Tonight was a night of firsts: Kunlun Red Star’s first regular-season game as a member of the CWHL, and the Markham Thunder’s first home game as, well, the Markham Thunder.
The game started off with remarks from CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress and the Mayor of Markham, followed by the singing of both the Chinese and Canadian national anthems. From what I could see of the arena, it looked like there was a nice crowd, and also a giant Pikachu in a Markham Thunder cape who apparently serves as their mascot. That’s a great mascot, Markham. I salute you.
Due most likely to an injury to defender Taylor Marchin, Jessica Wong played defense this evening, on the starting pair with Melanie Jue. As for Markham, they had Fielding Montgomery listed as a scratch and only dressed 19 players. Liz Knox was given the start for Markham over Erica Howe, and—no surprise here—Noora Räty was in goal for Kunlun.
We start the game off with a scoring chance for Jamie Lee Rattray’s line, followed by Kelli Stack’s line going the other way. This is a pretty good single-sentence summary of this game. As expected, they were the two best forwards on the ice. Knox’s first real test came on an early chance by Stack, who forced a turnover and danced through the zone before cutting to the net and trying the backhand. Not that long after, Rattray’s line forced Räty out of position while making a save, and the rebound was sitting at the top of the crease before a Kunlun player swatted it out.
After a attempt by Richards, Skeats and Wong got into it in Räty’s crease and received offsetting minors. Anyone who followed Skeats in the NWHL won’t be hugely shocked to see her getting too close to someone else’s goalie. Zhixin Liu had a couple nice chances 4-on-4 out there with Stack and Shiann Darkangelo—she’s been a pleasure to watch with Kunlun, and made several nice plays tonight.
Proving that Skeats isn’t the only forward on the ice willing to crash the crease, Lixue Xing did the same on Knox’s end and set off a scrum, ending with Rajahuhta, McIntosh, and Hartwick sent to the box. This led to a 4-on-3 powerplay for Red Star, who put Stack, Darkangelo, Jue, and Hickel to start against Rattray, Woloschuk, and Skeats. Markham got several shorthanded chances in the first half of the powerplay, but the second unit of Llanes, Yu, Anderson, and Liu had better luck keeping pressure on.
Räty, meanwhile, continued to be rock solid. She made a great save on McParland on a 2-on-1, and stoned Jamie Lee Rattray a handful of times (speaking of which: Jamie Lee Rattray is very good at hockey).
Woo and Anderson got a 2-on-1 that was saved by Knox, but Woo took a slashing call in the process. On the Markham powerplay, Jue and Stack got a shorthanded chance, but Knox made the save. At the other end of the ice, Noora Räty proved that she’s not inhumanly perfect by playing the puck and inadvertently turning it right over to Rattray, who wasn’t able to get a shot off. She had her pocket picked by Liu, who got a shorthanded breakaway but couldn’t convert.
The only goal of the period, fittingly, came from Kelli Stack’s line—she slid a puck cross-ice to Hickel, who hammered her own rebound past Knox.
At least, that’s what I thought happened. The goal is technically credited to Madison Woo right now (which is definitely untrue, since Woo isn’t on the ice in that gif), and unless my lying eyes are deceiving me, that’s Hickel’s goal, not Stack’s. I’m sure this will get sorted out at some point.
Red Star took a lot of penalties, something that I observed in my preview for this game, but they also have a good penalty kill. Markham also took their share of penalties, including a tripping call forced by Jessica Wong on the rush that sent her sprawling into the boards. The speed of the Red Star forwards was clearly a problem for Markham.
I lost count of the number of times “great save by Räty” appeared in my notes during the first. She made a lot of them, including bailing out both Liu and Woo after they misplayed the puck at the Red Star blue line on the powerplay and allowed Woods a shorthanded breakaway. The nicest of the period might have been the glove save she made on Nicole Kosta with only seconds on the clock, as Markham applied pressure after killing off a Red Star powerplay.
The pace picked up further in the second period, starting with Jue stopping Barbara on a breakaway with a great diving play. Markham started looking more and more dangerous, and at one point McParland successfully poked a loose puck past Räty, but the goal was called off due to a quick whistle. Rattray had several prime chances, including a nice wraparound that Räty stopped.
The Stack line continued to wreak havoc, and after Stack sprung Darkangelo with a lovely little backhanded pass out of the zone, that line’s pressure forced Richards to take an interference penalty. There was a near miss when Llanes fed Woo perfectly for a onetimer and Woo fanned on the shot, one of many great plays Rachel Llanes made tonight. At one point in the period, she straight-up outraced McParland to stop a breakaway, demonstrating a foot speed that’s honestly amazing.
Neither of these teams seem to be able to finish a powerplay without giving up at least one shorthanded chance, but Zhou did a great job stopping Nicole Kosta from getting a shorthanded breakaway. There were a lot of breakaways in this game, many of which involved Rattray, who spent the first half of the game trying her very hardest to solve Noora Räty.
It finally paid off. Rattray got a chance on the rush with only poor Baiwei Yu defending, and through some combination of skill and determination, shoveled her own rebound past Räty. It was an impressive singlehanded effort.
The aggression ticked up after Rattray tied it up, and it became even more of a back-and-forth affair. Both teams turned the puck over a lot, frequently several times on the same play. Between the missed passes and the offside calls, it was apparent that Kunlun was playing in their first regular-season game and haven’t had a whole lot of time to gel.
There were also nearly constant odd-man rushes, which led to a general sense of chaos, not helped by the rough stuff. At one point, Hickel was slashed hard enough she loses her glove, and shortly after that Anderson went down in visible pain and had to be helped off the ice by her teammates (they both returned to the game quickly). Red Star seemed to be getting the majority of the chances, especially towards the end of the period, but it was a free-for-all.
The third period was more of the same, only the referees seemed to have collectively misplaced their whistles. Early in the period, Anderson and Woods got into it behind the play after Anderson was fed a nice flip pass from Llanes and narrowly missed the net. I’m mildly surprised nobody’s gloves came off.
Markham took the lead on Rattray’s second of the night, the culmination of a lovely passing play with Barbara. Rattray was able to tip it into the open net before Räty could slide over.
Rattray’s one of those forwards who can take over a game, but later in the period it was nice to see Yu, who got overpowered on Rattray’s first goal, do a great job at holding her off on a drive and forcing her to swing behind the net.
The big story of the third period is the duel of wills that took place between Liz Knox and Kelli Stack. Early on, Knox made a phenomenal a save on a Stack chance, after Stack managed to cut to the net and get a shot off from right in the paint. Stack racked up chance after chance like that, for herself and for her linemates, and Knox somehow kept all of them out.
As the period went on, we saw more and more of the Stack line as Murphy started to lean on them to try and tie the game. Stack looked more and more dangerous as the game went on, using her speed and agility to pick apart the Markham defense. It seemed like she created a chance every shift, either for herself or for her linemates, but nothing was going in. One of the best of them was a pass to a wide-open Hickel at the top of the crease, which Hickel fanned on.
Llanes drew a tripping penalty and Kunlun went on a late-period power play, but Liz Knox apparently woke up this morning and decided she didn’t feel like getting scored on today. She stoned Stack point-blank on the powerplay, and not long after, both Stack and Rattray were called with offsetting minors—Stack for slashing, Rattray for roughing. The increased ice of a 4-on-3 powerplay worked in Kunlun’s favor, but despite that, they couldn’t manage to get the puck through. There was a breathtaking moment during a crease scramble where I thought for sure the puck went in, but somehow—possibly witchcraft?—Knox kept it out of the net.
Rattray, who was indisputably Markham’s best skater tonight, jumped out of the box, immediately forced a turnover and managed a shot on Räty before Stack could take the puck the other way. Then with about a minute and a half to go, she blocked Wong’s shot to force a turnover and push play into the offensive zone, keeping Kunlun from pulling Räty until there was about 1:10 left on the clock.
With 22 seconds left, in a scrum in the crease, all five Markham defenders ended up collapsed to the net (which looked exactly as crowded as it sounds). A penalty shot was called for a covered puck in the crease, and Murphy chose Rachel Llanes to take it. Knox made the save, and even though Kunlun kept the pressure on for the last 22 seconds, Markham took the game 2-1.
- “Rachel Llanes on the forecheck is the stuff of dreams” is an actual note I made to myself during this game, and I stand by it. She looked great, and Markham really didn’t know how to handle her speed. I’d keep an eye on her line with Anderson and Woo as the season goes on.
- Despite getting worked on the first Rattray goal, Beiwei Yu had a good game. She’s got a nice point shot that she didn’t hesitate to use, and she was easily one of Kunlun’s best defenders. I was curious to see how she’d look against a CWHL offense, and she impressed.
- These are two chippy teams, and there was a lot of aggressive play happening, particularly towards the end of the game. The amount of uncalled penalties I saw was slightly concerning.
- Both Noora Räty and Liz Knox were great tonight. They better both be up for Goaltender of the Week next week, CWHL./
3. Rachel Llanes
2. Jamie Lee Rattray (2 G, 2 PIM)
1. Lix Knox (33 saves)
Markham and Kunlun go at it again tomorrow, with a puck drop of 12:30 pm.