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CWHL Recap: Furies dull Blades and Inferno hold back the Thunder

It was a night of firsts in Toronto, and a frustrating night in Markham

Shannon Stewart (10) of the Toronto Furies during a home game. Chris Tanouye/CWHL

Toronto Furies 5 - Worcester Blades 1

The Toronto Furies hosted the Worcester Blades as part of their annual You Can Play game. The usual pre-game flag bearers were joined by two more: one bearing the rainbow Pride flag and one bearing the Trans Pride flag. Former NWHLer Harrison Browne, the first openly trans athlete to play professional hockey, and now an NHL ambassador for their Hockey Is For Everyone initiative, dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Toronto’s Jessica Platt, the first openly trans player in the CWHL, took the faceoff opposite Worcester’s Morgan Turner. Limited edition Platt shirseys that sported the Trans Pride flag on the back along with Platt’s name and number (11) were available at the game and are still available to order by e-mailing GM Sami Jo Small. All Furies shirseys (the three available at all games are Spooner, Nurse and Fast) are selling for $30 CAD.

The Furies were down a number of players for this game — Emily Fulton and Anissa Gamble have joined Jordan Hampton on injured reserve and Carolyne Prévost is in Dubai for a crossfit competition. Thus, Sydney Kidd was called upon to make her 2018-19 debut.

Platt joined Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse on the first line to start the game (although she was quickly replaced by Shannon Stewart). The starting defenders were Renata Fast and Emma Greco, and Shea Tiley got the net.

I’m not sure what it was like for anyone watching the stream but I bet the guys calling the game had some trouble with the Blades starting line of Meghan Turner, Morgan Turner and Demi Crossman. Erin Kickham and Alexis Miller started on the blueline and Jetta Rackleff was the goalie of record.

First period

The first period started off fairly messy. The puck seemed to be bouncing a lot and while each team spent some time in the offensive zone, nobody was getting pucks to the net. Considering the Blades record this year, the Furies were giving the Blades too much respect, backing off too quickly when Worcester got the puck and allowed the skaters room to manoeuvre.

About five and a half minutes into the period, the Furies iced the puck. The Blades took advantage of the offensive zone faceoff to get some shots on Tiley. The puck bounced off her pads again and again at close range, I counted at least three rebounds, and eventually she lost track of the puck. Morgan Turner took advantage and put the puck through five-hole for her first CWHL goal. Demi Crossman and Meghan Turner got the assists, giving Meghan her first CWHL point.

I’d like to say this got the Furies going, and certainly there were a few shots on net, one from Spooner, and a wraparound attempt by Greco, but we also saw things like someone try to pass to Mackenzie MacNeil... or rather where MacNeil had been as she was actually a few strides away on her way off for a line change.

It took a little over three minutes for Toronto to score, and it was another first. Shannon Stewart, who had four assists last season, but no goals, scored her first CWHL goal with a quick shot on the fly to tie the game. Jess Vella and Renata Fast were credited with the assists.

The Furies started looking more serious at that point, putting more pucks on net, although that didn’t mean Tiley didn’t have a few stops to make at the other end.

I said at the beginning that Toronto was giving the Worcester players too much respect, but we do have to remember that most of the few wins the Blades have had since the start of the 2015-16 season were against the Furies. At one point Spooner tried to evade the Blades defence to get the puck to the net as is her custom. She went up against Kickham and lost the puck to her.

The Furies looked more organized as the period went on. One faceoff, that resulted from a puck sailing into the Toronto bench, resulted in chances for Nurse, Stewart and Brittany Howard one after the other.

Natalie Spooner hit a post rather loudly with less than four minutes to go. Howard followed that up a few seconds later with a hard shot from the hashmarks that beat Rackleff blocker side. Rookie all-star Mellissa Channell got the assist.

The Furies pretty much dominated the last few minutes of the period. The Blades iced the puck a few times to get some relief, and benefited from a quick whistle when the ref lost sight of the puck with only a few seconds left in the period, but the shot counter ended the period at 18 to 6 in favour of Toronto.

Second period

While the Furies continued to get looks on Rackleff it was clear they still have things to work on. Howard looked pretty awkward at one point, losing the puck in her own skates with no one really pressuring her. Nurse sent a pass that missed its target and went long for icing. There were a few icing calls on Toronto that allowed Worcester to get some extra chances on Tiley.

Tiley, meanwhile, was letting out a lot of rebounds. It’s one thing to kick the puck into the corner or to give your defenders a chance to clear, but a lot of the rebounds didn’t seem to come out very far and ended up directly in front of her. I sometimes got the sense that she wasn’t sure where the puck actually was.

Julia Fedeski nearly took out Shannon Moulson on the bench with an errant high stick. Speaking of high sticks — the refs were calling nothing. There was at least once blatant trip by each team, and something by Nurse I would have called interference, but the refs disagreed.

Platt came very close to scoring her first of the season with about five and a half minutes left but Rackleff redirected the puck just in time.

It was Sarah Nurse who finally got another goal on the scoreboard, redirecting a Spooner shot after having been denied on a shot of her own a few seconds earlier.

Emma Greco got the first penalty of the game with less than a minute left in the period. She was called for kneeing. Nurse got a shorthanded chance on the kill as the clock wound down. Shots in the period were 16 to 8 for the Furies.

Third period

Coach Courtney Kessel sent Julie Allen and Jess Vella out on the kill with the D pairing of Mellissa Channell and Megan Quinn to start the period. The Furies killed off that penalty, ending with a long shot down to Rackleff, and then a little over a minute later Greco was back in the box, this time for holding.

Spooner got a shot off shorthanded on the second kill and forced Rackleff to make a nice glove save. Once the penalty expired Greco headed for the Worcester blueline where she caught a pass and took a shot of her own.

Three minutes later, shortly after another icing call against Toronto, Spooner put her team up 4-1 with a lovely shot that went up and over Rackleff’s shoulder. MacNeil was credited with the assist but from this replay it might have been Nurse.

The Blades only penalty kill came with 4:25 left in the game when Taryn Harris went off for hooking. It took the Furies less than a minute to capitalize. Another Spooner shot went in on Rackleff, who looked like she had it for a second, but then the puck kept bouncing and ended up behind her. Spooner celebrated the goal but in the arena and on the game sheet it’s credited to Nurse from Fast and Spooner. Things were pretty crowded in front of that net so I’m willing to believe I missed something.

And that was all she wrote. Shots in the period were 17 to 5 in favour of the Furies, giving Toronto 51 shots on the night, which meant Rackleff was still over .900 in the game.

Three stars

3. Morgan Turner, Worcester Blades (first career goal)

2. Shannon Stewart, Toronto Furies (first career goal)

1. Brittany Howard, Toronto Furies (game winning goal)

Notes

Sarah Nurse is currently on a point per game pace as a rookie and has also tied the franchise record goal-scoring streak at five games.

Games against the Blades tend to be ones where the opposition can pad their stats a little and there were a lot more shots that usual from some of the Furies depth. It became evident that Platt really wanted to score tonight, but she couldn’t quite make it happen. Quinn, MacNeil and Suzuki also got more shots off than usual. Suzuki might have been practicing for tomorrow, which is billed as the Japanese Heritage game.

Beyond the multiple scratches (the Blades only iced 17 skaters), there were a number of hopefully minor incidents in the game. Renata Fast went down awkwardly against the boards in the second, the Blades Chelsey Goldberg was looked at by the Toronto staff and given ice for something on her forearm or wrist, Mellissa Channell took her own turn going into the boards and hopefully only got the wind knocked out of her, and Courtney Turner (yes, Worcester has an excess of Turners) took a shot off the foot or ankle in a friendly fire incident.

Carlee Campbell apparently announced during the broadcast that she will be returning to the ice soon. Her name was on the roster in this weekend’s program.

Don’t know if I’ve been particularly unobservant or if this was her first game with it, but Shannon Moulson’s jersey read “Moulson-Nap”, so I gather congratulations are in order.

Markham Thunder 1 - Calgary Inferno 3

Last week the Calgary Inferno hosted the Markham Thunder and they split the series. The Thunder is one of only two teams to beat Calgary this season. Can they do it again?

Starting lineup for the Thunder was Victoria Bach, Jess Jones, Nicole Brown, Laura Fortino, and Megan Bozek. Erica Howe started in the net with Liz Knox on the bench. Nicole Kosta and Alexis Woloschuk were listed as the scratches.

Starting for the Inferno were Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Leslie, Kelty Apperson, Halli Krzyzaniak, and Brigette Lacquette. Alex Rigsby, in her first visit to the GTA since joining the CWHL (she didn’t travel to Toronto when the Inferno played the Furies a few weeks ago, post 4 Nations Cup), started in net with Annie Bélanger as backup. On a minor note, this is the first game without Shannon Miller coaching the Inferno.

First Period

Barely two minutes into the first period, Jones gets a rebound off of Bozek’s shot on goal and scores the first goal on Rigsby. Jenna McParland is credited with the second assist.

Jenner counters with her line not five minutes later with an amazing backhanded shot close to the net. Assists are credited to her linemates Leslie and Apperson.

Just 10 minutes later, who else scores again but Jenner. Lacquette passes it to Leslie, who passes it to an unguarded Jenner, who puts into into the top left of Howe’s net.

End of the first period and the Inferno has outshot the Thunder 14 shots to 5. The score is 2 for the Inferno and 1 for the Thunder.

Second Period

Apperson goes into the penalty box at 16:22 for tripping. Jenner grabs the puck and sends it down the ice to eat up some precious penalty kill seconds. The puck seems to be mainly played in the Thunder’s half during the power play as the Inferno successfully kill off that penalty.

Seven minutes in, Becca King goes into the box for hooking. The Thunder are on the penalty kill. They successfully kill off the penalty, but not without a lot of offense and shots from the Inferno.

Bach makes perhaps the first breakaway of the night towards the Inferno net but is stopped short by Rigsby.

Just after the 15 minute mark, Fortino goes into the box for roughing. Howe is unable to cover the puck after saving a shot. In a risky move three Thunder players and Howe pile on the puck in front of the net giving the Inferno no chance for their sticks to connect with the puck. It works and the Thunder successfully kill off that penalty.

With under a minute left, Bozek goes into the box for body checking. She will start off the third in the box and the Thunder will start of the period with a penalty kill.

The second period remains scoreless. Shots on net in the second period were announced at 7 for the Thunder and 15 for the Inferno for a total of 12 shots to 29 shots (although at this point it shows 11 to 26 on the live stats scoresheet).

Third Period

The first half of the period involves a lot of back and forth. The biggest drama happens when Laura Stacey falls on top of Apperson along the boards, crushing her in the process.

With seven minutes left, the Inferno get back to back penalties. The first for Leslie for hooking and Krzyzaniak for delay of game for sending the puck above the boards. The Inferno are on a two man disadvantage against the Thunder but are still able to kill off both penalties.

With just under five minutes to go, after not seeing much from her most of the game, Zoe Hickel puts one past Erica Howe. The assists are credited to Brianna Decker and Rebecca Johnston.

The Thunder pull Howe with a little over a minute left for some 6 on 5 action. They are still unable to put one past Rigsby. With 36 seconds left on the clock, Markham calls for a time out to discuss their strategy. They are two goals down so a win seems unlikely, and the Inferno are able to hold them off.

Shots are 11 for the Inferno and 12 for the Thunder in the period, for total of 23 for the Thunder, and 40 (reduced to 36 from the live stats) for the Inferno.

Three stars

3. Laura Fortino, Markham Thunder (2 penalty minutes)

2. Zoe Hickel, Calgary Inferno (1 goal)

1. Brianne Jenner (2 goals, 2 penalty minutes)

Notes

Shots on goal have been pretty even across the three games played, with the Inferno getting at least half as many more goals as the Thunder, including the Thunder shootout win.

I was unsure how Shannon Miller’s absence will affect the Inferno. At least for tonight, it does not seem to have affected the momentum of the team much.

The Thunder go for the rematch and the Furies play their final home game of 2018 tomorrow. Tickets are available online and both games will be streamed: the Markham game at 12:30 Eastern on CWHL Live and Toronto on their own streaming.