The CWHL playoffs kick off today, with two good matchups on deck. The Inferno will host the Furies and Les Canadiennes will host Brampton. Tickets can be purchased here.
Calgary Inferno vs. Toronto Furies
The Inferno will begin their quest to defend their title against a much stronger Furies team. Calgary is just as deep and strong as they were last season, while Toronto is much stronger and deeper than last season, thanks to a healthy roster.
Calgary finished first in the CWHL with 20 wins, while Toronto posted nine wins. Calgary won the season series, but the first two games of the season were close contests.
"Heading into the first round, we need to make sure [our] power play, penalty kill is up to par, and make sure our defensive zone is very sound and let the offense take care of itself," Toronto head coach Sommer West said.
Natalie Spooner still leads Toronto with 20 points, but Kelly Terry, Julie Allen, and Jennelle Kohanchuk, who returned healthy this year, are third, fourth, and fifth on the team in scoring, respectively.
Christina Kessler has started for the most of the season, despite a few down notes. She holds a .920 save percentage.
"She stepped her game up and that's who Christina is," West said. "Like any good athlete, they have a little bit of a lull and I think mentally things like that happen when they're working every day and every day, life struggles and then trying to come to the rink and perform every night. I think heading into this weekend, she will be on the top of her game."
Calgary has the best goaltending rotation in the league with Emerance Maschmeyer, Genevieve Lacasse, and Delayne Brian. Maschmeyer's save percentage of .946 is the highest on the team.
The Inferno are deep all around and have four players who've scored over 20 points this year. Brianne Jenner leads the pack with 27 points.
"They're really deep and have good defensive core with good goaltending and they're a sound team," West said. "We just have to stick to our game plan, because they're not the No.1 team for no reason."
Les Canadiennes vs. Brampton Thunder
Les Canadiennes will try and make the trip back to the Clarkson Cup final by defeated Brampton, a tougher matchup than Les Canadiennes faced last season in the playoffs. Les Candiennes won the season series 5-1, with Brampton taking the last win.
"All year [this] has been a very good matchup," Les Canadiennes Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux said. "I think last year we had an easier season. We won more games -- we only lost two, I think -- so this year we played Brampton, [in] all games that we have to face adversity so and now at the end we're facing more adversity with Brampton."
Les Canadiennes have three of the top four scorers in the CWHL in Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Sophie Bettez, and Caroline Ouellette, who have 37, 36, and 31 points, respectively. Meanwhile, Charline Labonte has a .934 save percentage.
Breton-Lebreux said the team's biggest area of improvement is in their neutral zone and forecheck.
"I think we adjust really well to them," Fines said. "I think they have a tough time in the second game when they play against us, we seem to have success in figuring out how they're rotating lines and how they're playing our systems. If we can get a jump on them in game one, I'm confident that we can have an excellent game two."
Brampton's Jess Jones is tied for first in the league in scoring and has a team-high 37 points. Rookie Laura Stacey has had an impact as well and has 24 points.
"We studied Brampton and we're going to try a few things to counter their attack, and hopefully that's going to work."
The Thunder have used Erica Howe and Liz Knox this year in a rotation, and the netminders have save percentages of .919 and .899, respectively. Brampton head coach Tyler Fines said that Howe will start the first game and Knox will start the second.
"My goaltending is obviously one of the catalyst to our hockey club and I think some of the players that might've been struggling to put the puck in the net will get their chances," Fines said.
While both matchups have a clear favorite, an upset wouldn't be out of the question. Still, Les Canadiennes and the Calgary Inferno probably expect to meet again for the Clarkson Cup Final.