Toronto looks to keep rolling against Montreal in PWHL’s ‘Battle on Bay Street’

Toronto star forward Sarah Nurse is excited for what’s been dubbed the “Battle on Bay Street.”

Toronto hosts Montreal on Friday in the first Professional Women’s Hockey League game at Scotiabank Arena. Tickets for the game were sold out two weeks ago, with only some resale tickets available online now.

Toronto Metropolitan University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre has been Toronto’s home arena before this game and will be for the rest of the season. Tickets for those home games sold out before the season started.

“I think it’s pretty awesome that we were able to sell out the arena,” Nurse said. “Obviously there’s been a ton of demand for tickets to our game, people want to watch us.

“And so the fact that we’re able to be at Scotiabank, it’s huge. We’ve never done this professionally before and to be able to play there at a pretty awesome venue is very exciting.”

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However, Nurse was quick to point out the goal remaining the same — another three points and going up 2-0-0 in the five-game regular-season series against Montreal.

“I think at the end of the day, we’re all professionals. And just because we’re playing at a different venue, that’s not going to change the way that we play,” she said. “I mean, people love to obviously make things pretty big and hype things up.

“But I think as a group, being able to just focus on us and what we contribute (and) what’s in our control and be able to take the opportunity to be able to play at Scotiabank and have a lot of people in the building and a lot of eyes on us, they think it’s a privilege that we’ve definitely earned.”

Toronto enters the contest having won three in a row — and four of its last five — and is coming off its highest-scoring game of the season, a 5-3 win at Boston on Wednesday.

The team had struggled out of the gate, going 1-4-0 and sitting in last place. But things have changed, with Toronto now sitting in third place behind Montreal and league-leading Minnesota.

“I think Toronto’s starting to put some games together,” Montreal defender Erin Ambrose said. “They (have) a game under their belts since coming back from international break (Feb. 5-13) and we got to get our legs going quickly, especially being on the road.”

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Keeping perspective regarding the length of the season — something the team had preached — has helped Toronto.

“I think over the past few weeks, just being able to be connected and focusing on things within our control, being able to execute a game plan has been huge,” Nurse said. “I don’t think things were really going our way, but to be able to turn it around and come together with the group has been really important.”

The turnaround started with the league’s first-ever shootout game that saw Toronto take down Montreal 4-3 on the road on Jan. 20.

“I don’t think we were very happy with the way that we (last) played against Toronto,” Ambrose said. “It probably was our most incomplete game that we have played this year.

“So in saying that, got to know that we have more to give but at the same time, if we were able to force them to a shootout in a game that we probably shouldn’t have been in, if it wasn’t for (goaltender) Ann-Renee Desbiens, then I think that could lead to some success as well.”

The PWHL showcase game, which Nurse and Ambrose were both in, was held at Scotiabank Arena on the opening night of NHL all-star weekend with 16,392 in attendance. According to Ambrose, playing free will be important in what she described as an “exciting” opportunity.

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“I think I’m fortunate enough to have been able to play in some games with a lot of big audiences,” she said. “And I think for me, that’s something that I’m going to lean on and know that it’s no different.

“And then trying to help everybody else out and (share) that same mindset of it’s just another hockey game. … At the same time, accepting that there is a little bit more pressure and it is a little bit bigger of a stage and understanding that that’s not a bad thing.”

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