May 26th, 2024

Montreal seeking first place in PWHL standings: ‘You want to be the best’

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on April 23, 2024.

Fans cheer on as the attendance number is displayed on the big screen during third period PWHL hockey action between Toronto and Montreal at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Saturday, April 20, 2024. Montreal’s Professional Women’s Hockey League team can book a ticket to the post-season on Wednesday night. But just securing a playoff spot won’t quite satisfy general manager Danièle Sauvageau as the regular season nears a close. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Montreal’s Professional Women’s Hockey League team can book a ticket to the post-season on Wednesday night. But just securing a playoff spot won’t quite satisfy general manager Danièle Sauvageau as the regular season nears the finish line.

“We want to finish first,” Sauvageau said from the Verdun Auditorium on Tuesday. “It’s our objective since Day 1, and it remains attainable.”

Montreal (8-3-5-5) is tied with Minnesota for second place and trails league-leading Toronto by three points in the standings heading into Wednesday’s regular-season home finale against New York (3-4-3-10). Montreal, Minnesota and Toronto each have three games remaining.

“You want to come in first at the end of the day,” alternate captain Laura Stacey said. “You want to be the best team.”

Beyond the usual post-season home-ice advantage that comes with finishing first, the PWHL’s top team can choose between the third and fourth seeds for its first-round opponent.

Sauvageau says she’s been preparing for the possibility of picking Montreal’s opponent since the league announced the experimental rule in February.

“I established a list of criteria so that when we’re in that situation we won’t choose based on emotion, we’ll choose based on the criteria that we’ve given ourselves,” she said.

“Now you’re going to ask me what those criteria are – I’ll tell you after the playoffs.”

Toronto became the first team in league history to clinch a playoff spot after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over Montreal before a record women’s hockey crowd of 21,105 at the Bell Centre.

Montreal can follow suit with a regulation win against New York or a Boston regulation loss to Ottawa on Wednesday. A Montreal overtime win and a non-regulation Boston victory also clinches a spot, as does a Montreal overtime loss combined with a Boston loss of any kind.

Meanwhile, last-place New York must beat Montreal in regulation and needs Boston to earn a win over Ottawa to avoid elimination from playoff contention.

“Tomorrow against New York, a team that’s fighting for their life, we need to come in with that same energy,” Stacey said. “We’re also fighting for our life. We want to clinch a playoff spot. We want to clinch a spot that we want to be in.:

BOULIER, GRANT-MENTIS FILLING ROLES

Amanda Boulier says being traded in the PWHL was a “whirlwind.”

Boulier, traded from Ottawa to Montreal at the PWHL trade deadline on March 18, travelled from New York back to Ottawa that night to pack her belongings before hitting the road to Montreal at 4:30 a.m. for her first practice with her new team.

Montreal traded forward Tereza Vanisova to land the small-statured blueliner with hopes her puck movement and physicality – despite her size – would help reinforce the team’s defence.

Boulier says she’s finally settling in.

“This game at the Bell Centre was the first game where I finally felt myself out there,” she said. “I’m finally feeling like I’m doing the things that they traded for me for.”

With Vanisova gone, forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis has jumped up into a top-six role for Montreal.

The 25-year-old Grant-Mentis won the Premier Hockey Federation’s MVP award in 2021 and signed a $80,000 contract in 2022 before the league was absorbed by the PWHL. Grant-Mentis then went undrafted in the newly formed league but signed with Ottawa out of a training camp tryout.

Ottawa, however, released her on Feb. 18 after six games played.

“It’s a little bit of a roller-coaster, I don’t wish it on anybody,” she said.

Grant-Mentis signed a standard player agreement with Montreal on Saturday. She produced five shots on goal, struck the post twice and drew several penalties against Toronto.

Grant-Mentis says her disappointment with the PHF folding is in the past.

“What (the PWHL) has done in the past six or seven months, it’s huge, and I think it’s only going to get better” she said. “It’s not really for us right now. It’s for players 10-20 years down the line that will hopefully have a stable living.”

AMBROSE HEATS UP

Top Montreal defender Erin Ambrose is on fire since returning from the world championship as a gold medallist for Canada.

Ambrose recorded the first four-point game in PWHL history with four assists against Minnesota last Thursday before adding a goal Saturday against Toronto to earn the league’s first star of the week. She leads all defenders with 15 points in 21 games.

The 29-year-old from Keswick, Ont., was dropped from Canada’s top power-play unit at the worlds but scored in the final and assisted Danielle Serdachny’s gold-medal-winning goal against the United States.

“Being a big part of that game-winning goal at worlds was a boost, and I think she’s got a little chip on her shoulder,” Montreal coach Kori Cheverie said. “I absolutely love it.”

HALL-OF-FAME HELPER

Montreal is getting a little more help from a Hall of Famer lately as Caroline Ouellette, a four-time Olympic champion, practised with the team on Monday and Tuesday.

The 44-year-old has been on Montreal’s staff as a consultant since the season began but is increasing her presence with the PWHL team after helping Concordia University’s women’s hockey team win a U Sports title as an associate head coach.

“Caroline is an icon, she’s an idol for me,” captain Marie-Philip Poulin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

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