By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on January 26, 2024.
MONTREAL – Elaine Chuli never saw Ken Dryden play.
The 29-year-old can still appreciate the Hall of Fame goaltender’s exploits between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens.
And that’s despite growing up a fan of the archrival Toronto Maple Leafs.
The backup netminder for Montreal’s Professional Women’s Hockey League team, Chuli is paying tribute to Dryden – and fellow Canadiens great Carey Price – with her new mask that arrived this week.
Chuli, who grew up idolizing Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph, had to get creative on the design with little to draw from in the early stages of the PWHL.
“I went with kind of a Ken Dryden theme,” the native of Waterford, Ont., said Friday at Verdun Auditorium. “We didn’t have a logo and we didn’t have a team name, usually that would kind of be what your mask would be based off of.
“I thought, ‘Perfect.’ (Dryden) played in Montreal, so I thought it would be a cool idea.”
The mask, designed by Mississauga, Ont.-based company Mask Wraps, features blue and red circles around it – much like the cage Dryden wore during the Canadiens’ dynasty of the 1970s.
It also has pictures of Dryden and Price on each side, PWHL logos, her name and old Montreal buildings printed on the back along with her favourite Bible verse.
The matte finish helps hammer home the retro look.
Chuli wore Dryden’s No. 29 throughout her career, which includes stops with the NCAA’s University of Connecticut and the Premier Hockey Federation’s Toronto Six.
She switched to No. 20 this season because star player Marie-Philip Poulin wears 29.
Poulin may owe Chuli a meal or two, and not just because of the number.
Chuli made 45 saves to lead Montreal to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday and earn her second regulation win in two starts this season.
“Amazing,” Poulin said of Chuli. “The way she plays, she’s stood on her head for us. It’s unbelievable to see.”
Montreal (3-1-2-1) enters Saturday’s game against Ottawa (2-0-2-1) at Place Bell with a league-leading 13 points after Wednesday’s win.
Chuli has a PWHL-best .962 save percentage, starter Ann-Renée Desbiens – Canada’s No. 1 goalie – has a .915 in five starts and third goalie MarlÃ¨ne Boissonnault hasn’t played. Head coach Kori Cheverie didn’t say who would get the nod Saturday.
No matter who’s in net, Poulin believes Montreal’s goalies are the biggest reason the team is on top.
“I won’t lie, I think it’s our goalies (who separate us from the rest of the league),” Poulin said. “They’ve kept us in games where we didn’t necessarily play well in front of them, so that’s a big part of it for us.”
“We’ve been saying it from the very beginning that we knew we were solid in that position,” Cheverie added.
PWHL Montreal said it sold over 7,000 tickets for Saturday’s game in Laval, Que., as of Friday morning.
Chuli, who has only played on the road so far, is eager to experience a game in front of Montreal’s home crowd.
“I would love to play at home,” she said. “We go on the road and you go into those arenas, and yeah, it’s not like the same vibe it is here for sure.”
Montreal spent much of Friday’s practice working on a league-worst power play that is 1-for-20 this season.
Poulin says that needs to change, because they can’t keep depending on the goalies to bail them out.
“We’ve got to score,” Poulin said. “That’s a lot of shots for our goalies, and there’s a sense of responsibility for us as forwards to create more offence, take advantage of power plays and be better to help our goalies.”
CHASING THE RECORD
Minnesota set the record for most people to attend a women’s professional hockey game when 13,316 people turned up on Jan. 6 at Xcel Energy Center.
The PWHL announced Thursday its Feb. 16 game between Toronto and Montreal would take place at 19,000-seat Scotiabank Arena.
Poulin says it’s “amazing” to get an opportunity to play in an arena that size, and hopes Montreal can someday host a game at 21,000-seat Bell Centre – home of the Canadiens.
“It’s definitely a goal for us to bring a game to Bell Centre,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Montreal has one home game at a to-be-announced location on March 16 against Toronto.
POULIN STILL WITH CANADIENS
Poulin, while being one of the best active hockey players in the world, couples as a player development coach for the NHL’s Canadiens.
It’s a role she says she’ll continue to do, when she can, while focusing on the new women’s pro league.
“(The Canadiens) understand where I’m at, they know where we’re at,” the 32-year-old Poulin said. “I still have a couple years in me so they understand that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.
Note to readers: This is a coorected story. A previous version stated Chuli was from Waterton, Ont. She is in fact from Waterford, Ont.