Whirlwind time culminates with heroic accolades for Charline Labonte

Despite the heartbreak of an overtime loss in the Clarkson Cup championship game against archrival Boston, All-World goaltender Charline Labonte earned the admiration of teammates and opponents alike. In the opening round of the Clarkson Cup playoffs, Labonte recorded back-to-back shutouts against a highly potent Calgary Inferno offensive unit.

Facing 27 shots from the Boston Blades in the Clarkson Cup championship game, her efforts were essential in providing the Stars with an opportunity to force overtime. With seven shutouts of postseason play, the Blades would eventually figure out Labonte.

Despite the overtime loss, Labonte allowed one of the most historic goals in CWHL history, as Janine Weber became the first European to score a Clarkson Cup winning goal. For her heroic efforts in a very strong postseason, Labonte was recognized as the Clarkson Cup’s MVP. Statistically, her postseason was the finest, having made a tournament best 87 saves and .967 save percentage, while also registering a Goals Against Average of just 0.99.

Momentum was certainly high for Labonte heading into the postseason. Of note, she was recognized as the recipient of the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award. Her 1.89 GAA, 380 saves and .927 save percentage reprsented a great season that was outdone only by Boston’s Genevieve Lacasse, who clinched the regular season goaltending title with a 1.68 GAA.

All smiles at the Press Conference where the Montreal Canadiens announce their support of the CWHL's Montreal Stars (Photo credit: Jess Desjardins)

All smiles at the Press Conference where the Montreal Canadiens announce their support of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars (Photo credit: Jess Desjardins)

Emotions were definitely high for Labonte heading into the Clarkson Cup title game. Not only was it the final game of CWHL co-founder Lisa Marie Breton-Lebreux’s career, but Labonte had a chance at history. A Clarkson Cup win would have made her the 14th woman to earn Triple Gold Club for Women status (a prestige that includes IIHF World Gold and a Winter Games Gold Medal).

Although such an outcome eluded Labonte, the last 13 months has represented a series of many smaller victories that culminate in an impressive body of work, making her a role model in ways that extend beyond the game. In the aftermath of an emotional gold medal win at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Labonte went public, declaring a same-sex preference. It would prove to be a very proud moment, as her courage was met with praise.

Having engaged in a relationship with Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, it was an ideal rebuttal to the anti-gay legislation that caused controversy in Sochi. With so many other athletes upset about the legislation, it was only fitting that Labonte’s relationship strengthened in Sochi.

Since then, the two have supported each other in many ways. When Labonte made history by serving as a captain in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Bucsis was in the stands showing her support. By season’s end, the CWHL experienced another milestone as the Montreal Canadiens announced a financial commitment to the Stars. Among the members of the Stars at the press conference, Labonte was on-hand, fielding questions from the media.

In March 2015, Bucsis and Labonte would speak at Cornell University. Two months later, Cornell hockey player would be among the architects of the university’s “We Don’t Say” campaign, certainly gaining inspiration from their visit. There is no question that as the seasons progress, many more Canadian athletes, plus young women from other walks of life, shall continue to draw inspiration from Bucsis and Labonte’s remarkable year.

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