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Thunder come back to beat Rays 5-4 (SO) Furies lose 4-2 to Blades

The first games of 2018 could have gone better, but they could have gone worse.

Kristen Richards (9) of the Markham Thunder takes a shot on Vanke goalie Elaine Chuli (29)
Kristen Richards (9) of the Markham Thunder takes a shot on Vanke goalie Elaine Chuli (29)
Visual China / CWHL

The first CWHL action of 2018 sees Toronto in Boston and Markham hosting Vanke.

Markham Thunder vs Vanke Rays 5-4 (SO)

Erica Howe got the start for the Thunder, along with Kristen Richards, Laura McIntosh and Jamie Lee Rattray at forward with Lindsay Grigg and Dania Simmonds on the back end. Simmonds replaced Grigg’s usual partner, Alexis Woloschuk, who was the Thunder’s only scratch tonight. Yes, that means Nicole Kosta was back in the lineup.

The Rays countered with their usual top line of Hanna Bunton, Cayley Mercer, and Brooke Webster and it paid off early. Webster scored just 29 seconds into the game on an assist from Emma Woods.

Two and a half minutes later, Mercer got her second goal, this time a combined effort of the whole line.

Becca King was called for hooking, sending the Thunder to the penalty kill. With less than 15 seconds left, Vanke’s second power play unit struck. Minghui Kong scored her first CWHL goal, with assists from Emily Janiga and Xin Fang (Fang’s first CWHL assist).

Kristen Barbara was given 10 and 2 for head contact shortly past the halfway mark of the period. Fortunately for the Thunder, the Rays negated their advantage a minute in as they were caught for too many players.

Back at even strength, it seemed to be a night of firsts as Devon Skeats picked up her first CWHL goal with just under four minutes left in the period. The assist came from Nicole Kosta, her first CWHL point.

The second period featured two power plays and three penalty kills for the Thunder (including some 5 on 3 action with Markham on the kill) but while they had some chances, Rays goalie Elaine Chuli and her goalposts kept everything out.

Taylor Woods started the third off right by scoring her fourth of the season. Ashleigh Brykaliuk answered back ten minutes into the period to regain the two goal advantage for Vanke. It wouldn’t last.

Things heated up for the Thunder with less than three minutes to go in the game. First, Richards scored, with assists from Rattray (her only point in the game), and Becca King (who also assisted on the Woods goal). Then Laura McIntosh followed it up with a goal with 94 seconds left. Kristen Barbara somewhat made up for her 14 minutes of penalty time this game by getting the primary assist.

The score stayed tied through overtime, but the shootout took only two rounds. Howe blanked both Mercer and Brykaliuk, while Woods and McIntosh both beat Chuli.

Thunder win 5-4 and become the second North American team to beat the Rays. Winning a game by scoring four and none of those four coming from Rattray is exactly the sort of game Markham needs more of. Maybe with less contact to the head, though.

Three Stars

3. Cayley Mercer, Vanke Rays (2G)

2. Devon Skeats, Markham Thunder (first CWHL goal)

1. Taylor Woods (1G, 1 shootout goal)

Toronto Furies vs Boston Blades 2-4

In excellent news for Furies fans, Carlee Campbell was in the starting lineup tonight, her first game since going down with an injury in mid-November. Her partner on defence was Michelle Saunders and Sonja van der Bliek started in goal. Forwards were Hayley Williams, Emily Fulton and Carolyne Prévost, which might be a new line combination for Toronto. Scratches for this game were Brittany Zuback, Jessica O’Grady and Katie Gaskin.

The Furies and Boston looked fairly evenly matched in their first meeting of the season, which was about what I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting was that Boston would be the first to score.

Alexa Aramburu was called for hooking just under six minutes into the first. The Furies were doing a fairly decent job killing it off when Melissa Bizzari got the puck to Meghan Grieves. Grieves used some nice skating to get around the Toronto defence but couldn’t quite beat van der Bliek... until she did. It wasn’t clear whether the puck went off the post, off van der Bliek or off a Furies player but either way the Blades were up 1-0.

Michelle Ng was the next to score for the Blades only a few minutes later on a scramble at the net. The Furies finally answered back in the last quarter of the period. Prévost, who had quite a few opportunities in the game, got a shot through to Boston goaltender Lauren Dahm and Fulton was there to poke in the rebound.

Danielle Gagné took advantage of a Boston turnover to tie the game and the period ended with the score 2-2. Shots were also even at 14 all.

Taylor Wasylk, a rookie with the Blades playing in only her third game of the season (she’s also head coach of the women’s hockey program developing at Suffolk University), broke the tie only 3:38 into the second period. Despite having two power plays in the period, the Furies couldn’t get anything going. They spent far too much time in their own zone and resorted to icing several times.

Toronto had a few opportunities in the third period, including a shot by Jenna Dingeldein that went just over the net, but once again it was Boston who scored. Megan Myers got a bit of a breakaway and Kate Leary managed to poke her shot home.

The Furies pressed late, especially after pulling van der Bliek with 2:18 left in the game, but the Blades defended well, missing the empty net twice and once forcing Saunders to make a very impressive save.

Boston comes away with their very first win of the season and Toronto’s losing streak hits 11.

Three Stars

3. Lauren Dahm, Boston Blades (37 saves)

2. Hayley Williams, Toronto Furies (1A)

1. Melissa Bizzari, Boston Blades (2A)

Notes

It was good to have Campbell and her bomb of a shot back but when the idea seems to be that she shoots in for others to pick up a rebound she’s missing the net a lot, which defeats the strategy.

If you were listening to the broadcast, they claimed Prévost entered the game with a nine game point streak. It was nine points in six games, and it broke tonight. Not the birthday she was hoping for.

This was Boston’s first game with a new head coach, Kacy Ambroz. She’s a former captain of the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and more recently, a forward for the Minnesota Whitecaps.

All respect to Boston, they continue to improve each year, but being the only team they can beat consistently is not where the Furies want to be.