Elaine Chuli never saw Ken Dryden play.
The 29-year-old can still appreciate the Hall of Fame goalie’s exploits in front of the Montreal Canadiens net.
This is despite growing up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
Backup goaltender for the Montreal Professional Women’s Hockey League team, Chuli pays tribute to Dryden – and his compatriot Carey Price – with her new mask which arrived this week.
Chuli, who grew up idolizing Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph, had to get creative on the design with little to draw from in the early stages of the PWHL.
“I went for a sort of Ken Dryden theme,” the Waterford, Ont., native said Friday at Verdun Auditorium in Montreal. “We didn’t have a logo and we didn’t have a team name, usually it was kind of what your mask would be based on.
“I thought, ‘Perfect.’ (Dryden) played in Montreal, so I thought it would be a good idea.”
The mask, designed by Mask Wraps, a company based in Mississauga, Ontario, is surrounded by blue and red circles, much like the cage Dryden wore during the Canadiens’ dynasty in the 1970s.
It also features photos of Dryden and Price on each side, the PWHL logos, his name and old Montreal buildings printed on the back as well as his favorite Bible verse.
The matte finish helps accentuate the retro look.
Chuli has worn Dryden’s No. 29 throughout his career, which includes stops with the University of Connecticut of the NCAA and the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation.
Poulin may owe Chuli a meal or two, and not just because of the numbers.
Chuli made 45 saves to lead Montreal to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday and earn his second regulation victory in two starts this season.
“Amazing,” Poulin said of Chuli. “The way she plays, she put herself out there for us. It’s amazing to see.”
WATCH l Montreal beats Minnesota for first place in the PWHL standings:
Montreal (3-1-2-1) enters Saturday’s game against Ottawa (2-0-2-1) at Place Bell with a league-leading 13 points after Wednesday’s victory.
Chuli has a PWHL-best .962 save percentage, starter Ann-Renée Desbiens – Canada’s number one goalie – has a .915 in five starts and third goalie Marlene Boissonnault has not played. Head coach Kori Cheverie did not say who would get the nod Saturday.
The full schedule of PWHL games broadcast on CBC Sports this season is available here.
No matter who is in net, Poulin believes Montreal’s goaltenders are the main reason the team is at the top.
“I’m not going to lie, I think it’s our goaltending (that separates us from the rest of the league),” Poulin said. “They kept us in games where we didn’t necessarily play well in front of them, so that’s a big part of it for us.”
PWHL Montreal said it sold more than 7,000 tickets for Saturday’s game in Laval, Quebec, as of Friday morning.
Chuli, who has only played on the road so far, is looking forward to experiencing a match in front of the Montreal crowd.
“I would love to play house,” she said. “We hit the road and you walk into these arenas, and yeah, it’s not the same vibe as here, that’s for sure.”
Power play issues
Montreal spent much of Friday’s practice working on the league’s worst power play, 1 for 20 this season.
Poulin says that needs to change, because they can’t continue to depend on goalies to bail them out.
“We have to score,” Poulin said. “That’s a lot of shots for our goalies, and we have a sense of responsibility as forwards to create more offense, take advantage of power plays and be better at helping our goalies.”
Chasing the record
Minnesota set the record for the most people attending a women’s professional hockey game when 13,316 people showed up Jan. 6 at the Xcel Energy Center.
The PWHL announced Thursday that its Feb. 16 game between Toronto and Montreal will take place at the 19,000-seat Scotiabank Arena.
Poulin says it’s “amazing” to have the opportunity to play in an arena of this size and hopes Montreal can one day host a game at the 21,000-seat Bell Centre, home of the Canadiens.
Montreal will play a home game at a location to be announced on March 16 against Toronto.
Poulin, while being one of the best active hockey players in the world, also works as a player development coach for the NHL Canadiens.
It’s a role she says she will continue to play, when she can, while focusing on the new women’s professional league.
“(Canadians) understand where I am, they know where we are,” Poulin, 32, said. “I still have a few years left in me so they understand that.”
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