Montreal hopes Clarkson Cup win promotes women's hockey league

March 27, 2011

Montreal pounded Toronto goalie Sami Jo Small with 51 shots on Sunday and reclaimed the Clarkson Cup, also hoping it made strides in showing off the Canadian Women's Hockey League as the prime place to play for the world's best post-college players.

With a 5-0 victory at the Barrie Molson Centre, Montreal won the trophy for the best women's club hockey team in North America, named after Canada's former Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson.

Montreal took back the cup it also won in 2009 with scoring from NoƩmie Marin, Vanessa Davidson, Dominique Thibault and Canadian Olympic gold medalists Caroline Ouellette and Sarah Vaillancourt, who was named the tournament's most valuable player. Another Canadian Olympian, Kim St-Pierre, made 26 saves for the shutout.

After a four-day round-robin tournament that also featured Brampton and Minnesota, it was a traditional Canadian match-up in the final - Toronto in the familiar blue and white, Montreal sporting the red and blue. Tapping into those vaunted National Hockey League rivalries is all part of the plan to make the CWHL a women's professional league some day.

"We want this league to become the best league in the world. This is serious, this is a league we want people to come watch," said Ouellette. "We want to find more sponsors so that we can offer something to the Europeans to come play with us. We need the Swedes, the Finns, the Russians all to come play here after college."

The league added Boston into its five-team fold this year and also had a couple of European players. The rival Western Women's Hockey League, in which Minnesota is the only American team, is a competing league with four teams out West.

"I don't think of myself as an American on a Canadian team, I'm in the CWHL, and everyone here is really passionate," said three-time United States Olympian Julie Chu, who joined Montreal this season after playing for Minnesota in the past. "A lot of people think their last college game is their last big game, but it doesn't have to be that way. We've proven this year how competitive this league is."

Still, the venue was about half full for Sunday's championship game, which was broadcast nationally, drawing 2,600 fans, many of them young girls decked in their hockey jerseys. League games in the CWHL this season drew about 200 people per game.

"This rivalry is a neat way to market the league," said Small, a three-time Canadian Olympian and the co-founder of the league. "Dominique Thibault scores an amazing goal on me that will be a highlight on TSN tonight probably, but that's okay, because it really showcases women's hockey."

Four-time Canadian Olympian and Toronto forward Jennifer Botterill, who recently retired from Team Canada, said Sunday's final was likely her last competitive hockey game.

"It's not the outcome I was hoping for, but I'm really proud of these girls," said Botterill, who says she plans to stay involved with the league in some other way off the ice. "I'm feeling right now that was my last game, I have that feeling of being really thankful.

"I think the league is making all the right strides. The play is getting more dynamic, the games were close this year, there were a couple of international players, and there are some great college players coming out next year, so that's what we want."

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