On any list of greatest teams, there will inevitably be an argument made that the teams that win titles – and only those teams – are the ones that should appear. If that's what you're expecting to see here on this list of the best women's teams of the past 10 years, you are in for a world of disappointment.
You see, the belief around these parts is that there's more to the great North American women's teams of the decade than Clarkson Cup or Isobel Cup victories. There's a matter of production, defensive ability, goaltending, star power and, in a couple of rare cases, a group that is far greater than the sum of its parts. And each of those aspects were weighed when piecing together this, ahem, definitive and not-at-all subjective list of the greatest CWHL and NWHL squads of the decade that was.
Admittedly, this list is CWHL heavy, but that’s in large part because the combined CWHL campaigns outnumber the NWHL campaigns significantly. Also, to fans of the European women's game, apologies. No teams appear on this list. It wouldn't be fair to attempt to blindly rank those squads against those we've been able to keep a much closer eye on over the past decade.
That said, here are the 10 best CWHL and NWHL teams of the past decade:
10. Boston Pride (NWHL) – 2019-20
By the time the next decade is through, there’s potential for this Pride squad’s performance in the 2020 portion of the campaign to land them atop the list just as their first-half performance has put them into 10th spot. Truly, this is one of the most dominant NWHL clubs in league history. Not once in their 13 games have the Pride suffered a defeat and they already boast a plus-47 goal differential. They are on pace to score nearly 140 goals and post a plus-90 differential. Anything less than an Isobel Cup will be stunning.
9. Calgary Inferno (CWHL) – 2018-19
Maybe putting the final Clarkson Cup champions – spoiler alert – lower on this list than the team they defeated is going to ruffle some feathers. But ruffle feathers, I shall. The Inferno were a great team, but didn’t produce offensively or stifle defensively quite like the 2018-19 Les Canadiennes. And when weighting those things in an attempt to rank single-season performances, Calgary came in a few spots behind Montreal. The Inferno were a star-studded outfit, however, and have the distinction of being the final team to hoist the Clarkson Cup.
8. Metropolitan Riveters (NWHL) – 2017-18
Frankly, every single team that appears on this list might be more star-studded than the 2017-18 Riveters. That’s the result of the quadrennial coming to a close and a number of notable players being swept up by pre-Olympic centralization. But despite the lack of star power, so to speak, this Riveters squad was absolutely lethal. Alexa Gruschow had her breakout, league mainstay and one of the highest scorers of all-time, Madison Packer, shot out the lights and goaltender Katie Fitzgerald was perfect in the post-season as the renamed New York outfit captured its first – and thus far, only – Isobel Cup.
7. Montreal Canadiennes (CWHL) – 2018-19
What puts the 2018-19 Les Canadiennes ahead of the 2018-19 Inferno, who won the Clarkson Cup? Well, Montreal was among the best defensive teams of all-time in either league, allowing just 1.61 goals against per game, had the sixth-best average goal differential per game (2.61) and finished with a plus-73 overall differential. Plus, the roster was absolutely stacked. Marie-Philip Poulin posted the fourth-highest single-season point total of the decade and Ann-Sophie Bettez finished only two points behind her linemate.
6. Montreal Canadiennes (CWHL) – 2016-17
The second of back-to-back Canadiennes teams on this list – and the second of four Montreal squads, for those wondering – wasn’t quite as high-scoring as the Calgary club it beat in the final, nor was Montreal as dominant in the regular season. But the kicker here is the Clarkson Cup final victory and the individual accomplishments. Poulin and Bettez finished second and third in league scoring, Charline Labonte was the goaltender of the year and Les Canadiennes downed the Clarkson Cup-favorite Inferno in the final.
5. Kunlun Red Star (CWHL) – 2017-18
Statistically speaking, this isn’t the best squad on this list. Not even close. And it’s not like it was a top-to-bottom all-star squad, either. But the expansion Red Star franchise knew where its bread was buttered – with its import players – and rode them to a season that rivalled that of the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion campaign. Noora Raty absolutely stole the show in the Chinese team’s crease and almost single-handedly handed the Clarkson Cup to Red Star. Unfortunately, the club fell short in the final, losing in overtime to the surprising Markham Thunder.
4. Boston Pride (NWHL) – 2016-17
The 2016-17 Pride are not all that much unlike the NFL’s 2007 New England Patriots: a dominant club who ran roughshod over all opponents in the regular season – OK, the Pride lost once, but you get the idea – only to show a crack at the worst possible moment. That the two teams share a home state only helps the metaphor track. Boston finished 16-1 in the regular season, was stacked to the gills with the likes of Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan, Kacey Bellamy and Gigi Marvin and posted a plus-44 goal differential. No other team that season posted a goal differential better than minus-three. Despite the Isobel Cup final loss, 3-2 at the hands of the Buffalo Beauts, that Pride team remains among the most exceptional in NWHL history.
3. Montreal Canadiennes (CWHL) – 2015-16
That this roster fell short of the Clarkson Cup is still one of the more mind-boggling results in CWHL history. Consider the talent on the roster. Poulin and Bettez finished one-two in scoring, Caroline Oullette was one of three 15-goal scorers, Lauriane Rougeau patrolled the blueline, all-time CWHL leading goal scorer Noemie Marin chipped in and, though she missed some time, Team USA icon Julie Chu helped round out the attack. The cherry on top was netminder Labonte, who led the way for all goaltenders. But it was all for naught when Montreal ran into the…
2. Calgary Inferno (CWHL) – 2015-16
The regular season performance wasn’t quite as stellar as that of the team the Inferno beat in the Clarkson Cup final – Calgary finished with four fewer wins – but the two sides were nearly identical otherwise. Both had 114 goals in the regular season, both finished with plus-78 goal differentials. But what makes this roster extra special is that it gave legend and Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser the chance to have her last on-ice hurrah. She notched 16 points in the regular season and added another goal and three points in three post-season games.
1. Montreal Stars (CWHL) – 2011-12
The precursor to Les Canadiennes, the Stars were almost cartoonishly dominant for the duration of the 2011-12 campaign. Montreal suffered only four regulation losses throughout the entire regular season and a mere five total defeats and finished the campaign with a ridiculous plus-94 goal differential. To put that into context, the next-best goal differential was plus-46, which is less than half of the Stars’ total. Adding to the greatness of the 2011-12 Montreal squad is that the duo of Meghan Agosta and Caroline Ouellette finished with the two best single-season totals in CWHL history. The former’s 86 points in 31 total games is a dozen points more than any other player scoring in a single season, while the latter posted 74 points, tying her mark for second-highest overall total in league history.
Over the next two weeks, The Hockey News will be wrapping up the 2010s with a look back at the best – and worst – of the decade. Find more here.
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