Sunday, April 14, 2024

PWHL: Toronto tops Montreal 3-0 in front of record crowd at Scotiabank Arena

The PWHL’s first game at Scotiabank Arena set a league and women’s hockey attendance record with a sellout crowd of 19,285.

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Toronto head coach Troy Ryan has led Canada’s national women’s team through a number of historic moments over the years, but still felt emotional taking everything in on Friday night.

Kristen Campbell earned a 30-save shutout and Toronto took the “Battle on Bay Street” over Montreal 3-0 in Professional Women’s Hockey League action. The PWHL’s first game at Scotiabank Arena set a league and women’s hockey attendance record with a sellout crowd of 19,285.

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The attendance surpassed a crowd of 18,013 at the 2013 world championships in Ottawa and the previous PWHL mark of 13,316 people at Xcel Energy Center for Minnesota’s home opener on Jan. 6.

“It was amazing,” Ryan said. “I like to think that I’ve been in some pressure situations or some exciting situations but even a middle-aged man walking along that bench, I was emotional.

“I can’t even imagine what some of the players who have fought so long to get these opportunities (felt). We just said take a moment at least to soak it up, I think they went through that (inaugural game) together as a group, so a lot of emotions that come with it.”

Rally towels awaited everyone in attendance, with some little girls holding signs that read: “The Spooner Network sign,” “Renata Fast you are my hero,” and another stating she had come from Nova Scotia to see her “heroes,” among many others.

Campbell, who had her best performance of the season, was showered in chants of her nickname “Soupy” after being named first star of the game, as the majority of the crowd stuck around after the buzzer.

“I heard those a couple times, it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s really special to have that many people here and Toronto has really got behind us, even at our other games, we’ve been sold out at Mattamy (Athletic Centre).

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“This was obviously quite a bit bigger, but it just shows that demand for women’s hockey and women’s sport. Playing in this venue was something that we’re always going to cherish for the rest of our lives.”

For Montreal star Marie-Philip Poulin, it was quite the moment.

“Pretty surreal,” she said. “I think at that moment, you want to be in the best environment and that’s where we’re at.

“Just to take (it) in, it’s not the result we wanted but it’s so special. To see the amount of signs in the stands, to see little girls, little boys, families coming up, it’s unbelievable. What’s happening in women’s hockey right now, it’s surreal and we all take it in with a big smile.”

Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie would now like to reset the attendance record at Bell Centre, the home of the NHL’s Canadiens that can seat more than 21,000 fans.

“That’s my competitive side coming out,” she said. “Just for a split second and then it’s game on, so we’ll see.”

Jesse Compher, Hannah Miller and Victoria Bach, with an empty-netter, scored for Toronto (6-5-0), which extended its winning streak to four games.

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It was Miller’s 28th birthday and the game served as quite the gift.

“Looking back, this is definitely the coolest birthday that I’ve had, ever probably,” she said. “Pretty special and glad we got the win.”

Ann-Renée Desbiens stopped 21 shots for Montreal (6-2-2), which fell to 0-1-1 against Toronto this season.

Canadian women’s national basketball team star Kia Nurse, the cousin of PWHL Toronto star Sarah Nurse, performed the ceremonial puck drop.

Toronto found itself in some trouble in the first period. After Emma Maltais was penalized for tripping at 6:30, Renata Fast joined her in the box a minute later for hooking to give Montreal a 5-on-3 advantage.

But Toronto blocked a number of shots, with Campbell also standing tall in the face of a handful of good looks.

Toronto turned it up offensively in the second period, with more quality chances and stopping Montreal from getting many clean looks at Campbell.

Maltais sent a backhand pass into the slot for Natalie Spooner, who was stopped by Desbiens just over a minute in.

Maltais sent in another pass from behind the goal to an open Nurse who hit the post at 10:55.

Compher finally broke the deadlock at 5:11 of the third period, to the delight of the deafening home crowd waving their rally towels. She roofed it from in front on a feed from Brittany Howard.

Miller doubled Toronto’s lead with 4:39 remaining in the third, firing in a wrist shot that went five-hole.

Bach scored with 4:07 left after Desbiens was pulled for an extra attacker.

Montreal returns home to host Minnesota on Sunday.

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