Clarkson Cup Heartbreak for Montreal Overshadows Many Positives

Mark Staffieri@@MarkStaff100Contributor IIMarch 27, 2013

Having recovered from surgery, Sarah Vaillancourt's comeback was uplifting for the Stars, Photo courtesy of CWHL, Obtained from:!/Canadian.Womens.Hockey.League/photos_stream
Having recovered from surgery, Sarah Vaillancourt's comeback was uplifting for the Stars, Photo courtesy of CWHL, Obtained from:!/Canadian.Womens.Hockey.League/photos_stream

While the Montreal Stars lament the loss of the 2013 Clarkson Cup, the heartbreak over history slipping away is one that brings with it great humility. Although the players have the right to mourn over the visceral loss, it must be a short one.

In looking to become the first-ever team to claim three consecutive Clarkson Cups, its opportunity to create history evaporated. Blades rookies Genevieve Lacasse and Kelley Steadman provided heroics that will stand as legendary for generations to come.

Although the Blades victory will linger in the minds of many Stars players throughout the offseason, concerns over what might have been will not bring about change. The opportunity to reflect on many positive outcomes the franchise experienced throughout the season will bring with it opportunity to deal from the loss and evolve.

One of the biggest positives for Montreal was the increase in media exposure. Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette was leading the crusade of informing hardcore hockey fans of the greatness that was Stars hockey.

With the NHL Lockout, Stars hockey suddenly became part of the sporting landscape in Montreal. As the season progressed, publications such as La Presse and Le Journal de Montreal also chronicled the fearless, frozen females that proudly called themselves players for the Stars.

After three CWHL franchises (Alberta, Boston and Toronto) competed in NHL arenas during the 2012-13 season, the Stars are very deserving for their own opportunity in the upcoming season. The media exposure can only help in making it a reality. It would only be fitting for Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, the founder of the Stars and co-founder of the CWHL, to be able to grace the ice at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

The recognition this season has served as a tremendous milestone for a franchise that is only growing. Perhaps more important was the fact that the media exposure helped to solidify Caroline Ouellette’s legacy as one of the most important figures in Quebec hockey (male or female) of this century. Her impact on women’s hockey in Quebec is as relevant as that of Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau during Quebec in the 1950s.

Another wonderful aspect to the Stars great season was their Breast Cancer fundraiser, which included pink game-worn jerseys for auction. Quickly emerging as one of the premier events in CWHL hockey, it is becoming an autumn tradition in Montreal hockey.

With the two-time defending Clarkson Cup champions ending the first half of the season in third place, it would have been very easy for the proud franchise to collapse. Despite early season struggles, the Stars not only managed a strong finish, but it placed a handful of players among the top-10 scoring leaders in the CWHL.

Perhaps more significant were the various career milestones that were reached during the season. While Meghan Agosta-Marciano earned 50 career goals and 100 points in only 38 games, Caroline Ouellette would also earn the 200th point of her CWHL career.

A triumvirate of McGill alumni, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand and Charline Labonte would bring their team chemistry to the Stars. Bettez would be the Rookie Scoring champion while winning the CWHL Rookie of the Year Award. Chartrand would also earn the scoring title among defenders.

Not to be outdone, another alumnae from McGill made her mark on the Stars. Alternate captain Catherine Ward continued to establish herself as one of the finest leaders in women’s hockey. Her season would end as Clarkson Cup Most Valuable Player, complementing her CWHL Defender of the Year Award.

Boston’s jubilation may be Montreal’s desolation, but the tables could turn quickly in the outcome of the 2013-14 campaign. With due deference to Boston, almost half of their roster will be competing at the Sochi Winter Games.

On the other hand, Montreal will still boast a very strong core group of scoring sensations. While the Stars will lose Agosta-Marciano, Ouellette, Labonte, Haley Irwin, Sarah Vaillancourt and Julie Chu to respective Winter Games training camps, they should remain one of the stronger teams in the league.

With players such as Fannie Desforges, Camille Dumais, Veronique Laramee-Paquette and Mallory Lawton eligible for the 2013 CWHL Draft, the offense can only become stronger. These young lionesses would complement offensive contributors such as Bettez, Emmanuelle Blais, Vinny Davidson, Noemie Marin and Carolyne Prevost. Any of the aforementioned players will certainly be favorites to win the 2014 Angela James Bowl.

A defense that will be anchored by Cathy Chartrand, Carly Dupont-Hill and Alyssa Cecere brings with it tremendous potential. With veteran backstops Jenny Lavigne and Kim St. Pierre, the confidence that emanates from such experienced players between the pipes brings with it great potential.

Of even greater value was the lessons learned from the retirements of Nathalie Dery, Kelly Sudia and Stephanie Denino. This titanic trio brought over two decades combined experience on the frozen perimeter.

Even with the talent that new recruits brought to the franchise, it was impossible to teach them experience. Suddenly, the Clarkson Cup loss serves as a reminder that even the role players and the veteran grinders bring as much importance to the game and the locker room as a scoring superstar.

Despite a sparkling performance in the Clarkson Cup round robin (in which they did not allow one goal), the Stars looked mortal at the 2013 Clarkson Cup final. Betrayed by high expectations, the ability to learn from the loss and move on shall be essential in the growth of the franchise. Although it was a tough price to pay for such a proud franchise, this loss may just serve as the motivation for an even brighter future ahead.