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From hockey IQ to can’t-miss passing, PWHLers pick the skills they’d like to steal from their peers

Players opted to steal a skill from one player the most, and it wasn't close: Marie-Philip Poulin.

Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin's attributes the most sought-after by players

A female hockey player in a cream-coloured jersey with Montreal written across the chest skates down the ice while carrying the puck.

Hilary Knight's shot. Nicole Hensley's patience. Renata Fast's speed.

They're the best in the world at what they do, and with the inaugural Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) season underway, they're finally getting a big stage to showcase those skills regularly.

Before the season began, CBC Sports asked more than 30 PWHL players this question: if you could steal a skill from any player in the league, who would you steal from and what would you take?

One name came up more than any other, and it wasn't even close: Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin.

It took New York forward Jill Saulnier less than a second to say the name of the player she's spent the last few years training with in Montreal.

"Pou's IQ," she said. "Easy."

But it wasn't just one thing in Poulin's skillset that players wanted to steal. The list of things she does well could stretch from the Verdun Auditorium all the way to Place Bell in Laval, Que., and players had several different answers for what they said they'd like to take from Poulin.

WATCH | Players around the PWHL envious of Poulin's skills:

Players around the PWHL envious of Marie-Philip Poulin's skills

2 hours ago

Duration 1:05

PWHL players answer which player's skill they would most want to steal.

Some, like Saulnier and Boston forward Jamie Lee Rattray, wanted her unrivaled hockey IQ.

Others coveted her dangerous shot and shot deception.

"Her shot and her skills are just another level," said Montreal forward and long-time teammate Ann-Sophie Bettez.

Some picked Poulin's two-way ability and how her defensive game is as strong as what she brings offensively.

Other players wished they had Poulin's hands and the way she makes puck control look easy.

"The way that she kind of has the puck on a string a little bit when she's stick handling the puck, but also the way that she's able to pick up passes and get her shot off really fast," Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull said.

"I think there's no one else in the world that has puck control like she does. I would be really happy if I had that ability."

Clutch written in her DNA

No other person, male or female, has scored in as many Olympic gold-medal games as Poulin, to say nothing of what she's accomplished in a Montreal sweater in years past. It feels like it's built into her DNA to thrive under pressure.

It's that clutch ability that other players wanted to take from Poulin, including her Montreal teammates, Jillian Dempsey and Laura Stacey.

"When she gets a scoring opportunity, it's going in the back of the net, especially in those big moments," Stacey said.

Minnesota forward Taylor Heise, a player who has game-breaking skill herself, has been facing off against Poulin in Canada-U.S. battles for the last three years.

She's seen Poulin's ability to finish games up close, and it's that ability to lead her team to victory that Heise would like to take from her rival.

"I don't know how to describe it," Heise said.

"I've played against her so many times now and I still can't grasp. But I would just say her finishing skills. It's automatic. People are scared of her. You have to truly play her a different way."

A natural goalscorer

Poulin, for her part, said she'd like to steal Fast's speed and Knight's shot.

"Can I take everybody's skill?" said the player who everyone else wants to steal from. "It's pretty amazing."

The players CBC Sports interviewed mentioned Knight's shot often. The Boston captain, who holds the IIHF record for most points at the women's world championship, is one of the best in the world at shooting the puck.

Boston forward Gigi Marvin, who's played with Knight for years, described her as a natural goalscorer, someone who can put the puck in the net at will.

"She has such joy when she competes and is so good at what she does," Marvin said. "I think it'd be a lot of fun to be able to score so many goals like Hilary does."

Knight's 100th point came during the gold-medal game against Canada at worlds last year. On a five-on-three advantage, Knight fired a puck past Canadian goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens from the slot. Knight finished with a hat trick in that game, propelling the U.S. to a world title.

It's not just the shot itself, but her ability to place a puck that Minnesota forward Kelly Pannek, who plays with Knight on the U.S. national team, would like to have.

"She doesn't always shoot it as hard as she can but she knows exactly where she's shooting it, and she can just seem to find a way to put it anywhere she wants," Pannek said.

Other players whose shooting ability got attention included Boston's Loren Gabel, Toronto's Brittany Howard, and New York assistant captain Alex Carpenter.

Carpenter showed off that skill on the first day of the PWHL season, when she scored bar down on Toronto goalie Kristen Campbell.

Alex Carpenter gives the <a href="https://twitter.com/PWHL_NewYork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PWHL_NewYork</a> a 2-0 lead with this beauty <a href="https://twitter.com/carpy05?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@carpy05</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/thepwhlofficial?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@thepwhlofficial</a> <br><br>WATCH LIVE: <a href="https://t.co/APtYPNO1qU">https://t.co/APtYPNO1qU</a> <a href="https://t.co/1wx5tOFZpR">pic.twitter.com/1wx5tOFZpR</a>

&mdash;@cbcsports

Gabel's powerful release got some love from her former Boston Pride teammate Corinne Schroeder, who will see a lot of that shot this season as one of New York's goaltenders. After three PWHL games across the league, Gabel is tied with Stacey for the league-lead in shots (six).

"I want to score a goalie goal," said Schroeder, who actually was credited with a goal with Quinnipiac University in 2021. "I think I could use that."

Blazing speed

Speed has always been a hallmark of women's hockey, so it's no surprise that several players wanted to steal speed or skating ability.

The answers ranged from Boston defender Megan Keller's edge work, to Minnesota forward Grace Zumwinkle's ability to drive hard to the net, and Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield's blazing crossover speed.

Coyne Schofield made history when she became the first woman to compete at the NHL All-Star Game's fastest skater competition in 2019, clocking a time of 14.346 seconds.

But she was even faster than that at the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association's (PWHPA) All-Star Weekend in December 2022, completing her lap in 13.872 seconds.

Not far behind her that weekend was Toronto defender Fast, who logged a time of 13.902. Fast's skating came up often among the players CBC Sports polled.

"I would steal Renata Fast's speed," Toronto defender Allie Munroe said. "Easy answer."

Some players picked Stacey's speed and forecheck ability. That speed helps her break away from others on the ice and create opportunities, and has helped bring her game to a new level over the last couple of years. Stacey finished tied for fourth in points on the PWHPA circuit last season.

She's off to a good start this year. It was a burst of speed that put Stacey in position to score the game-tying goal for Montreal in its first game against Ottawa. Montreal won that game 3-2 in overtime.

Le but à Laura Stacey!<br><br>Stacey’s goal <a href="https://t.co/oWGGBsKzWL">pic.twitter.com/oWGGBsKzWL</a>

&mdash;@PWHL_Montreal

"It's really fun just to watch her go out there and just not stop," New York forward Jessie Eldridge said. "I'd like that."

Other choices ranged from Minnesota goalie Nicole Hensley's patience and tenacity, Boston goalie Aerin Frankel's quick movements, Montreal assistant captain Erin Ambrose's hockey brain, and Ottawa captain Brianne Jenner's passing ability.

A few weeks into training camp with Jenner, Ottawa teammate Kristin Della Rovere said she'd yet to see Jenner miss a player with a saucer pass, no matter where the other player was on the ice.

"Most times you kind of see a player get a good saucer every once in a while, but Jenner's are always tape-to-tape," she said. "I think that would be a really cool skill to have, and really important for our game."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. You can reach her at karissa.donkin@cbc.ca.

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