At the end of the 2013-2014 regular season, the Montreal Stars had 42 points and an 11-1-0 record at home (8-1-2 away). Their .913 PCT blew that of their closest competitor, the Boston Blades with .542, completely out of the water.
They were, in other words, more than just the “heavy favorite” going into the Clarkson Cup playoffs round robin this year. They were Goliath. They were Beyonce. They were the closest thing that hockey ever gets to a sure thing.
The Toronto Furies, on the other hand, finished the regular season in second-to-last place. Their home record was 5-6-0, and 5-4-3 away. They tallied a total of 23 points.
I don’t want to overextend the David/Goliath metaphor, but come on.
Like any close game, especially in the playoffs, this particular battle was not without controversy. Montreal — the CWHL team with the least penalty minutes in the regular season — spent 16 minutes in the penalty box between 8 infractions, three of which belonged to this year’s MVP and Angela James Bowl winner Ann-Sophie Bettez. The most notable call came against Julie Chu in overtime, shortly after an arguably more egregious infraction from the Furies went unnoticed (or at least uncalled).
In a game like this one, tied through a regular overtime at one goal a side, infraction oversight can completely change the outcome. Who’s to say what would have happened had Montreal stolen those two minutes of man advantage?
Then again, in a bout with 13 powerplay opportunities, neither team managed to convert. Both regulation goals were scored at full strength, first by Toronto’s Jenelle Kohanckuk (with assists from Natalie Spooner and Tessa Bonhomme) in the second period and then Montreal’s Emmanuelle Blais (with an assist from Stacie Tardiff) in the third.
It would be too easy, I think, to blame the penalties for Toronto’s victory. The truth is more complicated. The Furies played a good game, first of all; they were steady, they didn’t panic or fall apart after mistakes, and most importantly they kept pushing, all sixty minutes and beyond. That’s the kind of effort you have to bring when playing a team like Montreal, a team that has totally dominated the season and whose roster reads like Who’s Who of women’s hockey.
The Furies managed to scrabble themselves into the playoffs, but they clearly have no intention of merely scrabbling through it. Their impressive efforts against Boston and Calgary proved that.
It’s true that Montreal got unlucky, that this was a coin flip of a game in many ways. But that doesn’t mean Toronto didn’t earn their spot in the Clarkson Cup Final against Boston tomorrow. For American viewers, the match will be streamed live online via the CWHL website; for Canadians, it will air on TSN.
Boston is almost certainly the heavy favorite to win, as they’re defending last year’s Clarkson Cup champion title and finished second overall in the regular season.
Then again, Toronto met and conquered the best of the league’s best today, and I’m not sure there’s a shepherd in the world who could have taken on David in a bar fight the day after he took down Goliath.
So: game on.