March 24, 2019 / 8:42 PM / a month ago

Ice hockey: Calgary top Montreal to capture Clarkson Cup

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Calgary Inferno won the Clarkson Cup with a 5-2 victory over the rival Les Canadiennes des Montreal in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League one-game final on Sunday.

Brianna Decker’s second-period tally held up as the game-winning goal and Calgary captain Rebecca Johnston iced the victory with an empty-netter after Montreal pulled their goalie in a last-ditch attempt to close the gap.

Calgary, who came into the game as the favorite after finishing the regular season in first place, jumped out to an early lead and withstood a spirited rally from a Montreal team whose top player, Marie-Philip Poulin, sat out injured.

“This was a goal of ours for the entire season,” said Johnston. “We had a really great game and worked really hard this year so it was really nice to see we ended up winning.”

It marked the third time in four seasons that the two teams, whose rosters feature 17 Olympians, battled each other in the final, with Calgary winning in 2016 and Montreal in 2017.

Decker, who won a gold medal with the United States at last year’s Olympics, was named the Most Valuable Player of the Clarkson Cup.

Second seed Montreal started flat and clearly missed Poulin, who on Friday was named the CWHL’s Most Valuable Player and is a clutch performer who scored the gold medal-winning goals for Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

Calgary struck twice in the opening 13 minutes, first when Zoe Hickel redirected a pass into the Montreal net and then on a Halli Krzyzaniak shot from the point.

Montreal came out firing in the second period and were rewarded four minutes into the frame when Ann-Sophie Bettez sent a spinning backhander through Alex Rigsby’s legs.

Decker restored Calgary’s two-goal cushion on the powerplay when she fired a slapshot from the slot just past the midway mark of the second.

But Montreal struck back in the closing minutes of the period when Bettez, on a two-man advantage, scored on a nifty backhand pass across the crease from Hilary Knight.

Montreal carried that momentum into the third period and looked poised to tie the game until Calgary’s Hickel converted a give-and-go with Johnston six minutes into the final frame before the latter wrapped up the win in the closing seconds.

“Montreal is such a good team. We battled back and forth with them all year,” said Zoe Hickel, who lost in last year’s final as a member of the Kunlun Red Star. “It just came down to the little battles, little races, and it was awesome.”

Editing by Ken Ferris

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