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Les Canadiennes: Making History

Les Canadiennes de Montréal beat the Calgary Inferno in the first ever CWHL game at the Bell Centre

by Shauna Denis @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - When Les Canadiennes beat the Calgary Inferno on Saturday afternoon, it meant more than just two points in the CWHL standings.

For the first time in the Canadian Women's Hockey League's 10-year history, Les Canadiennes played a game at the home of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon. It was a game over a year in the making, after Montreal's two professional hockey franchises officially entered into a partnership in September 2015.

In front of a crowd of 5,938 fans - a regular season record for a CWHL game - Les Canadiennes put on a show, defeating the reigning Clarkson Cup champions 1-0 on home ice.

"6,000 fans is astonishing for us, but I think the most astonishing part is this isn't an All-Star Game. It isn't the Clarkson Cup. It's a regular season game," said CWHL commissioner, Brenda Andress, who qualified the event as a "legacy building" opportunity for her players. "I think it shows that people appreciate the game. More importantly, I think it shows what you can do when you partner with the Canadiens. We're lucky enough that they believe in our game as much as we do.

"A long time ago, I sat in a room with Geoff [Molson] and he said, 'Brenda, we're going to be a partner, but we're going to do it bigger and better than anybody else,'" she added. "And he did."

Some of the best hockey players on the planet battled it out in the matinee affair, with a dozen Olympians taking part in the game between Les Canadiennes and the Inferno, including current CWHL points leader, Caroline Ouellette. The four-time Olympic gold medalist has already enjoyed her share of memorable moments in her career, and she added another one to that list on Saturday afternoon.

A hockey pioneer who helped launch the CWHL a decade ago, Ouellette enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere between whistles, but what she enjoyed most was what the game meant for the growth of women's hockey.

"Today was incredible. Just sitting during the TV break and looking around, we said to each other that this is why we strive and why we work so hard to promote female hockey," she explained. "Hopefully it inspired a lot of little girls in the stands who want to play for Les Canadiennes one day.

"I love the Montreal Canadiens and I have since I was a little girl. Playing in this building is definitely a highlight in my career and a moment I'll never forget," added Ouellette, who is one point shy of hitting the 300-point milestone in her CWHL career. "Being able to win makes it perfect. We wanted this game to be successful and we wanted people to go home loving what they saw. We want to earn the privilege to play here every year and we want the little girls in the stands to have a chance to one day possibly play pro hockey. To me, this is a step towards that."

Ouellette has already inspired a generation of players who have come up through the Quebec hockey ranks, including teammate Marie-Philip Poulin.

Video: Marie-Philip Poulin comes up clutch

The architect of the two most recent Olympic gold medal-clinching goals for Team Canada, Poulin is no stranger to coming up clutch in big moments. Saturday was no exception.

Earning first-star honors after potting the eventual game winner midway through the first period, the 25-year-old forward was as proud of her historic marker at the Bell Centre as she was of any she scored in Vancouver or Sochi.

"That one is near the top of the list for me," admitted the Beauceville, QC native and 2016 CWHL MVP. "At the end of the game when we were lifting our sticks to salute the crowd, I had goosebumps. This was really a dream come true. We didn't want to leave the ice - we didn't want it to end. Today was a big day for women's hockey."

To watch the entire December 10 game between Les Canadiennes and the Inferno, visit the CWHL YouTube channel.

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