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Preview: The CWHL heads to China

How the teams have done so far and what to expect as Toronto and Markham take on Kunlun and Vanke.

Toronto Furies leading scorer Jenna Dingeldein (44) tries to settle a puck in front of Vanke Rays goalie Elaine Chuli (29)
Toronto Furies leading scorer Jenna Dingeldein (44) tries to settle a puck in front of Vanke Rays goalie Elaine Chuli (29)
Chris Tanouye - CWHL

The Toronto Furies and the Markham Thunder will start their series of four games each in Shenzhen, China early tomorrow morning by GTA local standards. Each team will play two games against the Kunlun Red Star and two games against the Vanke Rays. You can catch all the games live (or just watch the archived games later) on the CWHL website.

These will be the first CWHL games in China and the first games on home ice for both Red Star and the Rays. This will not necessarily be familiar stomping grounds for the Chinese teams, who did most of their offseason training over 2,000km north in Beijing after some concerns regarding the ice quality at Shenzhen Dayun Arena. Still, those concerns seem to have been allayed as all games are going forward as scheduled.

The CWHL is hoping for big attendance numbers — the arena seats 18,000. However, hockey is most popular in Harbin, almost 3,500km north of Shenzhen, and home to most of the Chinese players on both CWHL teams. Whether the Shenzhen audience will warm to their new teams has yet to be seen. Certainly the streaming audience for the North American games has been impressive.

The four teams come into the series ranked third, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively in the CWHL standings.

Vanke Rays

Despite having played the fewest games of any CWHL team so far this season, Vanke sits third in the league with eight points in five games. Partly the beneficiaries of fortunate scheduling, they’ve won three games against the perennial last place Boston Blades and split a two game series against Toronto. Still, Cayley Mercer (4G, 7A) and Hanna Bunton (6G, 3A) currently lead the league in scoring, with teammate Ashleigh Brykaliuk (3G, 5A) bringing up the rear tied for third. Goalie Elaine Chuli comes into the series with a .963 save percentage and 1.20 goals against average. She’s played all five Vanke games.

Markham Thunder

Markham is tied with Vanke at eight points each, but their record is 3-3-2 to Vanke’s 4-1-0. Goalie Erica Howe has a similar stat line to Chuli’s: .963 and 1.17 but a win-loss record of 2 and 2. One advantage the Thunder have over the Rays is a solid tandem in goal: Liz Knox has played only thirty minutes fewer than Howe (.908 and 2.90) while the Rays have not yet tested their backup. As expected, veteran forward Jamie Lee Rattray is Markham’s leading scorer this season (5G, 3A). While their defensive systems and strong goaltending may well be a challenge for the Rays, the Thunder are only averaging 1.5 goals per game. The games between these two teams could be a couple of goalie duels.

Toronto Furies

Toronto is the only team going into the series down players — the Athletic reports the Furies are leaving two players at home, although we’re not sure who yet. If defender Carlee Campbell is along for the trip, it will be interesting to see if she plays in the first few games, after leaving halfway through the game last Sunday with an arm injury. With six points in six games, Toronto is playing .500 hockey at the moment and if they come out of their four games with a split I’ll be quite pleased. The Furies currently don’t have a scorer in the league’s top 20. Their leading scorers are sophomore forward Jenna Dingeldein (1G, 2A) and veteran defender Emily Fulton (2G, 0A). They’ve solved Vanke before, whether they can score on KRS might be another matter entirely.

Kunlun Red Star

It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Red Star down in sixth place. They’re tied with the Furies with six points, but have one extra loss. Kunlun’s schedule has included five games against the top two teams in the league. They’ve beaten Montréal twice and Calgary once, but only managed one goal in two games in their season-opening series against Markham. The rematches should be interesting to say the least. To noone’s surprise, Kelli Stack is their leading scorer, another player in the four-way tie for third in the league. Seven goals and one assist might sound like she’s carrying the team, but there are five other Red Star players scoring above half a point per game. Defence has been an issue. Noora Räty sits at second in the league in shots against, with 181. Unlike their sister team, Red Star has had occasion to play their backup goalie and Yuqing Wang did not disappoint, winning her first CWHL game 3-1 against Montréal — in the Bell Centre, no less.

What: The first CWHL games in Shenzhen, China.

Who: Markham Thunder, Toronto Furies, Vanke Rays, Kunlun Red Star

Streaming: CWHL Live

When:

all times China Standard Time (note that times have changed from those on the CWHL site)

Saturday November 18
2:00 pm Toronto Furies @ Kunlun Red Star
7:30 pm Markham Thunder @ Vanke Rays

Sunday November 19
2:00 pm Toronto Furies @ Kunlun Red Star
7:30 pm Markham Thunder @ Vanke Rays

Wednesday November 22
2:00 pm Markham Thunder @ Kunlun Red Star
7:30 pm Toronto Furies @ Vanke Rays

Friday November 24
2:00 pm Markham Thunder @ Kunlun Red Star
7:30 pm Toronto Furies @ Vanke Rays

Where: Shenzhen Dayun Arena, capacity 18,000