In the final game of the CWHL semifinals, the Calgary Inferno faced off against Kunlun Red Star to find out who would advance to the Clarkson Cup and play the Markham Thunder. For the third game in a row, Delayne Brian and Noora Räty were in net for Calgary and Kunlun, respectively.
It was back and forth play for the first couple minutes, until Hayleigh Cudmore body-checked Jess Wong in the Kunlun zone. The Kunlun power play is terrifying (I have clear memories of watching it against the Furies), and they got some chances on their first attempt—a sharp angle Alex Carpenter shot was especially nice, but Brian made the save, and Kunlun couldn’t do anything with the rebound. Zoe Hickel also had a nice wraparound try, but Brian handled it, and Calgary killed off the penalty.
The Inferno got their own chances, especially in the first half of the period—Blayre Turnbull snapped a shot on Räty, after Kunlun’s weak play in their own zone led to multiple turnovers and Turnbull was finally able to get a shot on net. Rhianna Kurio also had a strong attempt from the slot, but Räty was able to blocker it away and handle the shot on the rebound. Calgary ran all over Kunlun once the puck was in the offensive zone, but Noora Räty is still herself. She had an especially gorgeous glove save on Kurio.
Brian, at the other end, was no slouch. She stopped last night’s OT heroine, Stephanie Anderson, from the hash marks. Then a few minutes later, she stoned Zhu on an odd-woman rush with Llanes. Of the two goalies, Brian was definitely more heavily tested during this period, but she showed that while she might not have Räty’s trophy case there’s a reason she was named Clarkson Cup MVP in 2016.
Jacquie Pierri took the Inferno’s second penalty of the game, checking Maddie Woo into the boards. Kunlun’s power play went back to work. Taylor Marchin got off several point shots that Brian handled, but the Inferno were able to kill the penalty off again.
In the ending minutes of the period, the offense was mostly coming from Kunlun. Brian made strong saves on both Anderson and Carpenter.
With about eighteen seconds left, Calgary was called for their third penalty of the period, for too many skaters. The penalty gave Brian a final opportunity to make a very nice glove save on Hickel, and she kept the score 0-0 heading into first intermission.
Kunlun started off the second period on the power play, but Blayre Turnbull charged into the Kunlun zone shorthanded and drew an interference penalty to even it up at 4 on 4.
Brian’s biggest save of the game to that point was on Kelli Stack and point-blank range, and while Kunlun dug for the rebound, they couldn’t come up with it.
Calgary took their fourth power play shortly after, Elana Lovell tripping up Carpenter on the rush. Brian made several strong saves on Carpenter during this power play. Stack had a gorgeous chance, trying to backhand the puck top corner, but couldn’t quite pick it.
Yet again, Calgary shortened Kunlun’s power play by drawing one of their own, this time Brianne Jenner on Jess Wong. A bouncing puck in the dying seconds of the power play just missed the net before it was swatted away by Stack, but Kunlun was able to kill it off.
Räty had more to do this period, and she made a good deal of excellent saves. It feels almost repetitive, to talk about the work she and Brian did this game—this was a goaltending duel of the most impressive sort. The forwards on both of these teams are top-caliber, including multiple Olympians.
Melanie Jue was called for a hook behind the play, putting Calgary on the power play. Calgary wasn’t able to get any really threatening chances—Brianne Jenner’s sharp angle shot after the penalty expired was better than anything they managed shorthanded, but Räty was there.
In the last couple minutes, Sophie Shirley had a great shift in the Kunlun zone. She had several great chances, like the puck was following her around. Shirley’s been a gift to watch this year, all slippery speed, and she’s only 18.
A heartstopping moment for Calgary as the period came to an end, with Brian misplaying the puck and only barely getting back in her cage to prevent Kunlun from burying it.
Rhianna Kurio drew a penalty early in the period, as she was tripped up by Maddie Woo while trying to feed Turnbull at the crease (despite the call, it was a nice pass from Kurio). Räty came up big for Kunlun during the power play, and yet again, a penalty elapsed without any scoring.
Calgary had a close chance on Räty’s doorstep, but the Kunlun defender was able to keep the forward’s stick tied up until Räty could corral it. The Inferno pressured hard, tilting the ice back in their favor after the first two periods seemed to be skewed towards Red Star.
Another Kunlun penalty came about halfway through the period, Kelli Stack for tripping Brittney Fouracres along the boards. Again, Kunlun had a good handle on controlling Calgary’s power play, although there were some opportunities—including Louise Warren skying a shot just over the top of the net.
Brian made some great saves on Hickel and Stack, lest we think that Calgary was the only team getting chances, or Räty was the only goalie putting on a clinic. A very smart save on Stack right from the top of the crease stood out especially.
The teams kept trading dangerous chances, making my recap sound like a broken record. At one end, Stack and Anderson had an opportunity, and then later Rachel Llanes tried to convert a 2-on-1 and can’t manage it. At the other, Kurio’s feed to the front of the net was fanned on. This was the point that I started to worry no one would ever score in this game, and it would continue on forever, and Markham would be destined to sit around waiting in the Ricoh Coliseum for some team to come play them. (My fears were not unfounded, it turned out.)
Despite the best efforts of both teams’ forwards (I’d like to give a special shoutout to Kelli Stack, for being terrifying, and Blaye Turnbull, for being relentless), regulation ended with a scoreless tie of 0-0, and we went to overtime.
Alex Carpenter danced around the defense, but her shot rolled right along the goal line and through the crease. Stack and Anderson got a two-on-one, but Brianne Jenner’s stick check prevented Anderson from being the OT heroine two nights in a row.
Kelty Apperson got a good chance at the other end after a fortuitous bounce off the end boards, but Räty made the save, and then Jue dumped Apperson for getting too close to her goalie. No penalty was called.
A great feed from Carpenter to Llanes right in the slot almost leads to a goal, but Brian is able to save Llanes’s shot.
Anderson was called for slashing Warren’s stick out of her hands, giving Calgary an overtime power play opportunity. Hickel and Stack had a great shorthanded chance, but Brian made the save on Hickel’s shot. Calgary wasn’t able to muster up much on the power play. Anderson and Llanes had a great chance as Anderson came out of the box,
Not long after Kunlun killed the penalty off, Fouracres crashed the crease and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for snowing Räty (this is, in my opinion, an Extremely Weird penalty, but I’m not a CWHL referee, so).
Stack looked dangerous on the power play as always, but Calgary got a few shorthanded chances—a shot from Kurio, and then a two on one for Warren and Dakota Woodworth. Yet again, the penalty was killed off. It’s almost comical how ineffective special teams have been in this game.
I have no idea how either of these teams had any energy left at this point, considering that this was their third game in three days. Even so, the play kept going back and forth, although it had become visibly sloppier at this point. Stack, of course, was getting the majority of Kunlun’s chances, and just as the first overtime period expired Turnbull had a prime chance that Räty was able to save.
Rachel Llanes had enough energy left to pull off a really nice spin move in the Calgary zone, but she couldn’t manage to get it past Brian.
A hard drive to the net from Carpenter is somehow saved by Brian—she’s been amazing this game. I expected this kind of performance from Noora Räty, but Brian repeatedly stonewalled some of the best forwards in the CWHL.
Baiwei Yu took a hooking penalty to save a goal, giving Calgary their seventh (seventh!) power play opportunity. The Inferno had trouble getting shots through, Kunlun blocking a lot of them, and Räty taking care of the rest. Llanes got a good backhand shot off shorthanded, but Brian was there to stop it.
Kunlun was having some trouble with icing the puck, although some of that came from passes that didn’t connect.
Somehow Brian point-blank stoned Carpenter, who had plenty of time and space to pick her spot. It’s not often a player like Carpenter misses from that close. Brian has really had a phenomenal game.
After a misplay at the blue line, Pierri was able to get behind Kunlun’s defense...and rang a shot off the post.
With only seconds left in the period, Hickel had a great chance in close, but Brian was able to make a high glove save on her shot, prolonging
our agony this game.
Carpenter had a good look again, trying to stuff it through Brian’s pads off a feed from Stack.
A diving block by Marchin knocked the puck away from Kurio, preventing her from getting a shot off.
At this point, fatigue seemed to be affecting everyone except the goalies. Noora Räty might actually be some form of cyborg—she looked as cool and efficient in the third overtime period as she did at the start of the game.
Calgary got yet another power play as Maddie Woo headed off for boarding. Hickel brought it in shorthanded and centered the puck, but nobody was there to poke it in from where it was sitting right in the crease. Shirley got a strong sharp-angle chance, and then Darkangelo and Carpenter had a shorthanded 2-on-1. Darkangelo’s shot missed the net.
After the penalty expired, Räty grabbed Turnbull’s turning shot before Jenner could poke it in.
Rui was tripped up by Warren, giving Kunlun a power play. Their best chance came right as the penalty expired, when a rebound landed right in front of a wide-open net, but Kunlun couldn’t put it home. After the puck was cleared by Calgary, it found Warren coming out of the box for a breakaway, and Räty had to make a tough save on her.
FINALLY WE HAVE A GOAL. A beautiful passing play from Hickel to Stack to Carpenter culminated in Carpenter making a move and poking the puck past Brian. Carpenter looked great all game, and she deserved this goal--and not just because she’s my favorite.
ALEX CARPENTER GETS THE GAME WINNING GOAL AND WE ARE SCREAMING pic.twitter.com/kMtOV0m5Rp— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) March 19, 2018
- Early in the game, Iya Gavrilova went down hard behind the play (it was out of camera range, but the broadcast said it looked like her knee). While she returned to the game briefly, she did not stay in, which was a big loss for Calgary.
- With about eleven minutes left in the second OT period, the broadcast helpfully informed us that this was the longest game in Clarkson Cup Playoff history. It, uh, felt like it.
- The two teams combined for 110 shots. That’s almost a shot a minute. This might have been a scoreless game, but it was full of offense.
3rd: Alex Carpenter (1g)
2nd: Delayne Brian (43 saves on 44 shots)
1st: Noora Räty (66 saves, shutout)
For tickets and other details about the Clarkson Cup Final being held at noon on Sunday March 25 at Ricoh Coliseum check out the CWHL website.