Photo Credit: Krista Windsor (Creative Commons)
When Janine Weber scored the overtime game-winning goal for the Boston Blades last Saturday, it marked the official end of the CWHL season. The championship game was chippy and tight from start to finish, and had it not been for the stellar Charline Labonte in net for the Stars, the game might have been over before it had really started. Though Montreal’s Ann-Sophie Bettez scored first just 31 seconds into the contest, it was all Boston for the remainder of the period. They finally capitalized on a power play when the puck found Hilary Knight wide open at the side of the Stars’ net.
The Blades continued to pressure the Stars, but couldn’t solve Labonte until the third period. Rookie Brianna Decker stormed into Montreal’s zone and wristed a shot past the Stars’ netminder to give the Blades the lead.
While still struggling to sustain pressure in Boston’s zone, Montreal got a lucky bounce off of a play in front of the net. The puck appeared to bounce off of Emmanuelle Blais’ skate and into the net. There was a brief discussion about whether it had been kicked in, but the goal stood and the teams went into sudden-death overtime.
The overtime hero was not a well-known star in Knight or Decker, but Weber, an unsung rookie from Austria. After a slick pass from Tara Watchhorn, Weber sped in on Labonte and shot a quick wrister past the netminder for what she called “the biggest goal I ever scored.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/blades-top-stars-in-ot-to-win-clarkson-cup/article23353498/ )
The Blades skated away with their second Clarkson Cup in three years while the Montreal Stars went home empty-handed, although Labonte did earn the playoff MVP trophy for allowing just three goals (all against the Blades) in three games played.
The season technically ended when Weber’s shot found it’s way past Labonte. But it was once the game was over the buzz really started.
Highlights of Weber’s goal found their way onto major TV stations and websites like Yahoo and Sportsnet. The official NHL Twitter account tweeted their congratulations to the Blades, and recaps popped up on sites across the blogosphere, even if CWHL coverage wasn’t normally part of their reporting. Monique Lamoureux was on Marek vs. Wysynyski’s podcast on Monday and talked for 16 minutes about the Blades, trying to sneak the Clarkson Cup onto the bus back to Boston and her enthusiasm for trying to get an outdoor Stars/Blades game in conjunction with the Winter Classic between the Bruins and the Canadiens next year.
One of the most inspiring stories that emerged from the series centered around Weber, who was asked to donate the stick she used to score the game-winning goal with to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The problem is that Weber, who is not paid to play in the CWHL, has to pay for all her gear herself, and had just two sticks at the time. The story was shared on Twitter, and the hockey manufacturer Styx took notice and sent Weber brand new sticks and gloves, free of charge.
Perhaps one of the most promising parts of the Clarkson Cup playoffs have been the pieces that went beyond the highlights and game stories that were written, as important as those are. Blogs and mainstream websites alike have published articles like this, this, and this, asking the question “Now what?” The conversation has turned to whether or not NHL teams who partner with CWHL teams should do more, if a sponsorship with the NHL is really the answer, and discussing payment of the players. The playoffs sparked a dialogue that has carried on past the championship game, and though it might quickly fade away until next year, it’s carried over into a more visible sphere as the league continues to grow and market itself towards a wider audience.
For now, the season is over. Markham Centennial Centre is quiet again and the players will go back to their offseason jobs. Once the summer is over, the CWHL will be back next year, and hopefully, so will a bigger and louder fanbase than ever.
Congratulations to @BostonCWHL for winning the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s 2015 Clarkson Cup.
— NHL (@NHL) March 7, 2015
— STXHockey (@stxhockey) March 10, 2015