The Toronto Furies and Markham Thunder returned to the MasterCard Centre this afternoon. The play on the ice wasn’t significantly different from the night before, but the result was, as the Furies beat the Thunder 2-1.
Sonja van der Bliek seems to have won the starter’s role for the Furies, at least in the early going. She drew in for the second time this weekend against Markham’s Liz Knox, who made her first start of the season.
Coach Jeff Flanagan changed some things up in this second meeting with the Thunder. Rookie forward Alessandra Bianchi and defender Jessica Platt each played their first game of the season, subbing in for Cassidy Delainey and Sydney Kidd, respectively. Amanda Makela was tapped as the backup over Sami Jo Small.
The line of Jess Vella, Brittany Zuback and Carolyne Prévost started - last night’s starting line of Emily Fulton, Brooke Beazer and Julie Allen didn’t get on the ice at even strength until about seven minutes in. However, as three members of the first power play unit, they came on about three and a half minutes into the first when Kristen Richards was called for slashing.
The other two members of that unit are forward Danielle Gagné and defender Carlee Campbell. If this weekend is any example, the Furies will be relying on Campbell’s powerful shot as a main feature of that power play. She hasn’t found the net yet this season but the sound of a puck fired off the glass or against the boards from her blade drew lots of noise from the fans.
Power play notwithstanding, the Furies had some trouble keeping the puck out of their own zone, more so once the second unit arrived. The Thunder didn’t get any serious chances on van der Bliek but the puck ended up deep in the Furies zone a couple of times.
Overall this was a faster game than Saturday night. Players like Hayley Williams, who seemed to have some trouble keeping up with play on Saturday, found another step. Carolyne Prévost’s characteristic rushes up the boards featured more than once at a speed that had one spectator exclaim “Look at that kid go!”.
Still, it wasn’t a great start for the Furies, who largely let the Thunder dictate play. At 7:53 it caught up to them as Jessica Hartwick found Kristen Richards, who beat van der Bliek to put Markham on the board 1-0. This was followed by another close chance less than a minute later.
Coach Flanagan called a timeout just over halfway into the first period. No idea what he said of course, but it didn’t have any sort of immediate galvanizing effect as the Furies stayed stuck in their own zone for about another full minute.
The Thunder were called for penalties twice more in the latter half of the period, Richards for hooking and Laura McIntosh for slashing. The player advantage didn’t do Toronto any good and they gave up a few great shorthanded chances during the Richards penalty. Williams was called for hooking with just over 30 seconds left in the period, a call that was delayed for an embarrassingly long time as the Thunder played keep-away in the Furies zone with a 6 on 5.
The period ended on a high note as Vella and Prévost combined for a last second grade A shorthanded chance of their own.
Although Markham seemed to be in control for much of the period, it was a low-shooting period, 7 - 5 in favour of the Thunder.
The second period began with 1:28 remaining in the Furies PK. Beazer, Allen, Campbell and Michelle Saunders (top line and top pair) came out against McIntosh, McParland, Kosta, Woloschuk and Grigg for the Thunder. Rookies Alexis Woloschuk and Lindsay Grigg played together in the SDHL last season and the Thunder are taking full advantage of this.
I’ve commented before that one of the Thunder’s strengths lies in their systems and this was evident in their crisp passing in the Furies’ zone, keeping control of the puck for most of the power play. However, Campbell’s slapshot isn’t just a great offensive weapon, it’s pretty effective at clearing the puck out of the zone now and then.
Coming up on the halfway mark of the period Vella, the Furies well-known and well-loved (by the fans) pest landed herself in the box for hooking, the period’s only penalty.
It was a warm day in Toronto, which led to humidity fogging up the lower third of the glass, wet spots on the ice, and generally bad skating conditions. This seemed especially evident in the second period. Missed passes, weird bounces, players tripping over nothing — it all added up. It seemed like both teams were spending more effort keeping the puck in the offensive zone or corralling it in the neutral zone to bother actually shooting.
It wasn’t until the period was winding down that anything really seemed to happen. To wit, the Furies got control of the puck. Katie Gaskin combined with Prévost to get the puck to rookie Brittany Zuback and the Furies second round draft pick sent it soaring over Liz Knox for her first CWHL goal, 1-1.
This seemed to energize Toronto. Brooke Beazer got a great chance immediately after the goal, and the Furies announcer hadn’t managed to announce who assisted on the Zuback goal before Emily Fulton scored. Apologies to Fulton (and Campbell and Allen, who both assisted on the goal), I completely missed it. 2-1, with only 36 seconds between goals.
Thunder still had the upper hand in shots, 8-4.
Vella, Zuback and Prévost started the third period, with Gaskin and Moulson paired on defence. Markham countered with veteran forwards Richards, Rattray and Woods along with the pairing of Woloschuk and Grigg once again.
Early on the Furies iced the puck two shifts in a row trying to get a change, which gives you an idea of the sort of pressure Markham was putting on them. Prévost decided the best way to get the puck out of the zone was to take it all the way in herself, which worked more than once.
The Furies got one last power play when Woloschuk was called for slashing. It was one of their better power plays, but they’re now 0 and 8 on the power play for the season. They might want to consider a strategy other than heavy shots from the point and scrambling for rebounds. Carlee Campbell is only one skater of at least 10 on the power play units after all.
Devon Skeats got into it with Gaskin in the far corner so we were treated to some 4 on 4 hockey. Lots of open ice, lots of speed, little finish. Last year I said Prévost had lost a step. Now I just wish she’d stop looking to pass when she’s zoomed up past everyone else.
Taylor Woods had a heartbreaker of a shot, hitting the post loud and clear with six and a half minutes left. A minute after that, Prévost and Zuback combined for a 2 on 1 chance that Knox just managed to stop.
As time wound down, van der Bliek stopped play again and again, making glove stops or covering up, but with just over two minutes left Knox still wasn’t able to leave her net as play kept moving from end to end. Markham iced the puck, got a shot that hit van der Bliek dead centre... nothing worked for them. They managed to pull Knox and Coach Jim Jackson called a time out with less than a minute to go. Probably the final dagger was Skeats putting a shot over the Toronto net that was hard enough it hit the corner boards, rang around and out of the zone.
Shots were 14 to 10 in favour of Markham this period but it was all in vain as the Furies got their revenge, and the win.
- In what may become a theme this Olympic season, the Markham Thunder played this afternoon’s game with only 18 players - 10 forwards, six defenders and two goalies. I don’t think it was specifically the absences of Fielding Montgomery and Melissa Wronzberg that were an issue, but with centralization Markham is only carrying 12 forwards, six defenders and three goalies until March. This season may be quite the test of the team’s conditioning.
- Jessica Platt had a couple of great chances in this game. I was very glad to see her get a regular roster spot and she seems to have taken the added responsibility in stride.
- I completely lost the thread of the game for a few minutes in the second period as some guys came up into the bleachers and tried to fix a piece of metal that had come loose from the side of a seat and bent out into the aisle. With loud, grinding power tools. While a spectator was sitting in the seat. I sit in approximately the same area every game so I can tell you that this particular problem was at least a season old if not more so and there was no earthly reason why they had to start up at this with twelve minutes left in the second period. Eventually they were chased off, and the bent piece of metal remains, albeit with a piece cut out of it. The women’s game has made a lot of gains but every so often a thing happens and you remember that oh yeah, they still don’t get much respect.
3. Devon Skeats (2 PIM)
2. Carlee Campbell (2 PIM)
3. Brittany Zuback (first CWHL goal)
The Toronto Furies next play October 28-29 at home against the Vanke Rays and the Markham Thunder have their home opener next weekend October 21-22 against the Kunlun Red Star. Tickets are still available.