CALGARY – For the first time in a long time in Canada, women threw their gloves and sticks on the ice and assaulted their goaltender on Sunday.
The COVID-19 pandemic had prevented the 60 players of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s Secret Cup from participating in meaningful hockey games in more than a year.
Marie-Philip Poulin scored the game-winning goal in the third period for Bauer of Montreal in a 4-2 victory over Sonnet of Toronto to win the Secret Cup in Calgary.
The captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team also collected two assists for a three-point night.
“It’s been a long time for women’s hockey,” said Poulin. “It was pretty special.”
The cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 Women’s World Hockey Championships in Nova Scotia and pandemic restrictions across the country, making it difficult for PWHPA players to train, let alone play games, have created a female hockey desert in Canada.
Hockey Canada still intends to host a Women’s World Championship in Canada at the end of August in a city that has yet to be named.
The PWHPA, which held a seven-day tournament in mid-spring under tight protocols, saved the season for Canada’s top talent in women’s hockey.
Sportsnet broadcast the last three matches of the tournament and all seven via streaming.
“You see how hard these women work,” said Jayna Hefford, PWHPA operations consultant and Hockey Hall of Fame member.
“They’ve been beaten and beaten by challenges, tough news and obviously COVID. So being able to do something for them and put them back on the ice, I think that was a huge priority.
“It’s really important that people get to see our women compete. Women have been disproportionately affected by COVID in so many ways and it certainly applies to women’s sport as well.”
The PWHPA was born out of the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League two years ago.
The goal of the movement, which includes stars from the Canadian and US national teams, is a sustainable women’s professional league that offers competitive support to professional men, as well as a living wage.
“Playing for this logo is different from playing for any other logo we’ve worn in our career,” said Toronto forward Brianne Jenner. “(We) are pushing for a better future in our sport.”
The PWHPA hosted a series of tournaments and demonstration games in 2019-2020 on both sides of the border under the Dream Gap Tour banner to garner support for their cause.
The US section was able to host three tournaments in New York, Chicago and St. Louis earlier in 2021. Canada’s pandemic restrictions have kept the puck from falling until this week.
The Secret Cup offered the first elite women’s hockey games in Canada since a PWHPA tournament in Toronto in January 2020.
The three teams from Toronto, Montreal and Calgary played a double round robin tournament at the Tsuu’tina Nation’s Seven Chiefs Sportsplex near Calgary and at the Saddledome, home to the NHL Flames.
Montreal (3-1-0) and Toronto (2-2-0) qualified for Sunday’s championship game. Scotiabank Calgary finished 1-3-0.
Forty-eight participants had played for a women’s national team at some point in their careers and 21 were among 28 invited to gather in Calgary in July to try their hand at Canada’s 2022 Olympic team.
Jesse Eldridge had a goal and an assist, Catherine Dubois also scored and Sarah Lefort added a goal in the empty net for Montreal. Goalkeeper Ann-Renee Desbiens made 28 saves in the win.
Poulin led the Secret Cup scorers with five goals and six assists in five games.
With the score tied at 2-2 going into third, Toronto couldn’t produce a decisive goal from a pair of early power play chances.
Poulin managed a pass from Eldridge from the middle of the field to the game winner at 14:28 of the third.
Sarah Nurse had a goal and an assist and Jenner also scored for Toronto. Shea Tiley made 19 saves in the loss.
“After 14 months without competitive games, having a week like this, ending up at the Saddledome and finishing with such a close game on TV is a win,” Jenner said.
“Despite today’s loss, I think everyone felt quite grateful to be a part of this week.”
Montreal was able to skate more together in a group this winter than Toronto and Calgary.
Because the Montreal squad included 17 players in the national women’s hockey team pool, Bauer obtained an exemption from the Quebec government to practice regularly.
The PWHPA has adopted Hockey Canada’s quarantine and testing protocols used at this year’s World Junior Men’s Hockey Championship.
No one tested positive for COVID-19 during the tournament, Hefford said.
“Thank you to the players for doing what they needed to do to make sure we can be successful,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 30, 2021.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press