Ann-Sophie Bettez doesn’t have many regrets. None that really stand out. But if there’s anything that sticks in her craw about the way her career has gone, one thing she wishes was different, it’s her trophy case.
No, this isn’t about individual accolades. A hockey player through and through, Bettez cares not about those. Sure, she has some. She was named the CWHL rookie of the year back in 2012-13, when she burst onto the scene with 17 goals and 33 points in her first season spent outside of McGill University. She followed that up, of course, by winning the Angela James Bowl, the CWHL scoring crown, in 2013-14, bettering her rookie output with a 16-goal, 40-point campaign. For her effort, she was also named CWHL MVP. Quite the feather in the cap for a then-sophomore skater.
What her trophy case is missing, however, is a second Clarkson Cup. Helping guide Les Canadiennes de Montreal to the CWHL’s winner’s circle during the 2016-17 season, Bettez desperately wants to do it again. In fact, she laments that she has one been able to do so once, saying that she’s been with Les Canadiennes for “seven years and I only have one.” However, when asked about how it feels to have the chance – Montreal squares off against the Calgary Inferno in the Clarkson Cup final Sunday in Toronto – Bettez can’t help but flash back. “It means a lot considering last year we got kicked out of the playoffs pretty early,” Bettez said. “It wasn’t our goal, obviously.”
Yeah. About last season. Les Canadiennes were what you would call prohibitive favorites to stand atop the CWHL mountain last season. They had the best record in the league, had dropped just six games all season, boasted the league’s best goal differential at plus-58 and possessed what was far and away the most effective offense, for which Bettez was the leader. And with a favorable draw in the opening round against the fourth-place Markham Thunder, it was predicted that Montreal would be moving on.
But there’s a reason they play the games. In the best-of-three set, Les Canadiennes watched their chance at consecutive Clarkson Cups slip through their fingers in back-to-back games. The first was a heartbreaker, a 2-1 overtime loss. The second was simply frustrating, as Thunder goaltender Erica Howe slammed the door shut and stifled Montreal’s attack. In two games, Les Canadiennes had scored a mere two goals, and they were heading home far sooner than anyone, Bettez included, expected.
This season, though, Les Canadiennes have played with a purpose, with something to prove. In the regular season, a star-studded Montreal group that includes Bettez, as well as bonafide superstars Marie-Philip Poulin and Hilary Knight, again had the league’s best attack, but also owned the CWHL’s stingiest defense. Les Canadiennes surrendered only 45 goals all season, and, combined with their 118-goal offense, Montreal blew away the competition with a stunning plus-73 goal differential. Now, after exacting some measure of revenge on the Thunder in the opening round, Les Canadiennes are back in the final. But prohibitive favorites again? Not so fast.
In the final, Les Canadiennes will square off against an Inferno team that did Montreal one better. Sure, Calgary didn’t have the top offense or the best defense, but what they lacked in winning statistical categories they made up for in finishing atop the league where it counts: the standings. The Inferno were defeated only five times this season, four in regulation, and entered the post-season with five consecutive victories. And what will make downing Calgary all the more difficult for Bettez and Co. is that there’s no margin for error.
“The tough thing is that it’s one game,” she said. “You have to be sharp that day. It happened to us (in 2016) against Calgary where they beat us, they were better than us, and the year after we beat them. So it’s really that day, you have to be sharp, you have to be on task.”
In saying that, Bettez brings up the history between these two teams, and there’s a bit of it. As she noted, the 2016 final saw the Inferno blow out Les Canadiennes, the 8-3 score making a tete-a-tete between two top teams seem like less of a grind for Calgary and more like a cakewalk. Montreal fired back the next season, however, with a 3-1 victory. The history doesn’t carry any weight to Bettez, though. “Every year teams change and everything changes,” Bettez said. “Whatever happened in the past is in the past there and (I’m) just kind of looking forward to what’s to come.”
And what could be to come Sunday is a second Clarkson Cup on her resume, another notch in the belt of one of the most impeccable CWHL careers in league history. She knows it won’t come easy, but Bettez wouldn’t have it any other way. “It means something that the best two teams that finished the regular season are now facing each other for the final,” Bettez said. “That’s what it means and we want to be the best team this year obviously by winning that game. There’s no tomorrow. There’s just that one game.”