Stu Cowan: Montreal loses PWHL home opener, but women's hockey wins

Marie-Philip Poulin appeared to score the winner in OT, but it didn’t count after video review and Boston ended up winning 3-2.

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It would have been the perfect storybook ending.

Captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored early in overtime Saturday at the Verdun Auditorium, appearing to give Montreal a 3-2 win over Boston in the team’s Professional Women’s Hockey League home opener.

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But Boston coach Courtney Kessell ruined it when she called for a video review for goalie interference.

The goal didn’t count after a long video review and Amanda Pelkey then scored at 2:17 of OT to give Boston the 3-2 victory in front of 3,245 fans.

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After a scoreless first period, Erin Ambrose and Laura Stacey scored in the first 1:02 of the second period to give Montreal a 2-0 lead. Boston got goals from Taylor Girard and Hannah Brandt before the second period was over to tie the score. Montreal outshot Boston 11-3 in the third period, but Boston goalie Aerin Frankel was outstanding. She finished the game with 31 saves as Montreal outshot Boston 33-21.

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Poulin earned the nickname “Captain Clutch” by scoring three “golden goals” for Team Canada at the Olympics. It looked like she had scored another clutch goal until the video review ruled teammate Laura Stacey had interfered with Frankel.

So much for the storybook ending.

“That’s the writing that we wanted this story to end tonight,” said Stacey, adding she felt she was pushed into Frankel. “But I think, to be honest, this game, this moment is so much bigger than just one goal, one loss — one overtime loss, for that matter. There’s so much to it. Seeing the young girls, the young boys, all the fans in the stands today who waited so long for this — and so have we. It’s so much more than just that.”

It certainly was.

It started with a long, loud ovation as the Montreal players were introduced before the game with the loudest cheer saved for Poulin, who was introduced last.

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The hockey was entertaining with up-and-down action and some fantastic saves from Frankel and Montreal goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens. While open-ice hitting isn’t allowed in the PWHL, there was plenty of physicality along the boards and in front of both nets.

The Verdun Auditorium, built in 1938, has always been a great place to watch a hockey game — even if the old wood-bench seats aren’t comfortable. They actually add to the charm of the building and there’s not a bad seat in the arena.

There was a party atmosphere in the joint throughout the game with lots of young fans and families in attendance.

While the overtime video review was going on, the fans started chanting “Goal! Goal! Goal!” and then broke into an “Olé! Olé! Olé!” chant before the disappointing decision was announced.

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Stacey said fan reaction during the video review was her most memorable moment of the game.

“What an ending that would have been if they came out and actually said: ‘Goal,’” she said.

Indeed.

Poulin said having the fans stick around after the disappointing finish to give the players a final round of applause meant a lot.

“Having the people still in the stands when you lose, it says a lot,” she said. “You can win and have the people behind you. But when you lose and you have the people cheering in Montreal it is very special. Obviously, you wanted that win. We went through a lot of emotions there.”

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While Montreal didn’t win, this game certainly helped sell the PWHA product. During an autograph session after the game, Stacey said fans were telling her: “I’m coming back.”

“That’s what we want to hear,” Stacey said. “We have trained and played and wanted this for so long and to get that many people in here seeing it, hopefully they’re all going to want to come back — just like we want them to.”

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It was an historic and memorable game for everyone in the arena and it’s something the 32-year-old Poulin couldn’t have dreamed of as a young girl who idolized former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu while growing up in Beauceville because there were no professional female hockey players to look up to. The minimum salary for the 24-game PWHL season is $35,000 and six players must be paid a minimum of $80,000. The team’s average salary must be $55,000.

“For me, I was able to dream to be part of the national team, but now it’s more than that,” Poulin said. “You’re part of a professional league. There’s six teams right now (Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, New York and Minnesota). We hope that it’s going to grow even more — and why not? When you’re little boys, you’re allowed to dream to be part of the NHL. But now, when you’re a little girl, you’re allowed and you can dream to be part of the PWHL.

“I think being a role model for those little girls, it’s unbelievable,” Poulin added. “If I had been in those shoes (as a little girl) I think the sky would have been the limit even more. Being able to make them dream even bigger.”

Those girls can now dream about scoring an overtime goal in the PWHA.

Hopefully, it’s one that actually counts.

[email protected]

twiter.com/StuCowan1

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