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CWHL Recap: Markham Thunder edge Boston Blades to end the regular season

Today’s game was a much closer contest than Saturday’s, but Markham ends the season on a high note.

Markham Thunder’s Jamie Lee Rattray jostles with Boston Blades Meaghan Spurling during a Markham home game in the 2017-18 season Jessica Bazal - CWHL

Going into the final game of the CWHL regular season, the Markham Thunder are already locked into the fourth playoff spot. While their opponent remains to be seen—it will be either Kunlun Red Star or les Canadiennes de Montréal—this game against the Blades was meaningless in terms of the standings, and only matters for pride (for both teams).

Lauren Dahm started in net for Boston, and Liz Knox was at the other end for Markham.

First Period

Lauren Dahm started the game with a kick-save on Olympian Laura Fortino, just to make sure we were all paying attention.

Meghan Grieves got tangled up with a Thunder player and went hard into the boards behind the net. She left the ice on her own power, and returned later in the period, fortunately for the Blades.

Unsurprisingly, Laura Stacey looked dominant out there. She worked Megan Myers pretty thoroughly in the neutral zone, using her speed and size to effortlessly maintain possession and take the puck into the Blades’ zone to get a shot off.

Dru Burns took a tripping penalty, giving Markham their first power play of the game. Megan Bozek is playing point on their first unit, and her hard shot is a hell of a weapon, although Boston was able to clear the zone several times. Despite their best efforts, Nicole Kosta roofed one on the power play for the first goal of the game.

Boston was not without their own chances this period. Kaitlin Spurling sent a shot that deflected out of play, and after the ensuing faceoff, Myers was almost able to put the puck past Knox in a goalmouth scramble. [Disclaimer: The Blades have two players with that surname, Kaitlin and Meaghan, but due to stream quality I had a lot of difficulty reading numbers. Please forgive any Spurling-related confusion]

Stacey breezed right past Erin Kickham in the neutral zone and easily carried it in. She gave the Blades’ defenders fits all game.

Dahm stopped the Thunder in another scary moment for the Blades, keeping the puck out in another crease scramble. Shortly after, she jumped on a loose puck to cover it before Devon Skeats could charge in and put it past her. I’ve always been impressed by Dahm’s ability to play in traffic.

At the end of the period, Devon Skeats and Sato Kikuchi took offsetting minors, for roughing and holding, respectively. Kate Leary got a chance one-on-one with Bozek, but her shot is deflected out of play by Knox. The period ended with Dahm making a sprawling save on Stacey, but the score remained 1-0.

Second Period

The 4 on 4 finished up without further scoring. Markham had some time set up in the Boston zone, but Dahm was able to use her stick several times to poke the puck out of danger, most notably on a very pretty spinning feed onto her doorstep from Jamie Lee Rattray.

A fortuitous bounce off the boards led to Myers digging at the puck at the side of the net, but Knox held firm and made the save. Leary also got a nice shot off a few minutes later, although Knox made the save and Myers wasn’t able to get her stick on the rebound. Grieves actually stripped the puck from Fortino in the Thunder zone, and while she was chased down and didn’t manage a threatening chance, it could’ve easily turned into something with puck support.

The Blades’ momentum was abruptly halted when Kikuchi took another holding penalty. Kickham was able to bring the puck out on a shorthanded rush with Spurling, and while Kickham’s pass misses Spurling, that rush forced Jocelyne Larocque to take a hooking penalty and ended Markham’s power play a minute early. During the 4-on-4 time, Bozek was called for slashing, giving the Blades a 4-on-3 followed by a 5-on-3.

They got some good chances—a great shot by Spurling that Knox is able to save, and a Melissa Bizzari backhand from the slot that went wide stood out especially. There was also a heart-stopping shorthanded chance for Markham, as Kosta’s pass picked up Larocque as she came out of the box, giving her a free and clear breakaway. Dahm made a phenomenal sprawling split save and kept it out of the net. Neither team was able to score.

It didn’t take long for Markham to give Boston another power play opportunity, Kristen Richards going off for cross-checking. The Blades made this one count. Leary puts a rebound past Knox, tying the game 1-1.

A scrum in Dahm’s crease soon after involved a lot of pushing and shoving, but no penalties.

Leary attempted to take the lead with a hard shot from the top of the slot, but Alexis Woloschuk blocked it. Kate Leary’s been Boston’s best forward so far this game.

A scuffle along the boards in the Blades’ zone led to more four-on-four time, Rattray and Kristina Brown going off for holding and roughing, respectively. It only lasted a few seconds before Burns was called for spearing, giving Markham an extended stretch of 4-on-3 time. Markham looked very dangerous on the 4-on-3, with the Blades unable to clear the zone at all, but some shot blocking and Lauren Dahm kept Markham from taking the lead. All of the penalties elapsed without scoring.

Dahm made a great save on Karolina Urban, and then on the rebound. She followed it up with several more excellent saves, including a glove save on Rattray.

In the ending seconds of the period, there was a pileup in the Blades’ crease, but somehow the puck stayed out. The only goal this period was courtesy of Kate Leary, and the score is tied, 1-1.

Third Period

Stacey started off the third period wiring a shot right on Dahm, who made the save. She got another chance a few moments later, but sent the puck just wide. Ice-cold take: Laura Stacey is good.

Becca King got the puck in the high slot and had a point-blank chance on Dahm, who is able to fight it off. Dahm also saved a shot from near the half boards by Fortino, after a shift of solid pressure by Markham.

Myers made a great play to stop a Stacey entry at the blue line, kicking the puck out and bringing it the other way.

A close call for the Thunder as Spurling received a pass from Grieves and was almost able to put it through Knox. There was a moment of confusion as to where the puck was, but Knox was able to keep it from crossing the line. Soon after, Knox lost her stick on a save and belly-flopped down on top of the loose puck to keep Kickham from scoring. Boston’s offense looked genuinely dangerous at points.

Rattray took the lead back for Markham, and it was on a pretty one, dancing easily through the Boston zone and flummoxing Dahm on a beautiful move. Jamie Lee Rattray is without question my favorite part of watching this year’s Thunder team—her skill and creativity are delightfully entertaining.

Burns took a body-checking call shortly after, her third penalty of the game, which is exactly what you do not need when trying to come back from a deficit. Rattray almost scored on another nice move, but Dahm was able to keep it out.

Chelsey Goldberg and Burns had a rush once Burns was out of the box, but Goldberg tried a back pass that was easily intercepted by the Thunder. I could write a whole article about the perils of the drop pass, but suffice it to say, that’s not the time to do it.

After Kickham sent a long-range shot on Knox that Knox steers away, Kristen Richards went off for high-sticking Kickham. The Blades had a lot of trouble getting anything going on this power play, although Myers was able to get a chance in close that Knox saved. Markham killed it off.

Right as Richards came out of the box, she collided with Kristina Brown, who went down hard. She was helped off the ice, but with only a few minutes remaining, losing Brown was a bad sign for Boston’s comeback hopes.

With just over a minute left, Richards put a shot over a diving Dahm, making the score 3-1 Markham. In the ending minute, Dahm made a fantastic glove save on Richards to keep it that way—she was especially great this afternoon. It was a valiant fight by the Blades, who kept themselves in this game until the end, but it wasn’t enough to get the win. Markham ended the regular season and heads into the playoffs on a high note.

Notes:

  • Rattray’s third-period goal was her 22nd goal of the season, which is good for second in the CWHL. Only Kelli Stack of Kunlun Red Star has more. Rattray also picked up an assist on Kristen Richards’ goal later in that period, and finishes up the regular season third in CWHL scoring.
  • While it’s known that the Thunder will play either Kunlun or Montréal, those results are dependent on today’s games. Kunlun holds the tiebreaker, so they can still clinch first if they beat the Vanke Rays and Montréal loses to Calgary. If it is Kunlun, the series will be held at a neutral-site location in the GTA, making it way easier for Markham fans to attend.

Three Stars:

3rd: Dru Burns, Boston Blades (1a)

2nd: Laura McIntosh, Markham Thunder (1a)

1st: Nicole Kosta, Markham Thunder (1g)