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Preview: Who will step up for the Toronto Furies?

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With their starter and top scorer gone, can Toronto compete?

Carolyne Prévost in the foreground with the puck and teammate Emily Fulton trailing behind. Both wearing their blue home uniforms.
Carolyne Prévost (27) and Emily Fulton (17) are two Furies expected to contribute this season.
Chris Tanouye / CWHL

The Toronto Furies had a rare playoff win last season. It was only one game, not enough to stop the Calgary Inferno from moving on to the Clarkson Cup Final, but it was more than they’d managed since their surprise Clarkson Cup win in 2014. Can they improve on last year’s results to move on to the Final, and maybe more?

The Furies enter the season without their captain and top scorer, without two of their best defenders, and without their starting goalie. Two of these things are temporary. The third, while tragic, is not a problem.

Goal

Christina Kessler is retiring after seven seasons in the CWHL, five of them with Toronto. Her career record of 30-84 in the regular season with a GAA of 3.31 doesn't tell the whole story. She's been the undisputed starter for the past three seasons, sometimes the Furies only hope in defensively shaky times. Fans will miss her.

That being said, Kessler leaves her net in good hands. Sami Jo Small is attempting to regain her starting position this season and she faces stiff competition from Sonja van der Bliek and Amanda Makela. Van der Bliek was the Brampton Thunder starter in 2013-14 and has been a capable backup for Kessler since she was traded to the Furies in 2015. Makela doesn't have a lot of pro experience but she only gave up one goal in her half of the second pre-season game against Markham.

Defense

Moving forward from the net, for all that there are 10 new players on the Furies roster this season, only one of them is a defender. Sydney Kidd is one of two Furies draft picks with some professional experience, having spent last season with the NWHL’s New York Riveters. She also spent three years on the University of Western Ontario Mustangs with Toronto vet Michelle Saunders, so we may see them as a pairing. Jessica Platt, while not a new player, gets called up to the regular squad this year after four games from the reserves last season. She was a standout in their preseason win against the Markham Thunder. For most of the season the Furies will only have seven defenders. They ran many games last season with five or fewer in the lineup and we might see that again.

The Furies’ defence will be missing Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast until after the Olympics or one of them is cut, whichever comes first. They were largely heralded as the main reason for Toronto’s defensive improvement last season. That’s not to say that the vets didn’t step it up or that fellow rookies Carlee Campbell and Ella Stewart didn’t have something to contribute (Campbell and Fast tied in scoring and Campbell was -1 while playing every game last season), but the loss of two National Team level defenders isn’t something to take lightly. Preseason certainly showed there were some holes in the system.

Forwards

Toronto has 14 non-centralized forwards this season. Eight of them were not in the lineup last season, and four of those have no professional experience. Worse, the team’s 2017 first-round draft pick elected not to continue with her hockey career. Natalie Spooner put up more than double the amount of goals of any of her teammates last season. The team will need scoring if they want to win games. So who’s going to step up and replace her?

The top line in the final pre-season game consisted of Brooke Beazer at centre with Julie Allen and Emily Fulton on the wings. In Spooner’s absence, Allen stands, as the highest scoring player remaining from the 2016-17 roster with a total of 10 points. Unfortunately, a number of those came on a line with Spooner and last season’s number two scorer Michela Cava, who now plays for MODO in Sweden’s SDHL. Fulton suffered a sophomore slump last season, at least partly due to being taken off of Spooner’s line, but she may be due for a bounce-back year. Beazer rejoins the team after a two year absence, and last scored in the double digits in the 2011-12 season. However, their inclusion on the top line suggests the team expects these three to produce.

Other contenders for top scorer among the forwards include Carolyne Prévost, who had a down year last year with only seven points, but scored three in the preseason and looked to have regained most of her speed. Jenna Dingeldein didn’t score much but was impressively aggressive in preseason and if she continues to get breakaways in the regular season we may see her numbers go up. As far as the rookies, one to keep an eye on may be Shannon Stewart. Stewart has two years of professional experience in Europe (SDHL and Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga) and had two primary assists in the Furies’ preseason win against the Thunder.

In reality, the Furies will have to score by committee, which means they have to play as a unit. There were some worrying signs of disorganization during the preseason which may explain why new GM Nicole Latreille and new head coach Jeff Flanagan chose to go with free agents over some of the less experienced draft picks. Jessica O’Grady played for Ottawa in the CWHL’s first season and for Calgary in the last Olympic season. Hayley Williams has played for both the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts and the Brampton Thunder. Neither player has much of a history of scoring so the belief must be that they’ll bring other important aspects to the team.

The Clarkson Cup final is being held in Toronto this season, and the Furies surely want to be on the ice for it. There are a lot of good players on this team, but it’s by no means a collection of stars. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and probably some luck to make the post season at all. Can they do it? Show up at the MCC on Saturday and see.

The Toronto Furies will start their season with a two game series at home at the Mastercard Centre against the Markham Thunder this weekend, October 14 and 15.