbelievable, even though the crowd was against me. You just have to pretend that they're cheering for you sometimes in those cases!"
The November 11 contest will have special significance, as it marks the very first time a Chinese professional team will compete in an NHL arena. The Red Star are only beginning their CWHL journey, having played just four games to date. And so while fans taking in the game at the Bell Centre will be discovering a new team, the same can be said for Les Canadiennes, who are, in a certain way, a different team than last year.
With the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea coming up in February, the Montreal squad will have to do without a few of their key players, including Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau and Mélodie Daoust. Despite these notable absences, Les Canadiennes still find themselves in the top tier of the League and will be able to count on the likes of Bettez, Maschmeyer, Cathy Chartrand, Kim Deschenes and Sarah Lefort.
Fans should be in for a good show, and with lots of new faces on both ends of the ice, plenty of surprises should be in store, too.
"This year is kind of a unique year in some way. Each team is missing some players because they're centralized and others have moved on. I believe it will be a competitive game, I know they have some North-American girls in China and they're really good players. From what I've seen on social media, they're going to be a solid team," concluded Maschmeyer. "It will be an exciting game."
To get tickets for the November 11 game between Les Canadiennes and the Red Star at the Bell Centre, click HERE.