By Mark Staffieri
Prior to the great coaching run by Patrick Rankine, the Montreal Stars were led by another remarkable coach, Isabelle Leclaire. Her mark on hockey history was assured as she would lead the Stars to their first ever Clarkson Cup victory in 2009, a visceral triumph over the Minnesota Whitecaps.
While Leclaire would leave the Stars organization following the historic Clarkson Cup victory, it would not take long for Leclaire to resurface. Two other Quebec women?۪s hockey legends with unique connections to the Stars would recruit Leclaire.
France St. Louis (who played with current Stars alternate captain Caroline Ouellette at the 1999 IIHF Women?۪s World Championships), and Danielle Sauvageau (who coached
Ouellette and Kim St. Pierre to the gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games) were looking for a head coach to help lead a renewed Montreal Carabins hockey program.
The result has been nothing short of flawless. Leclaire has led the Carabins to three appearances in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship tournament since she has served as the bench boss.
Her tireless work culminated in a CIS National Championship for the Carabins on March 10. In a 3-2 defeat of the Calgary Dinos (coached by Danielle Goyette, a former competitor in the preceding NWHL); Leclaire became the first head coach to have captured a Clarkson Cup and a CIS National Title.
The 3-2 victory may have also been a glimpse of the future for the Montreal Stars. The game?۪s Most Valuable Player was Kim Deschenes, who scored two goals, including the game winning tally. Deschenes shall be eligible for the 2014 CWHL Draft and will likely emerge as one of the top prospects.
Ironically, another opponent at the CIS National Tournament had a unique connection to the CWHL. Toronto Varsity Blues head coach Vicky Sunohara was a long time member of the Brampton hockey franchise. Sunohara would help Brampton claim the first ever CWHL league title in 2008.
During her first season as Toronto head coach, Sunohara was assisted by current Brampton players Lori Dupuis and Jayna Hefford. This year, she would lead the Varsity Blues to an appearance in the CIS Nationals. Although Leclaire?۪s Montreal squad bested Toronto in a 1-0 overtime win, a great sense of pride was felt throughout the CWHL as two alumni were making their mark at the CIS level.