On Oct. 6 at McConnell Arena, McGill Martlet hockey (3-4) played their seventh preseason game against a special opponent: Les Canadiennes de Montréal of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). The event was part of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend, an annual venture co-hosted by the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada to celebrate women in hockey and provide girls of all ages a chance to try the sport.
Puck drop was followed by a tough start for McGill, who conceded a penalty in the first 12 seconds and a goal 30 seconds later. Under pressure in their own zone, the Martlets defended with grit and challenged the Canadiennes’ goalie with some dangerous offensive opportunities. However, Les Canadiennes capitalized on Martlet mistakes and scored three more goals in the first period.
The first intermission gave the Martlets a chance to regroup and come out strong in the second. Six minutes of power play allowed McGill to control the game and turn up the pressure. Les Canadiennes managed a fifth goal when Kim Deschenes broke through the wall of Martlets defending to score in the 10th minute. Though unable to find the back of the net during their power plays, McGill outshot their opponents with 10 chances on frame in the second period.
Despite an onslaught, Martlets sophomore goalie Tricia Deguire stayed strong in net, frustrating Les Canadiennes in the final segment with 11 saves. Only one shot found the netting, as the final result came to 6-0 in favour of the Canadiennes. Despite the score, spirits were high after the buzzer. A friendly shootout followed the game and the goalies of both teams shone. Only ex-McGill-captain and current Canadienne Katia Clement-Heydra found the net during the shootout, narrowly slipping it past Deguire.
Playing against a high calibre team like Les Canadiennes was a challenge for the Martlets, but that was the purpose of the game according to Head Coach Peter Smith.
“Our theme was to not really worry about the scoreboard,” Smith said. “We want to win our games, but in order to do that, we have to focus on the process we have.”
Smith attributed the strong second and third periods to the Martlets sticking to the game plan. However, there was a deeper importance to this game beyond the opportunity for the Martlets to face off against a professional team.
Five Canadiennes players who hit the ice on Friday are McGill alumnae—a testament to the quality of the Martlets program. For Clement-Heydra, McGill alumna and current Martlets skills coach, the game provided an opportunity to return to her roots.
“I’ve always loved playing here,” Clement-Heydra said. “To be here and to see the players and play against them, it’s fun.”
Jade Downie-Landry, a sophomore psychology student and Martlet forward, also recognized the importance of this game for elite women’s hockey.
“It’s just encouraging to know that there’s something after McGill, and that it’s that high-calibre,” Downie-Landry said. “Just the fact that there are McGill athletes playing [in a women’s professional league], it encourages us to push harder and work harder.”
CWHL players recently started getting paid, and the newly professional league is starting to attract more attention. Women’s hockey in Canada certainly seems to be on an upward trajectory: Its promising future was symbolized most prominently by the dozens of young girls who enthusiastically supported both teams at McConnell Arena and were treated to an exciting show of where the sport could take them one day.
The Martlets play their first regular season game at Concordia on Oct. 21, and Les Canadiennes open their season against the Boston Blades on home ice at the Complexe Sportif Bell on Oct. 14.
Moment of the game:
McGill’s goalie Tricia Deguire’s huge save in the second period shut down a two-on-one created by Les Canadiennes after they broke out of a McGill powerplay.
Counting the tough two-on-one stop, Deguire managed to save 33 of Les Canadiennes’ 39 shots on the night.
“I think we’re feeling pretty confident. We’re a young team, but so far we’ve been doing well. I think it’s going to be good. We’re young, a lot of energy, hard working.”
-Martlets forward Jade Downie-Landry on the team vibe, preseason training, and the start of the season ahead.
A previous version of this article stated that the Martlets hockey season starts on Oct. 14. In fact, the season starts on Oct. 21. The Tribune regrets this error.