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PWHL Takeaways: Toronto take top spot in the league

Players in blue PWHL Toronto jerseys do a group hug in front of a bench of players in tan PWHL Montreal jereys. Fans stand and cheer in the background.
PWHL celebrate Emma Maltais' empty-net goal in front of PWHL Montreal's bench at Mattamy Athletic Centre on Mar. 8, 2024. (Adam Floujeh/INTERMISSION SPORTS)


It felt like the stars aligned for PWHL Toronto on Saturday night at Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).  In defeating PWHL Montreal 3-0, they won their ninth game in a row and took first place in the league from them in the process. 


It was a physical game where Toronto dictated the pace and left Montreal chasing play from start to finish. Hannah Miller opened the scoring early and Toronto never looked back, with Rebecca Leslie scoring her first goal of the season and Emma Maltais finding the empty net in the third period.


Let’s dive into the takeaways.

PWHL casts spotlight on International Women's Day 

Sometimes a story writes itself and Friday night was one of those occasions. 

Before the game, PWHL Toronto posted pictures of forward Natalie Spooner’s custom skates for the night. Names and numbers of women's hockey legends like Caroline Ouellette and Hayley Wickenheiser were on the heels of the Scarborough product’s skates. 

From the get-go, the PWHL has shown lots of willingness to allow players to show support for certain social causes and celebrations. 

“It was amazing to be out there,” said Spooner.


“To be able to play on International Women's Day when this is such a pivotal year in women's hockey, there’s no better day to do it.”


Spooner made sure to mention all the women in the audience while giving a shout-out to an important woman in her own life. 

“If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be able to be here,” she said. 

Spooner’s mother watches Natalie’s son Rory while his mom –the PWHL’s leading scorer – plays.

It wasn’t just the players that saw the love. Female photographers, training and media staff were all spotlighted throughout the night on the jumbo screens.


There was more than just celebrating the past and the present, but a spotlight on the future as well.


When asked about the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) having young fans all around the arena with signs saying “future PWHL goalie,” Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell reflected on how the PWHL will benefit future female athletes. 


“That’s incredible,” she said. “When I was their age, I never had anything like this and now that we have this league. It’s just going to change women's hockey forever.”


The first star of the game with a 23-save shutout, Kristen Campbell once again had a standout performance.


Even if it wasn’t the busiest night for Campbell, she was perfect when called upon. The biggest play of the night came late in the second period. During a Montreal powerplay, forward Mélodie Daoust was sprung a pass for a breakaway. 


If that goal goes in, Montreal carries all the momentum heading into a tied third period. But the two-time gold medalist was stopped cold by Campbell. 


“I want breakaways, I want the two-on-one's, I want those rushes,” said Campbell. 


“I know that they’re going to come and that you have to be ready when you’re called upon.” 

Campbell has quite clearly become a fan favourite in Toronto. Having a sold-out MAC chant soupppppp after every save is proof enough but it's the love from teammates that solidify how much of a brick wall Campbell has been for Toronto over their nine-game win streak. 


“Oh Soupey she does it all,” said Toronto forward Brittany Howard. 


“She’s just been so calm throughout this entire process. You can see it in her, in practice every week, every day,“ she continued. “She knows what she brings to this team.”

Compliments even came from the other side of the ice. 

“Soup is in the net right now and she’s playing very well. Happy for her,” said Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin.    

Despite leading the PWHL in wins and now ranking fifth in sv% with a .924, after the game Campbell was steadfast on keeping the focus on the team instead of her place amongst the best goalies in the PWHL. 

“I’m focused on my path, my journey and what I can do to help our team win here in Toronto,” she said. 


Montreal lost the physical matchup 

At the 8:06 mark of the second period, tempers boiled over as six different roughing calls were assessed and three players from each team were sent to the penalty box. It was the boiling point of a game where Toronto controlled with their pace and physicality. 

“I mean, they have a great team,” said Poulin, adding Toronto is “very deep.”

“It was physical. I think that’s what this league is all about. Fast, physical play.”

While Montreal emphasized the importance of physicality, there was a clear call-to-action aimed at officials to call more penalties on dangerous plays. 

Montreal forward Laura Stacey and defender Catherine Daoust were both the recipients of questionable hits that went uncalled during Friday’s game. 

“As players, we’re still trying to figure out what that line is,” said Stacey. 


“Obviously you don’t like the high hits and the blood being spewed but other than that, I think it's two good physical teams going at it,” she added.”

Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie gave the same view as her players.

“There were some pretty high hits today,” said Cheverie. “I think that’s where the line needs to be drawn. There’s a difference between shoulder-to-shoulder and headshots.” 


If there’s a sour taste in any player's mouth after Friday's game, they won’t have to wait long to play each other again. Montreal and Toronto play again Sunday, Mar. 17 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, a neutral site game. When asked if Friday’s game set the scene for that game, Laura Stacey tells us all we need to know.  


“I can’t wait for Pittsburgh,” she said bluntly with a smirk.

PWHL Toronto will be in action Sunday, Mar. 17, versus Montreal at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Their next home game is Wednesday, Mar. 20 as they host PWHL Boston at the MAC. Stay tuned for lots more PWHL coverage from Intermission Sports.


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