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Takeaways: PWHL Toronto win fourth-straight in Battle of Bay Street

A picture of players lining up to shake hands at the end of a PWHL hockey game at Scotiabank Arena, from the press box high above the rink.
The view of the Battle on Bay Street from the media gondola. (Natasha Pinto/INTERMISSION SPORTS)


The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) sent its talent to NHL ice on Friday, as PWHL Toronto shut out PWHL Montreal 3-0 in front of a record-breaking 19,285 fans at Scotiabank Arena.

With the most fans ever recorded at a women’s hockey game watching, Toronto and Montreal put on a showcase of a coach’s favourite kind of hockey: a low-event game. The first goal came from Jesse Compher about five minutes into the third period, after which Toronto took control and walked away with their fourth-straight victory.

Jesse Compher, Hannah Miller and Victoria Bach all scored important goals, while Kristen Campbell recorded a 30-save shutout, her second shutout in her last four games and her fifth-straight win. 

Here are five takeaways from a momentous occasion in PWHL history.

Historic night brings out the best in women’s hockey

The Battle on Bay Street reflected a historic moment for the PWHL and all of women’s hockey. 

Previously, the largest-ever recorded crowd at a women’s hockey game came at the 2013 World Championships in Ottawa, while the record for a professional game came earlier this season, with Montreal visiting Minnesota. On Friday, an 18,819-seat sellout was expected to break that record. As it turned out, even that number would be surpassed, with the final attendance for the game recorded at 19,285. 

The atmosphere at Scotiabank Arena reflected the excitement of the league, players and fans. Hype videos before the game were matched by fans waving phone flashlights and fluttering rally towels, creating a storm of excitement different from anything at any other hockey game. 

During the game, every scoring chance and every penalty brought a roar from the crowd (though different kinds of roars) as the fans maintained a level of volume Toronto head coach Troy Ryan said made coaches’ watches go off with loud environment warnings. 

Ryan said it was an emotional game, but mostly in a sense of pride for everyone involved.

“You're honestly just proud to have the honour to be part of such a special game,” he said. 

After the game, Marie-Phillip Poulin, Montreal’s captain and a Canadian hockey icon, was passionate about what the game meant for everyone involved, even the losing team.

“Obviously, it's not the result we [Montreal] wanted, but it's so special. To see the [number] of signs in the stands [and] to see little girls, little boys [and] families coming up, it's unbelievable,” she said. 

“What's happening in women's hockey right now, it's surreal.”

Montreal defender Erin Ambrose echoed that statement, saying the players “can’t say thank you enough” to everyone who came out for the game and all those who set the stage for women’s hockey.

Toronto forward Jesse Compher said it was emotional and exciting for the players when they first stepped onto the ice in front of the roaring crowd, but when it was game time, they locked in.

“The second the puck drops, we know we're here to play a game,” she said.

Still, Compher acknowledged the way Toronto has embraced the team, including by selling out home games, at Mattamy Athletic Centre and now at Scotiabank Arena.

“We've been working for this for a long time and to see people support us and give us what we deserve is [really special],” she said. “We hope to continue to grow the game.”

Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell said getting the larger stage to play on and still having the fan support is a lot of fun and special.

“It just shows the demand for women's hockey and women's sport,” she said. “Playing in this venue was something that we're always going to cherish for the rest of our lives.”

Nursey Night reflects PWHL’s commitment to inclusion 

The Battle on Bay Street represented a momentous occasion for hockey. It showcased the talent of women in sports and offered an opportunity to emphasize the importance of growing the game.

It would be a mistake not to mention the other name given to the game, Nursey Night. 

Forward Sarah Nurse is a champion of representation in sport. Her advocacy for Black women and girls in hockey and sport has made her a role model and figurehead, which was clear on Friday when she was met by an enormous eruption from the crowd during the starting lineup announcements. 

“Sarah Nurse [has] changed the game, all around,” Poulin said after the game.

Having the first Nursey Night made an already special occasion even more significant.

Along with former PHF player Saroya Tinker, representatives from the Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC), a non-profit organization dedicated to making hockey more inclusive, were invited to the game and a meet-and-greet with Nurse after the game. They were also presented with a $50,000 cheque from Rogers during a media timeout. 

Nursey Night will see BGHC community members brought out to select PWHL Toronto home and away games each month for the remainder of the season.

On top of it all, the PWHL brought out Nurse’s cousin Kia Nurse for the ceremonial puck drop before the game.

Kia Nurse is a Canadian basketball icon. She is a member of the national team that recently qualified for the 2024 Olympics and a star on the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA. For her to drop the puck for Sarah Nurse, one of the most beloved women’s hockey players on the planet, and Poulin, who may be the best ever, added something extra special to the night. 

Poulin said lining up on the blue line and taking the ceremonial faceoff with the Nurses was a special moment.

“Those are the moments that you look at each other and I thought ‘We did it,’” she said. “Everybody on the ice and around the league, we did it.”

“Just looking across, there are teammates in front of you from Team Canada. And look around, it's more than ourselves,” she added, acknowledging the importance of everyone who has built women’s hockey over time. “That crowd was unbelievable for both teams.” 

Toronto extends win streak to four games, climbs table

While making history was the story of the night, there was an underlying message from Toronto to the league: no matter how their season started, they are no pushovers. Their fourth-straight win, and fifth win in six games, proved that. 

Toronto started the season 1-4 but with the ongoing streak, they have moved up to third in the standings, tied with Montreal. Compher said no one on the team was happy with their start, but they’ve rebounded.

“We had to look within our team and make some adjustments. And I think that we've done,” she said.

Ryan said he believed the turning point in the season was a 3-2 loss to Boston on Jan. 17. 

“That's the first time we really thought that players were sliding into the type of identity we want to have as a team,” he said.

Ambrose said players around the league knew Toronto was not going to continue on the path they looked to be on out of the gate.

“They've got too many good players on that team to stay the course that they were on,” she said.

“Toronto's a team that will come at you in waves. They've got a lot of speed and they're physical and they're hard to play against,” she added. “You can't do anything but tip your cap to your opponents sometimes.”

A big factor in Toronto’s winning ways has been Kristen Campbell, who has won her last five starts and given up just four goals in her last four games, which include two shutouts. Ryan said Campbell is “a wall” when she is confident, which she has been lately. 

Campbell said she feels confident lately as she builds her way up with every game. She knows what she is capable of deep down, so it comes down to keeping it simple and making adjustments as needed each game.

“I've gone through a lot in my career. I've had a lot of lows and a lot of highs. And I always find a way to come out on top through the adversity,” she said.

Campbell said though the team did not start the season as they wanted, the slow start has helped them get to where they are now and want to go.

“We kind of needed, I think, to go through that and to come out on top as a group,” she added.

Jesse Compher breaks the ice on the biggest stage 

Jesse Compher scored the game’s first goal in the third period, breaking the ice for herself, her team and a record-breaking game.

Compher’s first goal of the season came on perhaps the first open chance in the slot of the game. After a quick-paced start to the game, the two teams committed to a lock-down style as Montreal especially showcased their meticulous style. However, when Compher scored, everything fell into place for Toronto. They won the race to the first goal. 

Very shortly after Compher’s goal, the record-breaking attendance of 19,285 was announced over the PA system and on the jumbotron. To say the moment earned applause would be an understatement. Scotiabank Arena rumbled as a fire was lit under Toronto.

Compher said she tried to enjoy that moment for a quick second before getting back to the game mindset with the next drop of the puck.

“When you see the number up there, obviously it's in the middle of the game, but for a quick second, I know personally, I looked at it and I was like, ‘Wow, that's really special,’” she said. “It really will be a part of history.”

Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie said the nature of the season and the Rivalry Series having just finished is all of the players are tired, which showed in the game. The biggest factor in the low-event play, however, is probably reflected in Cheverie’s commitment to defensive details. To her, every moment in the game matters. 

“Getting a puck two inches over the blue line is just as important to us as coaches as putting the puck in the back of the net, at times,” she said. “I think over the past two games, you've seen a much tighter defensive game from us, which is great for a coach."

Ryan said the feeling of needing to get the first goal occupied a lot of conversations on the bench as the game went on at 0-0. He said the building “erupted” when it came.

“I honestly believe that goal and the crowd's response is what kind of carried us through the rest of the game,” he said.

Hannah Miller continues Toronto’s strong birthday performances

It was a night full of special goals for Toronto. Along with Compher’s first, Hannah Miller scored a goal on her birthday and Victoria Bach scored her first goal, also her first point, in her third game for PWHL Toronto.

Miller said she certainly did not expect to celebrate her birthday with a goal and an assist in front of 19,285 people. 

“Looking back, this is definitely the coolest birthday that I’ve had,” she said.

Ryan said Miller has primarily been an offensive player in her career up to this season, but this year she has taken on more defensive responsibilities, especially forcing turnovers and making small plays to move the puck in the neutral zone. 

“[I am] always happy when people buy into a little bit different style and get rewarded for it,” he said.

Bach, the Canadian national team veteran, was playing in just her third game for Toronto after completing her teacher’s college certification at Brock University. Though it was into an empty net, the Milton, Ont., product’s first point marked another special occasion for Toronto.

Ryan, who has coached for Team Canada for several years, said even he was emotional seeing such a large and loud crowd. He acknowledged the occasion might have helped push players like Compher and Bach to their milestone goals.

“I think they're excited just to play in front of this crowd in order to get their first goal under their belt,” Ryan said.

On Jan. 26, Toronto recorded their first-ever win on home ice with a 2-0 victory over New York. That game came on Ryan’s birthday, and the crowd even sang Happy Birthday for him in the third period. It may be a stretch, but perhaps after the season-opening loss, Toronto has gained a special affinity for making the most out of birthdays and special occasions. 

PWHL Toronto next takes the ice on Friday, Feb. 23 against PWHL New York at Mattamy Athletic Centre. Stay tuned for more from Intermission Sports.


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