MONTREAL - Les Canadiennes de Montreal have only one objective this season: to reclaim the Clarkson Cup title that slid through their fingers last year.
It seemed like the 2015-16 edition of Les Canadiennes ran over everyone in their path. After winning 20 of 24 regular season outings before easily advancing to the Clarkson Cup Final, the Montreal-based franchise was a favorite to win it all, according to many. But the Calgary Inferno had other plans and ultimately left Ottawa with the championship trophy.
While that tough 8-3 loss seven months ago is still fresh in their collective memory, it has served as motivation for every member of the organization, and Les Canadiennes can't wait for the opportunity to start things up again and redeem themselves. The first step in that process will come on Saturday, when they begin the regular season in Brampton, ON, against the Thunder.
"We're really looking forward to starting up again, especially after losing in the championship that way. It's very motivating to come back and put the pieces back together. We have a lot of things we can build on from last year. We have a good mix of players, experience and rookies, and we already have some chemistry going," mentioned Les Canadiennes general manager, Meg Hewings. "We're really excited to face the other teams in the League to see what our competition has to offer. The calibre of play went up again this season and all of the teams improved. I don't think we've seen a league this strong in the history of women's hockey."
Counting the League's top four scorers from 2015-16 - including the MVP - [Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Kim Deschenes and Caroline Ouellette], and the League's reigning Goaltender of the Year [Charline Labonte], hopes remain high in the Les Canadiennes' camp to capture their first championship since 2011-12 this spring. With 18 returnees from last season, that desire for redemption spreads across the entire locker room and that commonality will be beneficial as much on the ice as it is off it.
"With the way the season ended, it's an added source of motivation. With the rookies that we have right now, they bring another source of energy to the group of veterans and everybody is excited for the new season. With the practices and training camp that we had, we have a lot of energy and we're all looking forward to seeing each other again. We're really looking forward to the start of the season," said Poulin, who claimed the Angela James Bowl as the League's top point-getter in 2015-16 with 23 goals and 46 points in 22 games. "Every game is going to be really important and tough. We'll have that extra motivation and every game will be a challenge. We're all aware that the League improved and every game against every team will be important."
Many of the new members of head coach Dany Brunet's squad hail from the most recent CWHL Draft, including four of their first five selections: Sarah Lefort (1st round), Cassandra Poudrier (2nd round), Brittney Fouracres (4th round) and Marion Allemoz (5th round). For her part, Lefort will be reunited with her former Boston University teammate in Poulin, whom she played with for three seasons in Massachusetts.
While she'll be the youngest player on a roster largely made up of experienced veterans, the Ormstown, QC native is eager to show that she can keep things rolling in this relatively new environment.
"Yes, I'm the youngest player on the team, but I don't feel it. Caroline Ouellette is 37 years old and it doesn't show on the ice. She welcomed me with open arms from the start. I'm a player who can always learn," stressed Lefort, who became the top point-getter in Terriers history last year with 183 career points, topping the previous mark which was held by Poulin. "At every opportunity I have to learn, I see it as a challenge. The other girls already have experience, some of them have played in three or four Olympics. It will also be something new for me to travel almost every weekend. It will be a learning experience. The work ethic is also different because we're only on the ice two times a week."
A sign of stability will also come on the defensive side of the puck with five returning players patrolling the blue line in 2016-17. A few changes were made on the back end, though, as Karrel Emard moves up front and three rookies complete the defense corps.
"We have a good group of defensemen coming back this year with Julie Chu, Cathy Chartrand, Carly Hill, Sophie Brault and I. We also drafted two good youngsters in Cassandra Poudrier - who played with me at Cornell - Brittney Fouracres and Melanie Desrochers, who I played against in university for a year," mentioned Lauriane Rougeau, who registered two goals and 19 points last season, tops amongst all Les Canadiennes defenders. "They're three excellent players joining the core who add depth on the defensive side of things that we didn't have last year. We're definitely a team with a lot of experienced girls, but we also have great chemistry between all of us."
Just one week from their opening weekend at home at Centre Etienne-Desmarteau - October 22 and 23 against the Toronto Furies - Les Canadiennes are ready to once again take the CWHL by storm. Armed with a solid mix of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm, it won't be surprising to see them dominate their opponents game after game again this year.
"Every time I start off a new season, I want to have fun and I want to improve every game," concluded Poulin, who was named captain ahead of the 2016-17 season following a team vote after Cathy Chartrand elected to give up her 'C'. "That's the mentality that I'll have this year, and playing with such great players will be exciting."