NHL News·Preview

Clarkson Cup: Montreal, Calgary to play for women's hockey title

Les Montreal Canadiennes and Calgary Inferno square off Sunday afternoon at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa in a one-game, winner-hoists-the-Clarkson-Cup championship.

1-game CWHL championship goes Sunday in Ottawa

Les Montreal Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonte stops Jillian Saulnier of the Calgary Inferno in Canadian Women's Hockey League action. (Dave Holland/Canadian Press)

The 2016 Clarkson Cup is more Super Bowl than Frozen Four.

Les Montreal Canadiennes and Calgary Inferno square off Sunday afternoon at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa in a one-game, winner-hoists-the-Cup championship.

The Clarkson Cup was originally a four-team tournament, resembling the NCAA's Frozen Four.

However, there are several reasons for changing the format of the Canadian Women's Hockey League's showcase event, according to commissioner Brenda Andress. Maximizing available time slots both on television and in an NHL arena are two of them.

"The timing of it on a Sunday, it's good for TV viewership for sure," Inferno captain Brianne Jenner said. "To see the Ottawa Senators offer up their rink for the Clarkson Cup is another step in the right direction."

The semifinal games once part of the Clarkson Cup tournament were turned into separate best-of-three playoff series on February 26-27.

Les Canadiennes (21-3) and Inferno (16-8) finished first and second respectively in the regular season. They had home-ice advantage in sweeping the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder in two straight.

"We wanted to provide the opportunity for those fans who supported them all year long to see the first round," Andress explained.

Familiar foes

The Inferno lineup includes nine players named to the Canadian roster for the upcoming women's world hockey championship in Kamloops, B.C., with Jenner, Hayley Wickenheiser, Rebecca Johnston and Meaghan Mikkelson among them.

Les Canadiennes will ice three, including Canadian team captain Marie-Philip Poulin and goaltender Charline Labonte. Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, veterans of the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams respectively, also play for Montreal.

Les Canadiennes were 4-2 versus the Inferno during the regular season.

"Both teams play with a lot of speed and a lot of offence," Chu said. "I think we're going to see a lot of that, especially the transition game is going to be huge.

Montreal has appeared in five of seven Clarkson Cup finals as the Stars, as they were previously named, and won three. A marketing and promotions relationship struck last year with the NHL's Canadiens prompted the name change.

The Inferno, who have a similar arrangement with the Calgary Flames, will play in their first Clarkson Cup championship game.

The five-team CWHL needs people identifying the Clarkson Cup (donated by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson), as a premier women's hockey brand, which means getting as many fans as possible into the building and tuning in on Sunday.

The U.S.-based NWHL that began play in 2015-16 pays its players. After winning the 2015 Clarkson Cup, the Boston Blades suffered a mass exodus of top American players to the NWHL's Boston Pride. The Blades went 1-23 in the CWHL this season.

The CWHL isn't paying players. The league needs to demonstrate it can in the future in order to avoid more defections. The Clarkson Cup is a means to expanding the CWHL's fan base and attracting more corporate sponsorship.

"What's riding on it is the ability next year to get more Sportsnet games, to get our fan base, once it grows, it provides opportunities for our players to be paid," Andress said.


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