Christina Kessler had a shutout, but Natalie Spooner’s team lost the game - must be the All-Star Game!
For the second year in a row Kessler denied all comers in her 30 minutes of play, making the first half of the game a tad less exciting than the second, although the game was still fast-paced. Her Team White teammates, captained by Furies rookie defender Carlee Campbell, managed to score three times over those 30 minutes.
The second half of the game featured a total of eleven goals, and all the goal horns going off made play seem even faster. Both the Inferno’s Jillian Saulnier and the Thunder’s Jess Jones scored hat tricks by the end.
The Furies representatives acquitted themselves well. Along with Kessler’s half-game shutout, Carlee Campbell racked up two assists for Team White. Kelly Terry got the first goal for Team Blue, Natalie Spooner had one assist, but Jenelle Kohanchuk scored herself two goals and an assist for a three-point afternoon.
Although both teams had a fairly even mix of players from all around the CWHL, Team White often looked they’d played together as a team before, with crisp passes, strong structure and a great awareness of where their teammates were on the ice. Team Blue pulled their goalie twice but Team White scored each time.
Team Blue co-captain Meaghan Mikkelson addressed the level of play, saying “Not a lot of our games are televised. Sportsnet has done an amazing job of getting some games on air for us. This was another opportunity for us to kind of show what we had. There was some forechecking... there was some backchecking which you don't always see in All-Star games but, I think everyone tried to bring some skill but also some effort too.”
One thing that became really clear during the game was how amazing these players’ hands are. While the CWHL All-Star Game resembled the NHL All-Star Game in the lack of hard slapshots, players were stealing pucks from each other left and right with very little time or space to manoeuvre.
My favourite goal of the game was by Meghan Grieves of the Boston Blades. Still in a well-publicised rebuild, the Blades don’t get a lot of wins or a lot of goals - Grieves has five on the season and is their second-highest scorer. It was nice to see her have some fun and get a goal in front of such a large and enthusiastic audience - a goal off a pass from Marie-Philip Poulin, no less!
The game’s format makes teammates into temporary enemies. Seeing Ann-Sophie Bettez shoulder to shoulder against her usual linemate Caroline Ouellette when the teams lined up for the opening faceoff was definitely a bit weird. On the other hand, it makes for some interesting teammates, including some potential Olympic combinations - for instance Marie-Philip Poulin and Jillian Saulnier were on a line for most of the second period.
Asked to comment on Saulnier’s play, Poulin called it “Meh...” but couldn’t keep a straight face. “No, I am kidding. She's a great one to play with. I had a chance to play with her a couple times with the National team. She's so dynamic. She's so skilled. Just to see her on the ice; every time she has the puck she made me look good today. ”
Having the game at the Air Canada Centre afforded so many great things, including NHL quality ice and an expanded seating capacity from most CWHL games, allowing for a crowd of 8,122 fans (a nice bump up from last year’s 6,800). Another bonus was ACC announcer Mike Ross, an announcer who could pronounce everyone’s name properly and handle “Les Canadiennes de Montréal”, which is sometimes a challenge for the volunteers at regular season games. Unfortunately the opening announcement of rosters did identify a few players as “from the Brampton Beast” before someone managed to correct him.
Aside from the on-ice action, the arena staff kept the crowd entertained during tv-timeouts and intermissions with contests to win signed All-Star Jerseys and earrings from league sponsor Hillberg and Berk, t-shirt tosses and, of course, a dance cam. Many girls hockey teams had fun seeing themselves up on the Jumbotron but the highlight of the afternoon came when the dance cam featured Gangnam Style.
Things started as usual with enthusiastic members of the crowd, before focusing on Team Blue coaches Cheryl Pounder and Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, who weren’t particularly interested. Then the camera went to Team White coaches Tessa Bonhomme and Becky Kellar, and Tessa got right into it. (If you’ve never seen Tessa Bonhomme dancing the routine to Gangnam Style, you haven’t lived.) This inspired her opponents and the camera revealed that the Team Blue coaches had started dancing. Back on the Team White bench the whole team got up to dance, followed by Team Blue. Apparently hockey players are competitive about everything!
In the end it was a fun day for fans and players alike. Although Mikkelson and Poulin said they wouldn’t mind seeing an All-Star Game in Calgary or Montréal, the players talked about how great it was to see the support in Toronto for women’s hockey, especially younger players in the stands. They complimented MLSE and the Furies on hosting a fabulous event, praising the fun atmosphere, and thanking fans for coming out.
As was mentioned in Species’ coverage of the draft on Friday night, the CWHL announced a partnership with the NHLPA. Meaghan Mikkelson was asked whether this might lead to a CWHL Player’s Association. She had an interesting response:
“We kind of have one a little bit. There's players that are part of a PA. It may not be as formal as the NHLPA, but we're working towards that and making sure that all the players have a voice and know that their opinions are heard. The board of the league does a fabulous job of making sure that we have some input and they do a great job of listening to the players and letting us have a say.”