The Brampton Thunder got themselves a new arena, a new look, new coaches and a new municipality this offseason. Will the Markham Thunder be an improvement over their predecessors?
Brampton went 12 - 10 - 2 last season, good enough for third place in the league. They were then knocked out of the playoffs in two straight games by the eventual Clarkson Cup champions, the Montréal Canadiennes. They will tell you this was due to poor officiating. I will tell you that if you go headhunting on a player right after she has scored a goal against your team, you shouldn’t be surprised to rack up 62 penalty minutes over two games.
Discipline was a bit of an issue for the Thunder last season. They led the league with 315 penalty minutes during the regular season, something they’ll need to cut down on if they want to make the playoffs this year.
Like most CWHL teams, the Thunder lost a few players this offseason. Consequently they will start the year without eight of their top ten scorers from 2016-17. Fortunately, centralized players Laura Stacey, Laura Fortino, and Jocelyne Larocque (second, fourth and tenth in scoring, respectively) are all listed on this season’s roster so may be available for late season heroics if necessary.
Only four of Markham’s 12 draft picks made the team: forwards Nicole Kosta and Devon Skeats, and defenders Lindsay Grigg and Megan Delay. The Thunder also added two free agents over the summer, Alexis Woloschuk and Karolina Urban. Interestingly, Delay is the only new player without previous professional experience, something that may stand the team in good stead. However, with only six of the rostered defenders available for the majority of the season, we may see Itsuki Baba (who did play a little in the pre-season) suit up in cases of dire need.
Another positive for the Thunder is that defender Kristen Barbara, who missed most of last season with an injury, is back and scoring. Pre-season scoring isn’t necessarily a good indicator but Barbara racked up at least one point in each of the three games, often combining with Jamie Lee Rattray.
In goal, Markham continues to rely on the tandem of Liz Knox and Erica Howe. It’s unfortunate that, per GM Chelsea Purcell, apart from one conversation with her agent post-draft, the team never heard from draft pick Mariya Sorokina. She would have made an excellent addition to their staff. Howe looked a little shaky in the pre-season, and could possibly be tapped as an emergency call-up to the Canadian Women’s National Team should something drastic happen, but Knox has been a rock.
Will the Thunder make the post season again this year? Well, the playoff format hasn’t been confirmed yet. However, even if the league sticks with the four-team post season, the Thunder look poised to take a spot.
The Markham Thunder will start their season with a two game series at the Mastercard Centre against the Toronto Furies on October 14 and 15. Their home opener will take place October 21 and will feature the first look at the Kunlun Red Star.
If you’re a Thunder fan, or local to Markham and interested in hockey writing, we could really use a volunteer for recaps this season. The promised increase in broadcasting does not seem to have panned out, which limits what our writers outside of Toronto can do, and covering both the Furies and the Thunder is a bit much for one writer. Hit us up in the comments, or message me or Annie or the main PPPLeafs account on twitter and we’ll see what we can do.
(Correction: an earlier version of this post listed the Markham home opener as October 22, which is a Sunday. Apologies)