The National Women's Hockey League continues its offseason with numerous player signings, its first international draft and several front office moves. In case you've missed anything over the last few weeks, let's take a look at what's happened in the league.
The puck dropped for three other teams in the CWHL this weekend, as Toronto, Boston, and Les Canadiennes returned to play. The Furies and Blades, the bottom two teams in the conference last year, faced off, while Brampton faced the Clarkson Cup runners-up, Les Canadiennes.
Two of those teams -- Toronto and Boston -- took to the ice with vastly different rosters. The Furies swept Boston by a combined score of 8-2, but Saturday’s game was close. Les Canadiennes also earned the sweep, taking down Brampton.
Toronto Furies vs. Boston Blades
The Furies finally took the ice with a healthy lineup and it led to a pair of wins. The first game was close, though, and Toronto snuck by with a final score of 2-1. Natalie Spooner struck first, giving the Furies a 1-0 lead with assists from rookies Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast. But the Blades responded two minutes later on a goal from Erin Kickham. No one scored for the next two periods and the game went into overtime, where Carolyne Prevost netted the game winner. Fast finished with two assists.
“Our biggest strength was the fact that we built the first period of the first game to the last period of the last game,” Toronto coach Sommer West said. “We got stronger as the games went along and things started to come together as a team."
The contest was also the debut of Lauren Dahm, one of Boston’s new netminders. It’s a tough spot to fill now that Genevieve Lacasse is with Les Canadiennes, but Dahm did her best impression of Lacasse and made 54 saves. Meanwhile, Christina Kessler made 15 for Toronto.
“I thought she played great both games, truthfully. We may have relied on her too much the first weekend,” Blades head coach Brian McCloskey said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that first night took a lot out of her. The most encouraging thing I saw was how calm she was in the net. She’s a really strong athlete and she squared up to the puck really well. She was anticipating their plays around the cage and anything that’s going at it; she’s anticipating what was going on really well and she [was] just very calm in how she settled in and handled herself. We gave up some really good chances the first night. They put a lot of shots on us and she just didn’t seem to get flustered at all, so that was really encouraging.”
On Sunday, Toronto had two goals in the first, thanks to Prevost and Spooner. Both Julie Allen and Jenelle Kohanchuk recorded their first points of the season with assists on the goals. The Furies added four more in the third, thanks to Michela Cava, Fast, Kelly Terry, and Spooner, while Kate Leary scored Boston’s lone goal. In net, Dahm stopped 21 shots, while Sonja van der Bliek made 17 saves in her season debut.
“We didn’t get the result, but I thought our play [in] the second game improved markedly both defensively and offensively,” McCloskey said. “There were a lot of good things I can take out of the weekend and there are some areas we need to get a lot better at, but that will come with some game experience.”
The Furies are now 2-0 to start the season after a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Spooner leads the league in scoring with three goals and six points.
“I think this year it's a different culture,” West said. “When you bring in that many new kids just coming out of school, they're still in the mindset of coming to the rink to play hard and learn and buy in as a team. I think that's going to be a huge thing this year is that this team will work hard no matter what and they learn very quickly, so it's just an overall difference for the coaching staff, which is great."
Brampton Thunder vs. Les Canadiennes
Les Canadiennes started their season with a sweep. On Saturday, Kim Deschênes opened up the scoring for Montreal. Sarah Lefort netted her first goal in the frame to give Les Canadiennes a 2-0 lead, but Brampton rookie Laura Stacey cut the deficit in half. Laura Fortino tied the game in the second period, but third-period tallies from Ann-Sophie Bettez, Caroline Ouellette, and Jordanna Peroff gave Les Canadiennes the 5-2 win. Charline Labonté and Erica Howe both stopped 26 shots.
“Cassandra Poudrier played [well], she’s a rookie too,” Les Canadiennes assistant coach Marc Beadoin said. “Most of the [players] played good this weekend. Like I said, it’s a small rink, so our strength is our speed, and we didn’t have time and speed since that rink is so small. And Brampton has a good team too.”
The next night was a closer contest, with Les Canadiennes edging a 3-2 win. Lefort and Bettez scored in the first period for the 2-0 lead. Poulin made it 3-0 in the second, but Jamie Lee Rattray cut the score to 3-1. Jess Jones scored in the third to make it 3-2, but that’s where Brampton’s comeback stopped.
“Our ability to keep fighting back showed good characteristics going forward,” Brampton coach Tyler Fines said.
Labonté started again for Les Canadiennes and had 23 saves. Brampton used a rotation for the weekend, which allowed Liz Knox to appear in net for her season debut. She had 29 saves, though Fines said he has not decided what the goaltending situation for the season will be yet.
“For goalies, we’re just seeing how everyone reacts, and right now, both my goalies look fantastic, which is good news going forward,” Fines said.
Poulin had five points for Les Canadiennes, while Lefort and Bettez both scored two goals on the weekend. Laura Stacey led Brampton with three points.
Lauriane Rougeau and Carly Hill: Beadoin said Rougeau, who missed this weekend, is hurt. He said the defender may have a micro fracture in her hand. There is no timetable for her return. Les Canadiennes also played without Hill, whom Beadoin said is day-to-day. Both Rougeau and Hill are defenders, so Les Canadiennes beat Brampton without two experienced blueliners.
Tara Watchorn: Boston’s best defender missed Sunday’s game due to a virus, but will be back on October 29, when Boston returns to action. “She was really having trouble with her breathing in the first night late in the game, and obviously we play her a lot, but she can usually handle that, so she knew something wasn’t right,” McCloskey said.
Three Up, Three Down
↑ The Rookies: Rookies made an immediate impact in the CWHL. Brampton’s Laura Stacey already has four points (2g, 2a); Sarah Lefort has two tallies for Les Canadiennes; and both Michela Cava and Renata Fast have already had an impact with Toronto, netting three points each. So far this season, 12 rookies have recorded a point and six have scored goals. Three scored their first goals this past weekend.
“Cava up front in between Spooner and Kohanchuk, with a heavy load to carry, I think she did a really good job of putting her position and playing a good role off of those two,” Sommer West said. “Our defensive core around [Erin] Ambrose, Fast and [Carlee] Eusepi, also known as Campbell now, the three of them, they're a good backbone back there. They give our forwards some good first passes so we can get going in using our speed.”
Stacey, who leads all rookies in scoring, is second overall and one of two rookies in the top-five in CWHL scoring.
“Skill, speed, she has all the attributes,” said Tyler Fines of Stacey. “Now if she could just turn into a consistent point getter and a consistent goal scorer, she’s going to be one of the best players in the league.”
↑ Toronto’s health: It finally happened -- Julie Allen and Jenelle Kohanchuk made it back into Toronto’s lineup. The two were injured before the season started, and by the middle of last season, it was evident the two would not play. Their absence really hurt the Furies, who struggled with consistency and scoring depth -- but they’re back and they've already made an impact. Kohanchuk netted two assists in Sunday’s win against Boston, while Allen had an assist.
Not only do the returns bring leadership, but they also give Toronto another threat alongside Spooner.
"It's a tremendous help for the team. It fills a big gap,” West said. “Julie Allen brings a lot of little things to the team and can play a lot of minutes, little minutes or whatever minutes she does play, she brings a feistiness to the game and can score. Kohanchuk's a huge leader on our team and she just leads by example with her play. It gives Spooner somebody to play with off of as well, so that teams can't just can her anymore, like you got to worry about Kohanchuk because she's just as good."
↑ Marie-Philip Poulin: It was quite a weekend for the Les Canadiennes’ star. First she was named team captain, and then she netted five points on the weekend. She posted two assists on Saturday and had a goal and two assists on Sunday, which gave Poulin her 50th goal and 100th CWHL point.
↓ Boston’s defense: The Blades don’t have Genevieve Lacasse any more, but they still have Tara Watchorn, the team’s stalwart on defense, although she wasn’t healthy last weekend. Adding defensive depth was a concern at the draft, and the Blades addressed it by drafting a couple of defenders. They also tried to improve by investing in forwards who could score, hoping that the offensive improvement and possession would aid the defense. But the Blades gave up 56 shots in their first game of the season. They gave up 27 shots -- without Watchorn in the lineup -- the next night, which was definitely an improvement, but there’s still a way for the Blades' blueline to improve.
“We just gave up some really good scoring chances, which we gave up the first night, but our goalie played so well the first night,” McCloskey said. “She kept us in the game and gave us a chance to actually win the game in overtime.”
↓ Les Canadiennes' defense: It’s not that Les Canadiennes’ defense is playing badly, but it can certainly be improved. The team also had an adjustment to make without Julie Chu, Rougeau, or Hill shoring up their back end.
“We have more younger players this year than last year, like a couple of rookies, so we’re kind of younger this year,” Beadoin said. “[Our] speed is good but we missed a couple of good players this weekend. We missed Julie Chu on defense and Lauriane Rougeau is hurt and Carly Hill too, so three of our best [defenders] weren’t there, and it shows.”
↓ Brampton’s offense: The Thunder lost both games this weekend and only scored twice in each contest. They’ve scored exactly two goals in each game. Brampton has lost three matches by one goal.
“We [have] to start scoring more goals than the other team to win. I think we’re right now just not taking the right shots and we’ve got to shoot more and challenge some of the goaltenders, especially early in the year before they get really warmed up,” Fines said.
“Our veterans need to take a little more accountability, but they’re working hard. Our rookies need to start shooting the puck, but that’s all right; it’ll come with time. I trust that each and every one of my players are going to turn it around.”
This weekend, the Toronto will visit Montreal for a pair of games at 5:30PM Saturday and 1:30PM Sunday. Saturday's game will be streamed by the CWHL on YouTube for free. Check out the entire CWHL streaming schedule here.
(Photo credit: Jess Bazal/CWHL)
Filed under: cwhl; brampton thunder; les canadiennes de montreal; boston blades; Toronto Furies; ice hockey; sommer west; tyler fines; brian mccloskey; marc beadoin
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