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Adventures in China: Toronto Furies get creative taking on the Shenzhen Rays

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With a short bench and a surprise addition, Toronto gains two points on the roadtrip.

Natalie Spooner of the Toronto Furies (24) takes on Melanie Jue (6) of the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. Chris Tanouye/CWHL

When you want to send a team of hockey players to China for a week, the more players who are financially able to pick up stakes and leave the country, the better. Unfortunately, the Toronto Furies have the fewest amount of national team players of any Canadian team in the league. A lot of them just can’t afford that much time off from their non-hockey jobs. So, the team arrived in Shenzhen for this week’s roadtrip with just nine forwards, five defenders and two goalies.

Let’s do the count.

In total, five Furies from the regular roster (Julia Fedeski, Shannon Moulson-Nap, Carolyne Prévost, Jess Vella and third goalie Amanda Makela) stayed behind for work reasons. The team also knew in advance that Carlee Campbell would stay home with her daughter. Three players were injured, including Julie Allen, Emily Fulton and defender Jordan Hampton, who will have season-ending surgery on her wrist.

This left GM Sami Jo Small with a problem. The Furies have had injured players since early in the season, and she knew that even if everyone was healthy, having at least three full lines might be a challenge.

Jenna Dingeldein and Sydney Kidd, who have been stepping up from the extended roster to fill in for various absences and injuries, were also unable to commit for a week-long trip out of the country. So, in November Small reached out to other members of the extended roster.

“We took a look at who was still playing hockey and staying fit and would fit easily into the team,” said Small. “We put a call out to both Jenelle Kohanchuk and Kristyn Capizzano as both were playing and/or coaching hockey where they were.”

Jenelle Kohanchuk is a former Team Canada player and Furies veteran of three years who spent the 2017-18 season in Sweden with MODO Hockey. Currently, she lives in Winnipeg and runs her own hockey development company. Unfortunately between work and personal commitments, she was out.

Kristyn Capizzano was Toronto’s first-round draft pick in 2017. An alumna of Boston College, who put up 102 points in 155 NCAA games, and a two-time gold medallist with Canada’s U-18 team, she chose to attend chiropractic college rather than play for the Furies. The team retained her rights, and Small said she seemed eager to play.

“We had her skate with the team over the Christmas break to see what level she was playing at and she fit right in... She performed really well at practice and we started the process to get her a visa to travel to China. We got her a jersey and sent her back to San Jose with her new blue Furies gear to get it worked in prior to meeting us here.”

No, there’s no San Jose in Ontario. The Furies needed players badly enough to reach out to a player who’s living in California and playing in a men’s league there while she’s studying. She flew to Shenzhen with Renata Fast, who was in San Jose for the weekend, demonstrating the accuracy shooting challenge as part of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition.

Capizzano wore number 60 for the week and will now return to school with her first three professional games under her belt. It’s a hell of a way to make your debut.

The games

With a bare minimum of players, the Furies lost the first game 3-1, although they outshot the Rays 35-24 and racked up 12 penalty minutes. Their lone scorer was Sarah Nurse, assisted by Anissa Gamble. It was Gamble’s first game in two months — she’s another player who ended up on the IR this season.

The second game went better. Nurse was again the only scorer, but goalie Elaine Chuli shut the door in her former home rink, coming away with her second shutout of the season. Her previous shutout was in her last appearance, on January 13 against Calgary. Noora Räty stopped 36 shots for the Rays, but she couldn’t stop this shorthanded beauty:

Unfortunately defender Emma Greco sustained a collarbone injury during the game and had to fly home early. That left the Furies with four players on the blueline. Ironically, the Furies started the season carrying eight defenders on the regular roster in hopes of avoiding just this sort of incident — Toronto had multiple games at the end of the 2017-18 season with only four defenders on the bench.

With just thirteen skaters, the Furies couldn’t quite pull off a win. For the third game in a row, they outshot the Rays; and for the third game in a row, they scored first.

We knew Shiann Darkangelo could pull off this kind of move when Toronto acquired her in the offseason; here’s hoping we see it a little more down the stretch.

The Rays tied it up on a shorthanded snipe in the second and Natalie Spooner countered with this number after a big save by her goalie, Chuli.

Jessica Platt got the assist on the goal, her first point of the season.

Unfortunately that was all she wrote for Furies scoring. Shenzhen tied it up in the second and scored two more in the third, before Toronto pulled Chuli with three minutes left. The subsequent empty netter sealed the deal for the Rays, and the Furies came away with a 5-2 loss. One positive note — despite taking three minors, the Toronto penalty kill was perfect.

The playoff race

Two points off this roadtrip is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s even more impressive with the context. The Furies have six games left in the season; one against Montréal, two against Worcester and three (including one yet to be scheduled) against Markham. In fifth place and with just 18 points, they need help to climb into that last playoff spot, but there are still two spots unclaimed and it’s far from an impossible task.

The Shenzhen Rays sit in third place right now with 27 points, but they only have three games left, all against the first place Calgary Inferno. They have to win two games against Calgary to guarantee themselves a spot, and they haven’t managed to beat the Inferno at all this season. Granted, they’ll have home ice advantage, so we’ll see how that goes.

The Markham Thunder are in fourth place with 23 points. Their last seven games include two against Worcester this weekend, two against Montréal, and as mentioned, three against the Furies. There’s definitely a scenario where that yet-to-be-scheduled final game between Markham and Toronto would be for a playoff spot.

Another twist is the Rivalry Series, which will see the Canadian and US national team players away from their teams for at least one weekend, probably two. The Furies may not have Nurse, Spooner, Fast, and Howard for the game against Montréal, but Montréal would also be missing a ton of players, including goalies Emerance Maschmeyer and Geneviève Lacasse. Similiarly, two of the games against Markham are going to be particularly hard to predict because both teams will be missing most of their top scorers.

All in all it’s going to be a very exciting month of hockey ahead!