The Brampton Thunder looked to build on their third place finish at Sunday’s CWHL draft. General manager Lori Dupuis entered with a clear vision of how she wanted to bolster her roster.
“When you look from our backend up, we're pretty solid on our D core, very solid in our goaltending, so we were looking to fill a few holes up front,” Dupuis said after walking up to the podium 15 times. “It's gonna be tough, I think that we picked up two or three that we definitely will fit in the roster and take spots from some of the forwards last year and then the others, some might be fighting for spots.”
With that plan in mind, Brampton selected Dartmouth forward Laura Stacey in the first round. Stacey, who captained the Big Green last season, is happy to be headed to the Thunder.
“I'm really excited. Brampton is definitely an up-and-coming team and they kind of showed a lot of their stuff last year and I just hope I can add as much as I can to that...To have the opportunity to play against the best Canadian hockey players and doing so in a league where I can play in Canada—I think it's a privilege but I'm also really excited about it.”
“I think I'm a pretty big power forward,” said Stacey when asked to describe herself. “Hopefully I can help them in the offensive zone but also make sure that I'm following my defensive responsibilities and hopefully bring an overall package to the team that they were in need of. I'm hoping that I can make a difference out there.”
Stacey hopes that playing in the league will help her reach achieve a life-long aspiration.
“Even while I was in college, I kind of had my eye on the CWHL just because I knew that hockey after college, the CWHL, was the route I wanted to take. I want to pursue Olympic aspirations and I think that this is the best possible route for me to do that.”
She says that her greatest moment of her hockey career was when she put on the Team Canada jersey for the first time.
“It was just a feeling that I've never had before and I think every time I put that on I get the same feeling but that very first time was just kind of an accumulation of everything I ever worked for. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to play in the Olympics and it still is a dream of mine and I've been chasing that ever since I had that first opportunity to put [the jersey] on and I'm going to keep going after it as long as I can.”
With their second round pick, the Thunder selected Clarkson forward Shannon MacAulay. MacAulay captained her team to a Frozen Four berth last season and won the NCAA championship in 2014.
MacAulay also describes herself as a power forward. “I bring some size to the team. I know myself and Stacey, both of us have the size so that'll be huge for the team. Looking at the roster it looks like a great group of girls, so I'm excited about it.”
How does she anticipate the jump from college to pro hockey?
“It's definitely an adjustment, I think. Finding your way, it's different but I'm excited for it. It'll be a good change, to turn into an adult, I guess.”
Brampton selected Quinnipiac forward Nicole Brown in the third round. She scored 64 points in 149 games in the NCAA.
“It's an amazing feeling right now,” Brown said after getting selected. “Just seeing all the people that are here and [these] guys are the cream of the crop. Now being able to say that I'm playing alongside Olympians and against Olympians is something I think my family would be really proud of and I'm super proud to say as well.”
Brown sees herself as more of a playmaker than a scorer.
“I think that I can bring some playmaking ability and just hard work and effort. They bring all the skill so I think that if I can just get them the puck they can put it in the net.”
Last season, Brampton relied on contributions from key players selected later in the draft like Rebecca Vint and Erica Howe. Because of the nature of the draft (players declare which teams they’re willing to go to, with the two GTA teams lumped together as one unit), savvy drafting is one reason why Brampton currently have a leg-up on their cross-town rivals.
“I think you do as much research as you can, then you try and do your best as far as how they played, where they played, who they played against,” said Dupuis about her drafting strategy. “Vint was a prime example, she probably should be in the national program and in that pool of players that are vying for a spot on the Olympic team. I don't know how she fell through the cracks but she's just one of those players that's very dynamic, very big, very strong, and sometimes there's a diamond in the rough. You just don't know.”
Is there one of those—a diamond in the rough—in this year’s draft class? Only time will tell. As is, though, there is a lot to be excited about.
“Stacey and MacAulay are probably two of the biggest players here. We play on a very small ice surface, I think when you have big bodies they take up lots of room, it really eliminates a lot of room for the other team to get around and make nice plays, so looking forward to that and seeing how they perform. You know, they say that there's no hitting but we're getting to the point where there's quite a bit of contact so you're going to need some big bodies.”
Dupuis also alluded to the reality of ushering in a new draft class—with limited roster spots, some of the veterans who have brought the league and the team to where they are now will lose their spots.
“More people from our last year's team may lose spots so it's going to be a tough season, tough training camp—but that's what the CWHL is all about: competition and having the best in the right spot so that you can win games.
“It looks like all of last year’s team wants to return, which will make the cuts even harder. “We had a really successful season last year, everyone was very happy with the way we started and the way we ended. I think that because of that happiness, everyone's coming back. Like I said, there might be a few people that lose their spots but that's the joy of playing competitively.”
So, what’s the goal for Brampton this season?
“I don't want to sound over confident but the goal this season is to definitely get to the Cup. What we do once we get there will be another tale but definitely the goal is to get there, for sure.”
You can see the entire draft class here. We’ll have more content about the rest of the picks and the team in the lead-up to the season.