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PWHL Montreal wants some home ice revenge against Toronto at Bell Centre

Toronto's Blayre Turnbull, top center, is upended by Montreal's Tereza Vanisova (21) during the second period of an PWHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 17, 2024. (Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press) Toronto's Blayre Turnbull, top center, is upended by Montreal's Tereza Vanisova (21) during the second period of an PWHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 17, 2024. (Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press)
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There is sure to be some excitement in the air when Montreal welcomes Toronto to the Bell Centre on Saturday in PWHL action.

The attendance record has been mentioned multiple times, but the most important thing for Kori Cheverie's team is to beat Toronto and send out a message on the eve of the playoffs.

"There have been a few games against Toronto this year that we haven't been able to win, and we're all aware of that," said captain Marie-Philip Poulin at a news conference held at the Habs' home on Friday. "I think we need to bring our energy from [Thursday's 4-3 win over Minnesota] on Saturday.

"Yes, I know we're talking about playing in front of more than 21,000 people, but the most important thing for us is to win. We know there are four games left in the season and that the playoffs are coming up, but we're taking it one game at a time. The important thing for us will be to give a good effort for 60 minutes. That's what's at stake for us. We have good first periods, but things always go a little less well in the second.

"[Saturday], when we see all that, we'll be living the moment inside, but when the puck hits the ice, we'll stop thinking about it."

Head coach Cheverie said she hoped her players would enjoy the moment, but that obviously victory over Toronto was more important than anything else surrounding the game.

"It'll be great to play at the Bell Centre and experience the atmosphere," she said. "It's been great to play in front of all these big crowds this season, and this time, our fans have a chance to show that they're the loudest.

"Playing Toronto makes this a very important duel with a lot at stake. It could mean one team finishing ahead of the other. Our squad is ready. We're happy to be able to count on a seventh player like the one we'll have [on Saturday]. The fact that it's such an important game makes it so special."

Poulin, Laura Stacey and Ann-Renée Desbiens - who also attended the news briefing along with general manager Danielle Sauvageau - have experienced some great hockey moments in their careers, whether at the Olympics or at the Women's World Hockey Championships last weekend.

However, the team captain feels no need to placate her teammates who are less accustomed to the big stage.

"We have players who come from all walks of life, who have played in Europe, but for games like the one [on Saturday], what you have to do is during the warm-up, take the time to look around, take a deep breath, take the time to realize where we're going to be," said Poulin. "I'm not the girl who talks the most, I set the example more by my actions. The leaders here, we're going to tell the players to make the most of it. But in the end, it's a match like any other. It's the same preparation as in Verdun, but it'll be at the Bell Centre."

Impact

It's impossible not to mention for the umpteenth time the gigantic aspect of this game, with the record attendance and all the atmosphere there will be in the arena.

The players wanted to emphasize the importance of the league as a whole rather than just this one game.

"It's like all the feelings we've had since the start of the season, we keep reliving them," said Sauvageau. "It's never-ending. The fans were clamouring for this game at the Bell Centre. We've heard them. [Saturday] will be mission accomplished.

"It's hard to put into words the emotions I'm going to experience [on Saturday]," said Poulin. "You dream of times like that. Tomorrow can't come quickly enough. I've had a busy career, but to be able to play in a magical arena like this is incredible. I played a game with the Canadians here in 2017, but there was only the lower section and it wasn't full. To think that it will be full is incredible."

"To fill the Bell Centre, I think I was looking at that later," added goalie Desbiens, who joked that she didn't yet know if she'd get the start against Toronto. "To do it in the first year and to see that 21,000 tickets is still not enough shows the support women's hockey has. It says a lot about the level of play.

"It also shows that women's sport, as we've just seen with the World Championship or March Madness, when it's shown on television, when people come to see it, they enjoy watching it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 19, 2024. 

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