The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) held their third annual all-star weekend this past Friday and Saturday in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.
Team White, captained by Carlee Campbell, beat out Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson’s Team Blue by a score of 9–5 in the high-scoring affair.
“It was awesome, those girls in the stands there cheering us on, and they looked like they had a blast,” said Mikkelson. “Lots of dancing going on up there in the stands and it was a really fun atmosphere, so a huge thanks to all the fans that came out.”
Team White got off to a hot start, scoring three unanswered goals in the first frame. Jess Jones had the first two goals of the night, while Jill Saulnier rounded off the period with a goal and an assist. Christina Kessler persevered her shutout into the second period before the mid-game goalie change saw Charline Labonté take over the duties in the crease.
“We kind of surprised ourselves, we all thought we were doing really well,” said Campbell about her team’s strong start. “It was one of those things where we were all speaking before the game about how there’s a bunch of little girls in the stands who look up to us, so let's make this a fun and memorable experience for them.”
Katelyn Gosling, a former Western Mustang who led the team to both a provincial and national title in 2015, was drafted to Team Blue on Friday night, captained Spooner and Mikkelson. Gosling was on the ice for Kelly Terry’s goal, breaking out of her own zone with a nice pass which generated offense, resulting in Team Blue's first goal of the night.
“It was definitely phenomenal, we all had a great time out there and it was a lot of fun being out there with all those players,” said Gosling. “You definitely feel pretty small out there, but for sure [it's] an experience I’m going to remember.”
Team Blue finally got on the board midway through the second period whenTerry took advantage of a text book breakout play by her defense, and ruining Team White's shutout. Team White restored their three-goal lead before the end of the second period, as Saulnier recorded her second goal of the night. Team Blue, not to be outdone, scored with 40 seconds left in the period as Brianne Jenner rifled it home, assisted by Spooner.
“This was an opportunity to show what we have,” said Mikkelson. “There was some forechecking and some backchecking, which you don’t often see in all-star games, but I think everyone tried to bring some skill but also some effort too.”
The third period saw both team trade goals, as well as hat tricks from Jones and Saulnier. Jenelle Kohanchuk of Team Blue had two goals of her own in the period, while Haley Irwin also notched one for Team Blue. Team White saw Marie-Phillipe Poulin and Meaghan Grieves both get on the scoresheet as Team White closed out the game 9–5.
“In a game like this, it’s a lot of fun, and obviously were all very competitive — some of my best friends are on that other team,” said Saulnier after the game. “We want to score and we want to win, but it’s obviously all good fun, but it’s good to get the win for White as well.”
Attendance at the game was 8,122, an impressive number for a league that is only just celebrating its 10th season. The fans were mainly from minor hockey teams, with young female hockey players passionately cheering on their idols on the ice. The continued fast-paced growth of the CWHL shows how quickly women’s hockey is growing, and how professional women’s hockey is becoming closer to a reality with each approaching day
“I heard that sales were up 25 per cent from last year, which was huge,” said Saulnier. “You could tell from the bench and the atmosphere was pretty exciting, so I think it’d be pretty special for little girls in the stands for sure.”
The growth of the all-star game bodes well for the players as they anticipate that success will continue to grow over the next few years. Most CWHL players aspire of being as well-established and popular as their male counterparts in the NHL one day.
“I feel like every year over the past few years it’s getting bigger every year,” said Spooner. “We’re getting more fans out, so I think eventually we’ll be able to fill up this whole building [Air Canada Centre].”
The CWHL regular season resumes next Saturday, on Hockey Day in Canada (Feb. 18). Gosling and the Calgary Inferno will face off against the Montreal Canadiennes as they defend their Clarkson Cup championship from last season.