Renards’ stars steal the show
Jones, Nicolas combine for five goals in win over Bulldogs
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It was a game in which the Centre scolaire Leo-Remillard (CSLR) Renards needed their stars to shine the brightest. And their players never reached for the dimmer switch.
The Renards opened up the biggest series in its women’s hockey program’s history with a decisive 5-2 victory over the Churchill Bulldogs in Game 1 of the Manitoba Women’s High School Hockey League Division 1 championship Friday afternoon.
CSLR’s top forwards Chloé Nicolas and Talia Jones led the way by accounting for all of the Renards’ goals while goaltender Emma Khan earned the win with 17 saves. CSLR commanded the shot advantage for much of the game, finishing 31-19.
While Nicolas was credited with the game-winning goal, it was Jones who buried two insurance markers to record the hat trick.
“It’s awesome to see,” said head coach Mariella Daigneault, who’s led the program for two years. “They are two very hard-working girls in practice and in games, just a consistent effort. And they lead the way with their attitude and their work ethic throughout the whole season.
“Just incredibly proud of the two of them. They work hard and they get the job done.”
The championship series features the second (CSLR) and fourth-place (Churchill) teams from the regular season. Both programs are seeking their first Division 1 titles. CSLR is the hotter of the two teams, however, having yet to drop a game in the playoffs.
A back-and-forth first frame ended up lopsided in the shots department with CSLR having a 12-5 advantage, but even in goals, as both sides bulged the twine once.
CSLR struck first off the stick of Nicolas after Mackaila Bruce-Tapley sent what appeared to be a harmless wrister toward the net. In a blink, Nicolas stuck out her blade to deflect a shot past Churchill net minder Ryhan Beardy.
Nicolas, who led the league in goals (34) and points (48) this season, was recently named the top player in the MWHSHL according to the Free Press coaches poll.
Moments later, the Bulldogs’ brightest star in the game, forward Sydney Stibbard, stripped a Renards’ defender of the puck before putting another in a spin cycle with a nifty toe-drag to spring herself on a short break away. Stibbard capped the highlight-reel play by roofing a puck over Khan’s right shoulder to mark her first of two equalizing goals on the day.
Jones’ best goal may have been her first. Halfway through the second stanza, the 14-year-old showcased her strength and slick hands by shielding a Bulldogs defender while driving the net before stickhandling in tight to shake Beardy and bury the tie-breaker to make it 2-1.
“Scoring is really good but (so is) getting assists. But it’s a good feeling when everyone’s cheering you on in the stands,” said Jones. “I liked that we never gave up, because we were tied at one point but we always kept fighting and got the lead and finally won.”
Indeed, the score was knotted at 2-2 entering the second intermission, but it was in the final act when Nicolas and Jones shined the brightest, leading to a three-goal period.
“Me and (Chloé) help each other out a lot and having her help on the ice — and everyone else’s help — it does a lot for the team,” Jones said.
To the Bulldogs credit, the team faced a sizeable disadvantage in the series opener, yet managed to give the Renards all they could handle for the first two and a half periods. Not only did Churchill ice a smaller team this season, but they were missing three players from their lineup Friday, leaving an eight-skater rotation to take the ice.
CSLR’s availability loomed large as the game wore on, with Churchill players visibly exhausted in the final period. The Renards aren’t about to apologize for a 1-0 series lead.
“I liked that we never gave up,” Daigneault said. “I liked that we fought to the finish and I think that they relied on each other, and the teamwork that they displayed in that third period. All three lines were going at all effort and that’s what you love to see.
“I feel like the second game, when you’re up one in a three-game series, is always going to be the hardest to win. It’s hard to match that feeling of having your back against the wall like the other team. It’s hard to match the motivation behind it, but our girls have been preparing all season for this.
Both sides have a few days off to rest before lacing up the skates Tuesday, March 14 for Game 2 at Dakota Community Centre. Game time is at 4:20 p.m.
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.
Updated on Friday, March 10, 2023 9:44 PM CST: fixes typo
Updated on Saturday, March 11, 2023 8:13 PM CST: Corrects Renards goalie's name to Emma Khan, not Andree Lafond as previously reported
Updated on Sunday, March 12, 2023 11:55 AM CDT: Updates details of game on Tuesday