In the third Saturday of CWHL action, the Toronto Furies hosted the debut game of the Vanke Rays and the Markham Thunder welcomed les Canadiennes de Montréal to the Thornhill Community Centre. It went badly for both GTA teams.
Who are the Vanke Rays?
The second Chinese team was added with little fanfare and tends to be overlooked in the media coverage. Without an internationally established star like Noora Räty or Kelli Stack, the Rays still nabbed a number of strong players in the 2017 draft.
Hanna Bunton and Ashleigh Brykaliuk have been members of Canada's national team development program. Rose Alleva comes from the Minnesota Whitecaps. Cayley Mercer and Brooke Webster are high-scoring NCAA players we coveted for the Furies. And of course there's Emily Janiga, fresh off an Isobel Cup win with the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts.
Less familiar are the young Chinese players. Although they range in age from 19-22, they all bring some amoùnt of international experience to the table.
Their biggest weakness is likely to be in goal. While she had great numbers as a starter for the University of Connecticut, Elaine Chuli took a year off after graduating during which she had surgery and rehab for an injury. Tianyi Zhang simply does not have experience against CWHL level competition.
Furies vs Rays 0-3
This was a terrible game for the Furies. Out-skated and out-shot they came up short in every category compared to the Rays — which is funny because in terms of actual height the Rays are by far the shorter team.
Sonja van der Bliek was left hung out to dry a number of times and it's only through a combination of luck and good goaItending that the score stayed as close as it did.
Emily Fulton had a particularly bad game, it seemed as if every blueline pass she made saiIed out of the offensive zone. Of course that required the Furies to be in the offensive zone, which didn't happen much until the third period. The second period, in which they gave up two goals including a beautiful shorthanded breakaway by Brooke Webster, was especially egregious in this respect. I'd be surprised if they spent five entire minutes in the Rays zone all period.
Their two successful methods of zone entry seemed to be to let Carolyne Prévost carry the puck in alone (frequently under pressure by the Rays) or to have something happen that required an offensive zone faceoff. Despite eight powerplays they managed only 23 shots on net. Over half of those came in the third period when the team was already down by three goals.
Defensively, although no one was stellar, Michelle Saunders, Jessica Platt and Sydney Kidd all had some good moments. Carlee Campbell was a scratch for this game and both her defense and her slapshot were sorely missed.
While this game was not the best test of the Rays skills, certain players definitely stood out. Their first line seemed to be Bunton, Janiga and Mercer. Mercer and Bunton combined for the first two goals, one apiece. I've already mentioned Webster's shorthanded beauty, assisted by Brykaliuk. Webster was dominant on the ice, noticeable everytime she stepped into play.
We expected those players to be good. Minghui Kong was a revelation. While she didn't end up contributing offensively there was a sequence late in the first period where she absolutely danced the Furies. The crowd literally oohed and ahhed as she showed off some great hands and amazing edgework.
As for Chuli in goal, she was what they needed her to be and didn't falter when the Furies finally put on some pressure. She got the shutout — a nice day's work.
3. Elaine Chuli (23 save shutout)
2. Cayley Mercer (1G, 1A)
- Hanna Bunton (first goal in Rays history, 1A, 2PIM)
Thunder vs Canadiennes 0-1(0T)
Despite another stellar performance from Erica Howe — stopping 35 of 36 shots — the Thunder fell 1-0 to Ies Canadiennes in overtime. Cathy Chartrand scored the game winner for Montreal and Emerance Maschmeyer was credited with a 33 save shutout.
After three games off due to injury, Fielding Montgomery was back in the lineup for the Thunder. Ellie Seedhouse, a forward who last played in the 2015-16 season, made her season debut in place of Laura Mclntosh. Alexis Woloschuk was a scratch on defense.
With the OT point Markham hangs on to first place over Montreal.
3. Erica Howe (35 saves)
2. Emerance Maschmeyer (33 saves, shutout)
- Cathy Chartrand (GWG)
Both series continue tomorrow and you can watch the Furies take on the Rays at 1pm Eastern on the CWHL website.