CALGARY — The 2016 Clarkson Cup is more Super Bowl than Frozen Four.
The Montreal Canadiennes and Calgary Inferno square off Sunday afternoon at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa in a one-game, winner-hoists-the-Cup championship.
The Clarkson Cup was a four-team tournament since its inception in 2009 and resembled the NCAA's Frozen Four.
There are several reasons for changing the format of the Canadian Women's Hockey League's showcase event, according to commissioner Brenda Andress. Maximizing available time slots both on television and in an NHL arena are two of them.
"The timing of it on a Sunday, it's good for TV viewership for sure," Inferno captain Brianne Jenner said. "To see the Ottawa Senators offer up their rink for the Clarkson Cup is another step in the right direction."
The semifinal games once part of the Clarkson Cup tournament were turned into separate best-of-three playoff series Feb. 26-27.
The Canadiennes (21-3) and Inferno (16-8) finished first and second respectively in the regular season. They had home-ice advantage in sweeping the Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder in two straight.
"We wanted to provide the opportunity for those fans who supported them all year long to see the first round," Andress explained.
"It's also a good thing for competitiveness. Why should I finish first or second? You get the home-town series."
The CWHL will hold an awards ceremony Friday and host community events Saturday in Ottawa before Sunday's championship game.
The Inferno lineup includes nine players named to the Canadian roster for the upcoming women's world hockey championship in Kamloops, B.C., with Jenner, Hayley Wickenheiser, Rebecca Johnston and Meaghan Mikkelson among them.
The Canadiennes will ice three, including Canadian team captain Marie-Philip Poulin and goaltender Charline Labonte. Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, veterans of the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams respectively, also play for Montreal.
The Canadiennes were 4-2 versus the Inferno during the regular season.
"Both teams play with a lot of speed and a lot of offence," Chu said. "I think we're going to see a lot of that, especially the transition game is going to be huge.
"We know it's a one-shot deal and we've got to be prepared. Everyone should be really well rested."
The trophy was created and donated by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
Montreal has appeared in five of seven Clarkson Cup finals as the Stars and won three. A marketing and promotions relationship struck last year with the NHL's Canadiens prompted a name change.
The Inferno, who have a similar arrangement with the Calgary Flames, will play in their first Clarkson Cup championship game.
"A lot of the lines on Montreal, they've played together for a long time," Jenner said. "That definitely helps them.
"A lot of the Inferno are returning from last year, but it's a different group this year. We've kind of had to take that time to get to know each other on the ice and develop that chemistry. Honestly, right now, we're playing our best hockey we've played all year."
The five-team CWHL needs people identifying the Clarkson Cup as a premier women's hockey brand, which means getting as many as possible into the building and tuning into Sportsnet on Sunday.
The U.S.-based NWHL that began play in 2015-16 pays its players. After winning the 2015 Clarkson Cup, the Boston Blades suffered a mass exodus of top American players to the NWHL's Boston Pride. The Blades went 1-23 in the CWHL this season.
The CWHL isn't paying players. The league needs to demonstrate it can in the future in order to avoid more defections. The Clarkson Cup is a means to expanding the CWHL's fan base and attracting more corporate sponsorship.
"What's riding on it is the ability next year to get more Sportsnet games, to get our fan base, once it grows, it provides opportunities for our players to be paid," Andress said.