On paper, Calgary has the best roster in the CWHL. The Inferno are front-loaded with a powerful offense and carry many members of Team Canada. For Calgary General Manager Chantal Champagne, the challenge lies in translating that roster into performance on the ice.
“Any team in any sport can have all the best players," Champagne said. "It will be a question of how well can the girls gel together. They’ve shown great, great strides since our tryout camp.
"I see greatness ahead of us. It’s up to the girls to do it on the ice.”
Because of the influx of new talent, Calgary released several veterans after training camp. But the Inferno return with offensive leaders Rebecca Johnston, Brittney Esposito, and Haley Irwin. Johnston earned the Angela James Bowl award as the league's leading scorer last season.
While Esposito finished second on the team in scoring, Champagne called the forward one of the more unknown, but important, contributors.
"She’s one of our forwards and she’s a very, very skillful girl...She’s very tricky and very good with her hands and can put the puck in net," Champagne said.
The Inferno have seven newcomers and they're big names -- including decorated Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser. Calgary also welcomed Brianne Jenner (the team's first-round pick), Japanese Olympian Kanae Aoki, and Brigette Lacquette.
Jenner just complete her four-year career at Cornell.
"She’s a power forward," Champagne said. "She’s very strong on the puck and she works very hard on the boards and is able to set up our players very, very well."
Champagne said the Inferno need Johnston, Jessica Campbell, Sarah Davis, Esposito, Kristen Hagg, and Jenna Cunningham all to step up. In net, Kathy Desjardins rejoins the Inferno and goaltender Delayne Brian. Brian finished last season with a .906 save percentage.
An area of concern for Calgary is the defense, which the team tried to shore up in the offseason.
"We’re working on our defensive team," Champagne said. "We’ve been trying to recruit other defenders to come our way."
The Inferno switched Erica Kromm to defense and brought in Lacquette and Aoki. But Calgary will be without defender Meaghan Mikkelson until December, so Champagne said they will rely on veteran blueliner Hayleigh Cudmore.
"I think at the beginning of this season we might be a little less desired on the D, but I think we will come together very, very solid," Champagne said.
The Inferno finished second in the regular season last year, but fell to Les Canadiennes (formerly the Montreal Stars) in the playoffs.
“Our biggest goal this year is to make it not only to the Clarkson Cup, but our goal as a coaching staff and as a general manager, [our] expectation is to win the Clarkson Cup," Champagne said.
"That is our ultimate goal this year and we have a very good chance of doing so.”
Here's the complete roster:
F Rebecca Johnston
F Sarah Davis
F Jessica Campbell
F Bailey Bram
F Kristen Hagg
F Jenna Cunningham
F Brittney Esposito
F Haley Irwin
F Louise Warren
F Brianne Jenner
F Hayley Wickenheiser
F Blayre Turnbull
F Jillian Saulnier
F Elana Lovell
D Jacquie Pierri
D Hayleigh Cudmore
D Aina Takeuchi
D Kelsey Webster
D Meaghan Mikkelson
D Erica Kromm
D Kanae Aoki
D Brigette Lacquette
G Delayne Brian
G Kathy Desjardins
(Photo credit: CWHL/Calgary Inferno)