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Thunder fall to Red Star in special teams battle 4-2

Elaine Chuli collects another shutout, beating the Furies 5-0

Noora Räty crouches in the butterfly position as the puck comes towards her.
Kunlun Red Star goalie Noora Räty faces down the puck.
Visual China - CWHL

Markham Thunder vs Kunlun Red Star 2-4

Despite a strong start and overall good game, a failure to capitalize on extended power play time and another weak third period were the Thunder’s undoing

As expected after her injury in Sunday’s game, Jenna McParland was scratched for this game. Surprisingly, so was goalie Liz Knox. The game sheet indicates that Jamie Miller, the Thunder’s somewhat mythical third goalie who hasn’t seen ice time in ages, was the backup for this game.

First period

The Thunder started out strong in the first, playing much faster than in either of their games against the Rays. They spent most of their time in the Red Star zone, allowing very little to get through the neutral zone much less as far as to Erica Howe in net.

Unfortunately, Karolina Urban (who complained about “questionable calls” this weekend in her recent piece for The Athletic) was called for two consecutive penalties. Markham killed off the first one (hooking) nicely, sending the puck out of the zone a number of times. Seconds after returning to the ice Urban was back in the box for a bodycheck. This time, it took Kunlun just under a minute to score.

In a fast sequence of shots and rebounds, Melanie Jue finally beat Howe with a quick shot over her shoulder.

The Thunder responded well, getting right back into the Kunlun zone and forcing Noora Räty to make a save. Red Star pressed back but it took less than two minutes for Markham to regroup. A play off the faceoff in the Kunlun zone caught Räty just a little too far forward — Kristen Richard’s shot found space between goalie and goal post to tie it up at 1.

Rookie Megan Delay was given a secondary assist on the play, her first CWHL point.

The first Thunder power play came with less than three minutes left in the period when Jessica Wong was called for roughing. It was not their strongest showing, allowing a couple of shorthanded chances, however one scramble at the net sent the puck airborne and it was sheer luck that Räty kept it out of the net.

The period ended with some jostling in a corner that resulted in a roughing penalty to Markham’s Jessica Hartwick and a slashing call on Kunlun’s Stephanie Anderson.

Second period

Two minutes of 4 on 4 action is always great to watch, especially on Olympic sized ice, with extra room. The Red Star got a 2 on 1 opportunity and Jamie Lee Rattray got a great shot at the other end but no goals.

Devon Skeats was called for kneeing, but the next worrying moment for Red Star happened at even strength - Noora Räty came out of her net to settle the puck. The Kunlun player she was attempting to hold it for came in pursued by a Markham player. Instead of fully ringing it round behind her net and out of the way, Räty gave the puck a quick nudge away from trouble — Markham nearly had the puck before she was back in her net.

As the period approached the halfway mark the Thunder got themselves set up with some good, strong, organized time in the Kunlun zone. It looked like a power play — and seconds later it was a power play. Jessica Wong was called for a cross check. Before she was out of the box, Stephanie Anderson had her second slashing penalty of the game, giving Markham over 30 seconds at 5 on 3. They got another few seconds of 5 on 3 when Annina Rajahuhta went off for a high stick. Sadly, absolutely nothing came of it, and as the Thunder advantage continued, KRS eventually began to find ways to get the puck out.

One more Thunder power play ended in the same frustrating result, as the power play unit seemed to spend more time looking for the perfect shot than actually shooting. The best way to score on Räty seems to be to get her moving laterally, and Markham just wasn’t doing that at all this game.

Third period

The period started with a bit of back and forth action with Kunlun eventually spending more and more time in the Markham zone. An attempt to ease the pressure resulted in icing and Annina Rajahuhta made them pay. A battle at the net was accidentally prolonged by a Thunder defender, and in the confusion Rajahuhta put the puck past Howe.

In a reverse of the first period Markham continued to have trouble getting the puck out of their own zone for any length of time. A Kelli Stack penalty gave them the advantage again but Räty had no trouble holding them off.

Penalty trouble struck again when both Hartwick and Urban were called on the same play - Urban for holding and Hartwick for slashing the same player once she got loose from Urban. On the resulting 5 on three, Rajahuhta and Stack demonstrated exactly what a team needs to do to score on Räty — turns out it works just as well on other goalies. Rajahuhta got Howe down and out at one side of the net and the puck went to Stack on the other side where she made use of the open net.

Somehow one goal cancelled out both penalties, which I found odd but maybe someone can explain it in the comments.

The Thunder got one back in a play that would probably have been a penalty in international play. With Urban and about three Kunlun players in the crease, Räty didn’t quite smother a shot from Rattray the puck was accidentally deflected in off of Red Star player Stephanie Anderson.

Another Markham penalty had me worried but it was probably their best kill of the night, with Kunlun unable to really get set up until all but 30 seconds were gone.

Howe was pulled with 90 seconds left, allowing Stack to get the empty net insurance goal. (Do we need to see it? No, we do not.)

There was one last Kunlun penalty (fourth of the game for Stephanie Anderson) that made for some 6 on 4 action but in the end the score stayed at 4-2, Markham’s first loss to the Red Star.

Notes

Attendance to this game was very low, the stands seemed empty, a huge contrast from any of the weekend games.

Red Star has a mascot! A pink and white dragon in a Kunlun jersey took to the ice before the game.

Another note on the Urban piece in the Athletic. She wonders how Olympic size ice is “allowed”. Rink 1 at Mastercard Centre, where Toronto plays the vast majority of their games and Rink A at Winsport Arena, which is the Calgary main rink, are both Olympic sized, so that’s 2 out of 5 CWHL North American teams. Olympic size ice should not be this massive adjustment for CWHL players.

There was another goal post issue in the second period. The ice crew seemed more prepared this time, and a drill was brought out to reestablish the hole for the post. Seemed the complete opposite issue of the Vanke game.

Three stars

3. Kristen Richards, Markham Thunder (1G 2PIM)

2. Melanie Jue, Kunlun Red Star (1G)

1. Annina Rajahuhta, Kunlun Red Star (1G, 2 A)

Toronto Furies vs Vanke Rays 0-5

Furies outshot the Rays in this one 30 - 25, which is at least progress! Sonja van der Bliek was in goal for the loss, and Elaine Chuli continued her iron woman streak with the win for the Rays.

The first period saw no goals but three penalties - one to Shannon Moulson and two for Vanke.

Second period, Emily Janiga opened the scoring for Vanke on a short-handed goal, her first of two in the game. Emma Woods, Cayley Mercer and Hanna Bunton had the other three. Woods’ goal was on the advantage in the third period with Moulson in the box again.

Unlike the Markham game there were only six penalty minutes per team, and three of the five goals came at even strength. (Unfortunately, all of them with van der Bliek in net.) The Furies came close a few times but Chuli hung in there for the shoutout.

Man, the goals were pretty though. Check them all out on the Furies twitter account. The whole “get the goalie moving” thing? Vanke did that a lot. I’m not sure I blame van der Bliek much.

Three stars

3. Sonja van der Bliek, Toronto Furies (20 saves)

2. Emma Woods, Vanke Rays (1G, 2A)

1. Emily Janiga, Vanke Rays (2G)

Final GTA games in China take place on Friday at 1:00 am and 6:30 am Eastern respectively. As always, they’re available to watch on the CWHL website.