The Brampton Thunder open up the 2016-17 CWHL season tonight against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
Last season marked the end of Brampton’s three year playoff drought. The team went from last in the league in 2014-15 to third place and played well enough to challenge for a spot in the Clarkson Cup. They bowed out in Calgary, losing the exciting best-of-three series in two games.
Despite not reaching the final, the campaign was fairly successful. They surprised a lot of people with their success (including themselves) and played an exciting, fast, high-event style of hockey while doing it. They were also the biggest team in the league and played a physical (and sometimes undisciplined) game.
Brampton was led from the blue-line. The top pair of Laura Fortino and Courtney Birchard were lights out and were top two in league scoring among defenders. Fortino was named Defender of the Year for her efforts. Captain Jocelyne Larocque and 2015 first round pick Sarah Edney rounded out the top-four. They scored a little less but provided a solid defensive presence. Look for Edney to take a step forward in her sophomore season.
In net, goalies Erica Howe and Liz Knox platooned the position until Knox got injured down the stretch. The move worked out well; they both had career years while splitting weekend starts. Both goalies will be returning this season. Whether head coach Tyler Fines will go back to the platoon is up in the air—it’s possible that Howe earns the starting job this season.
Up front is where they took the most strides last season. Jamie Lee Rattray and Jess Jones got some much needed help on offense. Rookie Rebecca Vint had a break-out season, seemingly coming from nowhere/(the) Moon to bring some secondary scoring to the team.
Brampton added some talent, particularly up front, via the draft this summer. In total, they’ve added ten new players to their 25 player roster, nine of whom are forwards. Top picks Laura Stacey, Shannon MacAulay, and Nicole Brown headline the rookie class.
Hayley Williams, who played for the Buffalo Beauts last year, will also be joining the team. The Thunder went into the off-season with bolstering forward depth as their primary concern, and they’ve certainly added lots of bodies in an attempt to address that need. It’s still unclear who will get a regular shift or if there’s another diamond in the rough like Vint but I’m excited to find out. They will need scoring to come from new sources to be successful.
The full 25 player roster is below.
Fines and GM Lori Dupuis have been clear the goal this season is to play for the Cup in Ottawa. They’ve certainly added lots of talent where they need it the most—the challenge is the teams they’re trying to beat have gotten better too.
They’re going to have to find a better balance between physical and undisciplined—they took the most penalties in the league by a wide margin. That extra time spent in the box can make a difference in a short best-of-three series.
Although they didn’t win it all last season, they might have been the most exciting team to watch. Their games were often back and forth affairs with lots of scoring chances at both ends. They have a great blend of speed, size, and skill. Their defense is always active on the rush and in the offensive zone.
I know this is Toronto country but maybe give Brampton a try this year. They’re a lot more fun than that other GTA team.
How to watch
|Nicole Brown||F||Jessica Hartwick||D/F|
|Jess Jones||F||Courtney Birchard||D|
|Becca King||F||Sarah Edney||D|
|Shannon MacAulay||F||Laura Fortino||D|
|Jaimie McDonell||F||Jocelyne Larocque||D|
|Jenna McParland||F||Dania Simmonds||D|
|Fielding Montgomery||F||Candice Styles||D|
|Jamie Lee Rattray||F|
|Kristen Richards||F||Erica Howe||G|
|Laura Stacey||F||Liz Knox||G|
|Kaitlyn Tougas||F||Jetta Rackleff||G|