If it is still time to celebrate the first historic moments of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (LPHF), Montrealers are currently struggling to really get going.
The Montreal team lost 3-0 to Minnesota on Saturday afternoon in St. Paul.
“It’s still a young season, so there’s no reason to panic yet,” assured head coach Kori Cheverie after the meeting, the second for both teams.
This match was played in front of a new record crowd for professional women’s hockey. A few days were enough to beat the established mark of 8,300 people in Ottawa on Tuesday: the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul received no fewer than 13,316 guests for this first Minnesota home game.
“It was magnificent to see,” rejoiced Marie-Philip Poulin. It’s nice to see the state of Minnesota behind your team. It’s very special to see how women’s hockey is going everywhere, how much people are talking about it, how excited they are. »
A few dozen of these supporters also had the chance to take off their headgear at the end of the match: it was necessary to properly celebrate the first hat trick in the history of the LPHF, courtesy of a Grace Zumwinkle in great form at the start of the season.
Nervousness – or butterflies – at the start of the match was the theme of the first matches in the LPHF. This one was no exception to the rule.
Despite the somewhat disjointed play on both sides, the first period was theoretically to the advantage of the visiting team. Montreal created several opportunities to score, especially with excess numbers. But it was in the deep offensive zone that the team lacked success, either by missing passes or shooting off target.
We were telling you about Zumwinkle: the player from the University of Minnesota scored the first goal of the game, and her second in two games, at the very end of the first period. Her lovely backhand shot from a tight angle near the net mystified goalkeeper Ann-Renée Desbiens.
“It’s a goal that I should [stop],” Desbiens conceded afterwards. In most cases, I would have gotten it. Today, they took advantage of this game. We have to live with it and do better next time. »
In the second period, as is the trend at the start of the season, the play of both teams moved up a notch. Montreal dominated, but mainly thanks to the indiscipline of Minnesota, who received three penalties in 20 minutes.
But faced with the efforts of Vanišová, Poulin and Stacey, in particular, the jailer Maddie Rooney was imperial. And his team needed it, since Montreal had the upper hand in terms of scoring chances and faceoffs.
“I was happy with our play in the first half of the match,” Cheverie said. But we strayed from our game plan from the second half of the second period. And in this league, you can’t take your foot off the gas. »
Zumwinkle – yes, her again – greatly complicated things for Montreal early in the third. His 2-0 goal was followed by a period punctuated by indiscipline for the visiting team.
Montreal then committed four offenses in quick succession, which stifled the hopes of the Cheverie players. They were devastated when Zumwinkle completed his haul with an empty-net goal.
According to the Montreal team’s technician, the league – the officials and the players – are still adjusting to a “style of play never before seen on the women’s side.”
“We play a physical, intense game. Maybe we crossed the line [in third], we can’t get that many penalties. But we also have to understand what does and does not happen in this league. »
Moreover, after a victory in extremis in Ottawa last Tuesday, this is a second meeting where the big guns of Montreal struggle to assert themselves. Starting with Marie-Philip Poulin, who has not yet scored. Does the woman who is considered the best player in the world feel nervous?
“No, I’m not nervous,” Poulin explains. It’s part of hockey. I’m trying, but it’s the start of the season. We continue to improve. […] Personally, yes, you put pressure on yourself, but at the end of the day, you have to take it lightly too. It’s two parts. »