Laura Fortino is coming off a great year with the Brampton Thunder of the CWHL. She scored 28 points in 24 games and was named Defender of the Year.
Fortino represented Canada at U-18 and U-22 tournaments before making her debut with the senior national team at the Four Nations Cup in 2011. Since then, she's made three World Championships appearances, winning one gold and two silver medals. She also represented Canada at the 2014 Olympics, registering her lone point of the tournament on Marie-Philip Poulin's gold medal winning goal in overtime.
"Being in Canada, that's just that much extra motivation to win gold for our country and it's getting closer and closer to the Olympic year and we kinda want to start setting that identity for team Canada and what it looks like for 2018 in Korea," said Fortino about going for gold in Canada. "I think as a group I can speak on behalf of all the girls that have made the team: we're really honoured and we're proud and we're looking forward to the experience of playing on Canadian soil."
Here she is (#8) scoring a goal for Canada at the 2012 World Championships.
Fortino spent four years playing at Cornell University on a team that had a number of current Team Canada players including Lauriane Rougeau, Jill Saulnier, and Brianne Jenner. She was a two-time Patty Kazmeier Top 10 finalist and finished her college career with 133 points in 133 games. Her college career ended after Cornell was upset by Mercyhurst in the Frozen Four Regionals. She talked a bit about the loss with the Hamilton Spectator here.
She did everything she could to make it happen. Even altered her style a bit this season to take on a more-defensive role. Once the most-dominant offensive defenceman in the NCAA, she decided to direct more of her attention to her own end for her senior year. She concentrated on positional play and blocking shots and doing all the other things that make a team better.
This adjustment ate into her scoring numbers and probably took her out of consideration for most of the individual awards that seem to reward gaudy stats above all. But Cornell was better for it. And Team Canada’s management noticed.
Fortino made her CWHL debut last season after being drafted first overall by the Thunder. The Thunder were not very good, winning just six games and finishing dead last in the league. They were starved for offence, averaging just 2 goals a game, and Fortino finished second on the team in points with 15 points in 24 games.
The story for Brampton was a lot different this season. With a new coach at the helm and some crucial new additions, Brampton made the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Only two players from that team, Courtney Birchard and Liz Knox, still play for Brampton.
"[My] second year [in the league] has been amazing," said Fortino about her year. Just being with Brampton, the new girls that we got on the team, the additions we added, playing alongside Courtney Birchard, we had a great season together. I think we did so well as a team and that's obviously what helped in my success also."
Her point totals this season have been very good, leading all defenders with 28 points. What's interesting is that this is the first year she's produced more than a point per game since her sophomore year at Cornell. She talks about changes she made to her game as a senior in that Hamilton Spectator piece, ones that really lowered her point totals, so I wonder how Head Coach Laura Schuler wants her to play. Fortino says that she's "a pretty offensive defenceman" and I think she's at her best when she's jumping up into the rush and getting involved in the offense.
The Calgary Inferno swept Brampton in the playoffs and put an end to the Thunder's dream season.
"Both games were so close and I think we're still devastated about those two losses," said Fortino about the playoff series. "I think, just in general, we had an amazing year and we're upset that it ended the way it did. Our ultimate goal was to be here but I think we took a lot of things and we learned so much this year about our team and we're going to take that into next year and hopefully find our way back here to the Clarkson Cup."
Team Canada kicks of the tournament with a match against the Americans on Monday, March 28. The match starts at 10:30 PM Eastern time and will be airing on TSN.