The Minnesota Whitecaps took an early lead over the Brampton Canadette Thunder in Sunday’s Clarkson Cup final, and goalie Megan Van Beusekom-Sweerin shut the door the rest of the way in a 4-0 win.
Chants of "Go Brampton, Go!" echoed through the Elgin Barrow Arena in Richmond Hill, Ont. The Thunder represent the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, while the Whitecaps are the lone team from the Western Women’s Hockey League.
It was the second straight year the Whitecaps had made the final, having lost to the Montreal Stars in last year’s Clarkson Cup.
They came to the tournament with only 11 players and two goalies, but still managed to outmatch the competition.
Minnesota forward Julie Chiu, a member of the U.S. Olympic team and named the Whitecaps' MVP of the tournament, said her team showed intelligence and skill in playing with a shortened bench.
"It’s a challenge sometimes when you have a shorter bench," she said. "But I think we tried to play smart. You go hard and smart, and I think that allowed us to have some legs for the third period."
Despite the crowd's cheers for Brampton, the Whitecaps got on the board early.
Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal snapped a wrist shot from just inside the right circle, beating Thunder netminder Laura Hosier low on the blocker side just under three minutes into the opening frame.
The Whitecaps continued their offensive attack throughout the first period, hitting the post twice and forcing Hosier to make a number of difficult saves as she bounced back from the questionable first goal.
The Thunder turned up their offence early the second, putting Whitecaps’ goalie Van Beusekom-Sweerin to the test. The Princeton University grad stood tall to the challenge, turning aside several Thunder scoring chances.
Whitecaps goalie came up big
Van Beusekom-Sweerin played an incredible game between the pipes for the Whitecaps en route to a shutout and being named the top goaltender in the tournament.
Whitecaps head coach Jack Brodt said Van Beusekom-Sweerin was the difference in the game.
"They were an awfully good opponent. The score doesn’t reflect the way the game was," he said. "She held them at bay when we were scrambling around a few times."
The Whitecaps pulled further ahead halfway through the second, when Jenny Potter scored on a breakaway on a swift pass from Erin Keys through the neutral zone. The U.S Olympic team star pulled Hosier to the right side, snapping the puck through her legs.
The Thunder tried to get on the board late in the second, with several chances on a power play. Molly Engstrom fired a slapshot from the point that eluded Van Beusekom-Sweerin, but hit the post.
Halfway through the third Minnesota put it away for good.
Maggie Fisher, left all alone, buried a pass from Megan McCarthy past Hosier who had little hope on the play.
Moments later the Whitecaps struck again, with Fisher intercepting a pass in the Thunder zone and then slipping a pass to Brooke White-Lancette on the ensuing 2-on-0. White-Lancette fired the puck past a sprawling Hosier.
'Showcase' for women's hockey
After the game former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, for whom the Clarkson Cup is named, presented the trophy to the Whitecaps.
They hoisted the cup high, taking turns holding it as they skated as a team around the rink.
Despite the disappointment of losing, Brampton forward and Canadian Olympic gold-medallist Gillian Apps put the importance of the Clarkson Cup into perspective.
"This is the pro league for us, for women’s hockey, and I think it was a great opportunity to showcase how far our league has come," she said.
"It’s good for the young girls to see where the league is going and how many good players are participating."
Asked about recent criticism that women’s hockey is a Canadian-American dominated sport at the Olympics, Apps said all the game needs is time.
"I think the biggest thing we are asking for is patience," she said. "In the next 10 years you’re going to see a totally different tournament."
As her team celebrated around her, Chiu spoke of the importance of the Clarkson Cup in getting the women’s game to that next level. She’s one of many who are hoping that women’s club hockey will turn pro in the near future — providing new opportunities for female players around the world.
"The Clarkson Cup, that’s the next step," Chiu said. "Hopefully this will be the next step to having a professional women’s hockey league.
"I think the talent level is there. We just have got to get some funding and we just have got to really push it on our side to try to get the game more exposure."