The 2018-19 Battle of the GTA began at the Thornhill Community Centre Saturday night as the Markham Thunder and Toronto Furies played the first game of a home-and-home split (tomorrow’s Furies “home” game will be held in Oakville instead of the MCC).
The game was billed as an “Epic Ladies Night Out” by the organization See What She Can Do. For $25 (including game ticket), participants could arrive an hour and a half before puck drop and listen to talks from Thunder GM Chelsea Purcell, former GM, two-time Olympian and three-time World Champion Lori Dupuis and Furies GM, three-time Olympian and four-time World Champion Sami Jo Small.
The starting line for the Thunder were Laura Stacey, Kristen Richards, Jenna McParland, Daniella Matteucci, and Jocelyne Larocque. As per the usual weekend lineup, Liz Knox started in net for the Thunder and Erica Howe was on the bench. Nicole Kosta was listed as a scratch for the Thunder.
The starting line for the Furies were Natalie Spooner, Sarah Nurse, Brittany Zuback, Renata Fast, and Emma Greco. Elaine Chuli started in net with Shea Tiley on the bench. Furies scratches were not announced but Amanda Makela was watching with her dog Charlie from the stands. Brittany Howard was also not on the game sheet.
About four minutes in, Jamie Lee Rattray shoots and even though Chuli does stop the initial shot with her right pad, it hits the pad at an awkward angle that causes the puck to ricochet backwards into the net. Assists are credited to Brooke Webster and Ailish Forfar.
With about nine minutes left on the clock, the Furies, in a puzzling move, pull Chuli from the net while they are in the Thunder’s half. I am just wondering about the thought process behind it. They are at even strength, and the puck has been in the Thunder’s half the majority of the time.
However, as soon as Chuli makes it to the box, the whistle is blown — it’s a delayed penalty, I missed the signal from the ref. Victoria Bach gets a penalty for roughing and the Furies get the woman advantage. Unfortunately they are not able to make it happen as the Thunder successfully kill off the penalty.
Just after the eight minute mark, there is a literal pileup behind the Furies net. Rattray gets tangled with three Furies players, but the whistle is not blown as the puck is still in play. In an attempt to get out of the pile and also stop Rattray from getting at the puck, Emily Fulton accidentally trips her up. Fulton goes to the box for interference and it is the Furies turn for a penalty kill.
The Thunder are able to capitalize on the power play opportunity. Jess Jones realizes that she is blocked and passes the puck to Megan Bozek, who does what she does best and slapshots it towards the net. Chuli manages to save it with her pads but it stays loose. There is a split second of hesitation from Richards as she evaluates the situation before taking a shot that lands the puck over Chuli’s shoulder. Even though the net is pushed off its moorings in the process, the goal is awarded to the Thunder.
Shots on goal after the first period were 17 for the Thunder and 5 for the Furies.
I sat on the Furies side expecting to see most of the action there, but it seems that the Furies are actually trying hard this time, as most of the gameplay is happening on the Thunder side - for the first 15 minutes. The Furies do a lot of passing in front of the net, but most of the time they are unable to get through the Thunder defense, resulting in very few actual shots on the net.
The best chance the Furies had was at the 5:29 mark when a player found a rare unguarded spot in the Thunder defense, but Knox managed to get her glove outstretched, denying the Furies yet again.
With less than five minutes left on the clock Julia Fedeski gets a major penalty for boarding. She has to serve ten minutes in the box. Zuback serves the extra two minutes. The Furies are on their second penalty kill of the night. However, instead of trying to ice the puck to burn off precious penalty seconds, the Furies keep passing it to Spooner, perhaps trying to get her to get a shorthanded goal. Of course, the Markham defense get in the way.
Right as Zuback is coming out of the box, the Furies find the puck in their end. Jones once again finds her scoring chances blocked so she passes it to Nicole Brown in front of the net. Brown hits it into Chuli’s pads and it rebounds in Bach’s direction and she puts it in the net for the Thunder, for their second power play goal of the night. Again, that was a rebound that Chuli could have controlled.
With the Furies still reeling from the scramble, the puck finds its way to Laura Fortino who wrist shots it over Chuli’s left shoulder less than a minute later.
The period ends with the Thunder leading the Furies 4-1. Shots on goal were 8 for the Furies and 12 for the Thunder.
Richards starts off the period with a penalty for holding 37 seconds in. The Furies are on the power play. The Furies manage to capitalize on it when Nurse, assisted by Fast, manages to sink it into the net of a heavily-screened Knox.
Toronto is on the power play again when Taylor Woods gets a penalty for bodychecking just four minutes in. Just when you think that things are starting to look up for the Furies, Fast evens it out to a 4 on 4 with a tripping penalty just 12 seconds later.
Sena Suzuki gets a delay of game penalty a minute into the 4 on 4. The Furies are now down 4 on 3. The penalties to Woods and Fast expire without issue, and it is now a 4 on 5 with Suzuki still in the box. There is a lot of passing in front of the Furies net but it is Stacey that seals the deal. Assist credited to Barbara. Note that Fedeski is still in the box with Suzuki serving out her penalty.
Fulton leaves the ice with just over five minutes left on the game. Not sure what happened there. Even Sami Jo Small had no clue what happened to her at the time of writing.
The Thunder win the first round of the Battle of the GTA 5-2. Total shots on net were 39 for the Thunder and 24 for the Furies.
3. Sarah Nurse (1G, 1A)
2. Megan Bozek (1A)
1. Laura Stacey (1G)
Jim Jackson realizes that the Furies have weak defense beyond their first line. It seemed deliberate that he put Rattray, Jones, and Bach on the second line to take advantage of that matchup.
Chuli really needs to control her rebounds. The first four goals were rebounds that could have been stopped if she had covered the puck. That being said, the Furies defense also needs to be able to get rebounds out of the crease.
The Furies need to position their players in front of the net. There were so many times where players found themselves on the Thunder side with the puck against the boards but no one to pass it to. This would have helped even out the shots on net and increase their chances at a goal.
Can I say more about Bozek’s slapshots? I want to slapshot like Bozek when I grow up.
Spooner can sure dangle that puck, but she can not dangle it past the Markham defense.
The net on the Furies starting side kept coming off its moorings. The CWHL really needs to take Noora Raty’s suggestion to make sure all their games have the Piranha pegs. That could not possibly add that much cost to the league. I mean, even my beer league rink has them.
Chuli and the Furies defense were on high alert every time Jones had the puck in front of the net. That was also to their detriment because Jones was able to effectively pass the puck because Jones is not the only scorer on that team, as evidenced by the two goals assisted by Jones.
When the Furies are down, it makes them flustered. They get more penalties which result in power play goals.
If shots per player were counted, I’m going to wager that 90% of Furies shots came from Spooner or Nurse. In fact, it seems that they mainly make it to the Thunder side when Spooner and Nurse are on.
The Battle of the GTA continues tomorrow as the Furies host an outreach home game at Joshua Creek Arena in Oakville at 3:30pm. Tickets are available online or at the door and the game will be streamed.