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Recap: Furies edged out by Thunder in home opener 1-0

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A disappointing start to the season had some bright spots.

Hayley Williams, wearing Furies home blue uniform skates between Taylor Woods (in front) and Jamie Lee Rattray (coming up from behind), both wearing Thunder road whites with green accents. 
Hayley Williams (3) of the Toronto Furies battles with Taylor Woods (25) and Jamie Lee Rattray (26) of the Markham Thunder during the Furies 2017-18 home opener.
Chris Tanouye - CWHL

The Toronto Furies kicked off their 2017-18 season with a game against their GTA rivals, the Markham Thunder. Although Toronto fought hard (sometimes a bit too literally) they came out on the losing end of a tough 1-0 contest.

Sonja van der Bliek was the starter and third star of the game for the Furies, stopping 30 of 31 shots. She was backed up by Sami Jo Small with newly acquired Amanda Makela sitting as one of the night's scratches.

The only goal van der Bliek gave up came during one of seven Thunder power plays, this one a 5 on 3 just past the midway point of the second period. Kristen Barbara (who I mentioned in the Thunder preview as a player to watch) was credited with the goal, unassisted.

Overall neither team looked spectacular. Although the pace of the game picked up in the late going, compared to last year's Inferno or Canadiennes they were quite slow.

The Furies improved defensively from their worrying preseason performances. Michelle Saunders in particular impressed me as ruthless on defense, willing to track down opponents and force turnovers. I still wouldn't call the team defensive stalwarts and saw a few bad habits from the 2015-16 season creeping back in. I wonder if the absence of Erin Ambrose, known as a bit of a locker room leader, might be contributing to that.

One hopeful sign is that two players who were perhaps not key players for the Furies last season, Jenna Dingeldein and Danielle Gagné, continued their impressive performances in the preseason into the first game. The team also seems to have worked on their stickwork - there were quite a few dangles and stolen pucks I would not have expected to see last season.

The Thunder upped their physicality compared to the preseason. It will surprise few that rookie Devon Skeats was the first in the penalty box, although she protested her innocence of the call (goalie interference) quite adamantly. Eventually the Furies began retaliating and this, combined with what seemed like lousy ice at one end of the rink, led to what will probably be quite an impressive collection of bruises between the two teams.

In the end the Thunder was the marginally better team, not only on the scoreboard but on the ice. They were just a little faster and just a little more effective defensively. We'll see if the Furies have learned anything in the 1:00 pm rematch.

Notes

  • Along with Makela, Toronto's scratches were Shannon Stewart and Alessandra Bianchi on forward and Jessica Platt on defense. We may see one or all of them draw in to the lineup tomorrow, although Stewart was not present for player introductions. Markham's only scratches were their centralized players and third goalie Jamie Miller.

  • Relatedly, I wondered to myself "who's Estevan?" while peering across the ice. It was of course defender Ella Stewart - with two Stewarts on the team her first initial has been included on her jersey.

  • As is tradition, the Furies home opener formed part of the Etobicoke Dolphins Pink the Rink tournament. The Furies wore pink jerseys in warmups. Members of the Dolphins Novice AA team and the Markham-Stouffville Stars watched warmups from the benches and joined the teams on the ice for the anthem. The second intermission featured a fundraising pink Chuck-a-Puck.

Three stars

3. Sonja van der Bliek (30 saves)

2. Erica Howe (24 save shutout)

  1. Kristen Barbara (GWG, first CWHL point)