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CWHL Recap: Thunder dominated while the Furies were frustrated

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There were six goals in each game. Sadly, this only worked out for one of our teams.

Markham Thunder

Markham Thunder 6 - Worcester Blades 0 (Game Summary)

The Markham Thunder’s opening day festivities started with the Clarkson Cup banner-raising ceremony. In attendance were Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti, MP for Thornhill Mary Ng - and former and current commissioners Brenda Andress and Jayna Hefford. Also present for the ceremony were former members who helped them get the win - Devon Skeats, Jessica Hartwick, elusive 3rd goalie, Jaime Miller and former assistant coach, Candice Moxley.

Erin Kickham took the ceremonial puck drop for the Blades alongside Dania Simmonds for the Thunder.

Starting Lineups

For the Thunder, Jess Jones, and Nicoles Brown and Kosta were the forwards with Laura Fortino and Daniella Matteucci on defense. Erica Howe was in the net, with Liz Knox on the bench. It was weird to not see the Thunder start Jamie Lee Rattray, but Rattray is a closer in her own right, and Brown and Kosta would make the perfect feeders for Jones. Not dressed were Alexis Woloschuk and rookie Kelly Gribbons.

For the Blades, the forwards were Meghan Turner, Meghan Grieves, and Morgan Turner with first round draft pick Lauren Williams and Taryn Harris on defense. Former Thunder ninth round draft pick Mariah Fujimagari started in the net for the Blades with stalwart Lauren Dahm on the bench. As per Thunder GM Chelsea Purcell, the terms of the trade for Fujimagari have yet to be decided.

First period

The first seven minutes go by without a goal scored. For a while, it looks like the Blades are a better team than the years before. They’re passing well, they manage to carry the puck to their opponent’s net. Fujimagari is playing great and stops several shots.

Kristina Brown picks up a penalty for bodychecking around the seven-minute mark. The Thunder make full use of the powerplay. Megan Bozek makes a pass to Rattray, who in turn passes it to first round draft pick and breaker of records Victoria Bach, who shows the crowd what the hype was about. Bach skates past both Blades defenders, dangles it in front of the goalie, and deftly puts the puck in right under Fujimagari’s pads as she is dropping into her butterfly position. The cheering is subdued, Bach is the only one celebrating, and the Blades look confused. It takes a few seconds for her Thunder teammates to even realize that she scored her first goal in the CWHL.

Around the 10 minute mark, Stacey tries a wraparound and Fujimagari keeps looking left and right for the puck, not even realizing it had slipped in front of her. In a few seconds, literally every single Blade dogpiles into the crease trying to stop it from going in, and all three Thunder forwards are trying to drive it in. The puck tumbles out right as the whistle is blown. Looks like the Blades won that fight.

Worcester’s Casey Stathopoulos gets sent to the box for hooking at the 13 minute mark, but the Thunder can’t convert on the power play. Kristen Barbara is sent to the box for hooking 15 minutes into the period but the Thunder successfully kill off that penalty as well. There is a somewhat amusing moment when Taylor Woods finds herself in the Blades corner fighting to get it out with all four Blades while the three of her teammates wait by the blue line hoping that the puck would head their way and they can pop it into an undefended net.

The first period ends 1:0 for the Thunder. Shots on goal were 14 for the Thunder, and seven for the Blades.

Second period

The second period starts with Jones getting a penalty for slashing just seven seconds in. It was so quick that I literally blinked and missed it. The Blades are trying to capitalize on the power play but Fortino passes it to Laura Stacey and she brings it into the Blades’ half. Both defenders zone in on her without realizing that Jones had left the box. Crowded by them, she passes the puck to an unguarded Jones and she swiftly dispatches it into the back of the net. It is now 2:0 for the Thunder.

Jocelyne Larocque gets sent to the box for bodychecking about four minutes in. Instead of capitalizing on the power play, the Blades somehow let Stacey have the puck in their zone. She makes a beeline for their net and the Blades’ Brown and Kaitlin Spurling can’t keep up with those long strides and she puts one into the top left corner for a short handed goal. Assists were awarded to Fortino and Kosta, but Stacey pretty much brought that puck down two-thirds of the ice.

There is a goalie change for the Blades at the first whistle just past the 10 minute mark. Fujimagari is out and Dahm is in. The timing of it makes it seem that the Blades coach intended to split goaltending duties 50-50.

The rest of the period ends with a series of penalties. For the Blades, Kickham goes in the box at 11:56 for Delay of Game, and around the 15-minute mark Courtney Turner gets two minutes for cross-checking. Dahm manages to kill off both of those penalties. The Thunder’s Brooke Webster gets a late call for hooking and will start off the next period in the box.

Third period

Dania Simmonds was honored before the start of the third period for being the “CWHL Iron Woman” for 149 consecutive games played.

A minute in, Rattray - still in search of her first goal - goes crashing into Dahm’s net and the net comes off its pegs. Looks like the weak pegs from last year are still in the Thornhill Community Arena.

Fortino sends a slapshot towards Dahm. She sees it coming and managed to save it with her left leg pad. But what she did not count on was a weak defense and second round draft pick Ailish Forfar waiting to put in the rebound high in the net for her first goal in the CWHL. Woods is also credited with the first assist.

Stathopoulos gets sent to the box again four minutes in for high sticking and this time Dahm is not so lucky. Jones makes use of the opportunity and hits it into the top right corner, just short of Dahm’s blocker. Assisted by Kosta and Stacey (although the assist was initially credited to Fortino) for a power play goal.

Stathopoulos is out of the box after the goal is scored but Harris goes in a minute later for body checking. Dahm and the Blades successfully kill off that penalty.

Woods goes into the box for hooking at 12:31. That does not stop the Thunder as Fortino, Kosta and Brown make it to Dahm’s net and pass the puck around looking for an opening. It is Brown that finds an opening and scores the sixth goal of the night for the Thunder.

One last penalty for the Thunder goes to their captain, Larocque, for holding.

Total shots on goal were 43 for the Thunder, and 24 for the Blades. Howe ends the first game of the season with a shutout. Final score 6:0 for the Thunder.

The game ends with the Thunder holding their sticks in an arch up for Simmonds as she is first to exit the arena.

1st Star: Dania Simmonds

2nd Star: Laura Fortino (4 As)

3rd Star: Jess Jones (2 Gs)

The first star was largely ceremonial for Simmonds. The crowd was wondering why all the fanfare for a record. What was not announced, but released later in a press release, was that this was to be her last game. Simmonds is officially retiring after six years in the Thunder.

Notes

  • It was initially announced that Fortino had six assists. However the game summary only shows Fortino with four assists, which is a pretty neat feat in itself.
  • Jones is back and has found new linemates in the Nicoles. But last year’s three top scorers (Rattray, Richards, and McParland) have yet to find the net, with Rattray picking up only one point for an assist. It is interesting to see if coach Jim Jackson will keep this line or play around with other lines tomorrow.
  • The rookie forwards are living up to their hype, but there was not much coming from Matteucci or Gina Repaci. But this is only the first game.
  • Bozek loves to slapshot. And every single slapshot (I counted 12) found its way to the goalkeeper’s box. If anything those slapshots unnerve the goalie. They were all stopped this time, but it would not surprise me if many find their way at the back of the net as the season progresses.
  • Blades’ defenders need to let their tendy(s) do their job. They were diving to block shots right in front of the goaltender. They are taking themselves out of commission for several seconds and giving huge openings to their opponents to put rebounds in.
  • Harrison Browne was in the audience. Now that he has officially retired from hockey, he must have time to come attend CWHL games. I guess he is friends with some Thunder players.

Toronto Furies 1 - Shenzhen Rays 5 (Game Summary)

If you saw the boxscore from tonight showing the Furies only a goal back until the final 5 minutes of the game, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a pretty even game with a little bad luck at the end. This was a frustrating game to watch.

As usual, the Furies opening weekend coincided with the Etobicoke Dolphins’ annual Pink the Rink tournament to raise money for breast cancer research. The tournament organizer and new GM Sami Jo Small dropped the ceremonial puck — Natalie Spooner and Cayley Mercer took the faceoff. Unlike other years I didn’t really notice much in the way of pink tape on the players sticks and equipment.

Elaine Chuli made her debut between the pipes with Shea Tiley on the bench. The Spooner line, which this game was Mackenzie MacNeil, Brittany Howard and Natalie Spooner, took the opening faceoff with Renata Fast and Emma Greco paired on the blueline. The Rays countered with Noora Räty in goal, Hanna Bunton and Cayley Mercer on the wings and Hannah Miller at centre. Yu Baiwei and Jessica Wong started on defence.

Julia Fedeski will have to wait for her first CWHL game - she and Jessica Platt joined Amanda Makela as the scratches. Forward Wen Lu and third goalie Wang Yuqing were scratched for Shenzhen.

First Period

The first period involved a lot of movement up and down the rink and a lot of physical play, which the refs allowed all game long. Neither team got much in the way of extended zone time. The pace wasn’t quite the top speed we saw from last year’s KRS team and yet both teams seemed very fluid in their skating.

Brittany Zuback had the first shot of the game but it was the Rays who scored first. Hannah Miller got her first CWHL goal, with assists from former Vanke Rays duo Cayley Mercer and Hanna Bunton. Spooner answered back just over three minutes later, scoring in her 90th career CWHL game, with assists from MacNeil and Sarah Nurse. Nurse collided with Melanie Jue in the corner just before the goal, I’m not sure if she started the play before she hit the ice or if she got her stick on the puck after she regained her footing. Spooner powered her way up the ice for a second try not long afterwards but couldn’t get around the last Rays defender.

With just over six seconds left in the period, Emily Fulton and Emma Woods were sent to their respective boxes. Fulton tripped Woods in retaliation for an uncalled trip on a Fury by a Shenzhen player and Woods got in her face about it. Thus, Fulton for holding and Woods for checking, 4 on 4 hockey.

Shots were 12-8 in favour of Toronto.

Second period

The Furies could not sustain offensive zone time for love nor money through the first three quarters of the second period. They got pinned into their own zone and every time I noted that they’d gotten the puck out, it was back in the Toronto zone just seconds later. I had some hope when Liu Zhixin was called for tripping, but Melissa Channell (who otherwise looked pretty good in this game) completely failed to stop a rolling puck on its way past the blueline and that was more or less it for offensive zone time in that power play.

Just to rub salt in the wound, the Rays scored shorthanded with about 20 seconds to go. Suffice to say that when Alex Carpenter has the puck and there is no one between her and your team’s goalie it is a terrifying moment. She went high glove side on Chuli and it was very pretty, for a goal against my team. Bunton notched her second assist of the game.

Leah Lum went off for hooking and the Furies power play went better in that no one scored on them. Channell even redeemed herself by regaining the zone after they had inevitably lost it and powering through for a shot on net.

One bright spot in the period was Zuback, who had at least two, possibly four attempts on net.

The Rays outshot the Furies 12 - 9.

Third period

Sarah Nurse hit a post less than a minute into the third period. The game might have gone very differently had that gone in. Possession-wise it was a better period for the Furies, who managed to get into the Shenzhen zone much more often than they had in the second. Unfortunately they had a lot of trouble connecting with each other, which was maddening to watch. Spooner in particular seemed to either expect teammates to be places they weren’t or had passes sent in her general direction that didn’t quite connect. She wasn’t the only one, but in Spooner fashion, she tended to be the Fury with the puck a lot of the time.

There were more than a few close calls for the Rays but Elaine Chuli was up to the task until, with 4:55 left in the game, Carpenter got her to commit hard on the left side and sent the puck to Lum on the right with a wide open net, for Lum’s first CWHL goal. 3-1 Rays. In Chuli’s defence, when Alex Carpenter is in close with the puck, she tends to draw one’s attention. Getting the goalie to move from side to side is the one major trick that works on Räty, and I have to wonder if the Rays have learned it from practicing on her.

After that... it basically looked like Spooner got frustrated. Natalie Spooner, who in her 89 previous career games had a total of 44 penalty minutes (20 of them in the terrible 2015-16 season), took two penalties in the space of two and a half minutes. First she was called for a blatant hold right in front of an official. The Rays got Chuli moving side to side again and Lum had her second goal of the game, with assists from Emma Woods and Rachel Llanes to make it 4-1.

Next, Spooner was called for checking a Rays player against the boards in front of the benches. It was pretty loud. This time I think Shenzhen got a little lucky — from my angle the puck seemed to sort of hop over one of Chuli’s pads with only 17 seconds left in the game. Kong Minghui got the goal, and Fang Xin had the assist, so unlike last season, Chinese players got points in the very first game of the season.

Total shots were Rays 30 - Furies 27.

Three stars

3. Natalie Spooner (1G, 4 PIM)

2. Noora Räty (26 saves)

1. Leah Lum (2G, 2 PIM)

Notes

  • I noticed early on that the Chinese players on the Rays, including Fang Xin, Liu Zhixin and of course Yu Baiwei, got a fair bit of ice time, often together. They also got power play time, something that’s a good sign for their development.
  • Elaine Chuli was very good in this game, maybe a strange thing to say of a goalie who gave up five goals, but she had some great positional saves through traffic and the Rays had to try really hard to beat her.
  • Spooner wasn’t the only Furies player with a milestone game, it was also Julie Allen’s 80th CWHL game.
  • She only had one assist in the game but Sarah Nurse is very noticeable when she’s on the ice.
  • I’m terrible at evaluating defence but Jordan Hampton seemed to be everywhere I looked.

The Markham Thunder go for the weekend sweep tomorrow at 12:30 pm, and the Toronto Furies play their second of three tomorrow at 1:00 pm. Tickets are available on the CWHL website, and you can watch the Furies game live online.