This weekend marked the end of some major streaks: a 13-game streak without a regulation loss for the Calgary Inferno, an 11-game losing streak for the Toronto Furies, and a 26-game losing streak for the Boston Blades.
Les Canadiennes de Montréal swept the Inferno to take sole possession of first place and gain a three-point cushion at the top. Markham beat Vanke in a shoot-out in their only meeting of the weekend, while Toronto and Boston split their series.
Around the League
- Kacy Ambroz was announced as the Boston Blades head coach after taking over in early December, when the organization's then-temporary split with former head coach Casey Brugman became permanent.
- Markham held an equipment drive on January 6 to benefit Walpole Island First Nation.
- The Calgary Inferno held their annual Keep the Beat game on January 6.
- Jessica Wong of Kunlun Red Star was named player of the month for December.
Les Canadiennes de Montréal vs. Calgary Inferno
Saturday's contest was the Inferno's fourth annual Keep the Beat game, in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The event is organized by defender Jacquie Pierri, who lost both her dad and cousin to heart disease. This year's Keep the Beat featured a puck toss and silent auction fundraiser, as well as volunteers from a local hospital on hand to give CPR demonstrations and educate fans about heart health.
"We started talking about this at the end of last season," said Pierri of the organizing process. "Obviously, we can work from the templates of the past years, so it's been a little easier each year, but I would say we really started doing day-to-day almost two months ago where I was working on things at least daily."
The series was the first meeting this season between the teams, who have faced off in both of the last two Clarkson Cup finals, winning one each.
"It's kind of interesting -- even though our roster has changed a lot and theirs has as well, it still felt like the same rivalry going into the weekend," Pierri said. "We really get fired up to play against Montreal and really always try to match them with our best competition. [We're] really frustrated with the losses, but it's something to build off of for the year going forward."
The Inferno were the stronger team out of the gate on Saturday, and struck first with a goal by Elana Lovell at the mid-way point of the second. Sarah Lefort tied things up for Montreal just 50 seconds into the third, and the teams went to overtime, which was followed by a shoot-out.
Lovell and Brittany Esposito scored for Calgary, while Katia Clément-Heydra, Lefort, and Marion Allemoz tallied to give Montreal the win.
Emerance Maschmeyer made 27 saves on 28 shots through 65 minutes for Les Canadiennes, while Toni Ross stopped 20 of 21 for the Inferno.
On Sunday, Montreal took an early lead on goals by Erin Ambrose -- her first in the CWHL -- and Clément-Heydra. Ann-Sophie Bettez added another in the dying minutes of the third to seal the sweep.
"Keeping our energy consistent through 60 minutes was a major take-away for our team in the locker room at the end of both games," Pierri noted. "We also had some lapses on Saturday where we let them back in the game.
"I don't think the scoresheet reflects how close the game was on Sunday," she added. "They got two quick ones that kind of burst our momentum after we had a goal called back -- that's always a really big momentum shift when you have a goal called back, and it's always frustrating. It's just something we have to take back for the next time we play them, to control our momentum and keep our energy."
Les Canadiennes allowed seven power plays in Sunday's game, but Calgary couldn't capitalize on any of them.
Maschmeyer turned away 24 shots for the shut-out, while Lindsey Post saved 30 of 33 shots.
Vanke Rays vs. Markham Thunder
Cayley Mercer put the Rays ahead just 29 seconds into Saturday's game, then made it 2-0 barely two and a half minutes later. Team captain Kong Minghui scored her first CWHL goal on the power play at 6:50, and it seemed like this match would be all Vanke -- until Devon Skeats got her own first goal towards the end of the period to make it 3-1.
"We were moving the puck well," explained Vanke assistant coach Jenesica Drinkwater of the quick start. "I think that was the most important part of the beginning of the game. We were hitting passes, and fortunately we popped in a few great goals right off the bat and that was huge for us."
After a scoreless second period, Taylor Woods narrowed the gap to one early in the first, but Ashleigh Brykaliuk scored shorthanded midway through the third to restore Vanke's two-goal lead. Kristen Richards made it 4-3 at 17:08, and Laura McIntosh forced overtime with 1:34 remaining.
The extra session solved nothing, leading to a shoot-out. Woods and McIntosh both scored for Markham, while Vanke's Mercer and Brykaliuk were stopped.
"We unfortunately started getting a little chaotic in our D-zone and I think that that caused us a couple unfortunate goals," said Drinkwater. "Fortunately, we had a goalie that was playing really well, Chuli -- she kept us in there as much as she could and that shoot-out loss was a tough one for us."
Erica Howe made 29 saves on 33 shots for the Thunder, while Elaine Chuli stopped 36 of 40 for the Rays.
With just the Saturday game in the books, the series between Markham and Vanke resumes this weekend.
"I think [the week between games is] actually kind of to our benefit," said Drinkwater, noting that the team is practicing four of five days this week.
Vanke reunited in Markham on January 2 after splitting up to spend the winter break with family, which meant that some of the players were well-adjusted to the time zone and others weren’t.
"I think all the jetlag now is out of our Chinese players, because I think that that's a little bit of a disadvantage -- flying from China it's a 12-hour time change -- and we have everyone adjusted now. We've had so far this week some great practices, and hopefully that's going to carry over into this weekend's games."
Toronto Furies vs. Boston Blades
The Blades opened the series with their first win of the season, and the first since December 17, 2016. Boston outshot the Furies 43-39 and outscored them 4-2 to signal that it wasn't just a stroke of luck.
"Honestly, that was the most possession I've seen them have in a game," said newly minted head coach Kacy Ambroz, emphasizing the team's focus on finding the back of the net. "We got shut out our last game [in China] and we just kept talking about shooting to score in practice, stopping at the crease, making sure you're finishing your shots, and it paid off for them on Saturday."
Meghan Grieves got Boston on the board with a power-play goal at 7:35 of the first and Michelle Ng doubled the advantage at 11:12, but Toronto's Emily Fulton and Danielle Gagné replied to even the score.
Former U.S. national team forward Taylor Wasylk put the Blades back ahead in the second period, and Kate Leary added an insurance marker in the third.
Lauren Dahm stopped 37 of 39 shots, while Sonja van der Bliek turned away 39 of 43.
Boston scored first once again on Sunday, with a power-play tally by Megan Myers making it 1-0 at the intermission. Toronto picked things up in the third and claimed the come-from-behind win on goals by Fulton and Carolyne Prevost.
Van der Bliek made 18 saves on 19 shots, while Dahm allowed two goals on 39 chances.
"Our team played well in the D-zone [on Sunday] and we have a phenomenal goaltender," Ambroz said, crediting Dahm for the close scoreline in the second game, where Toronto drove possession. "We played tight, limited great scoring chances, and our goalie came through big on their great scoring chances. And she's been a rock for us all season."
The Blades now have three weeks off before facing Kunlun Red Star on January 27.
"It's valuable," said Ambroz. "If you're playing every week, you have to prioritize so much, whereas this gives us time to not only do skill work, staying in shape, get some games in, but also prepare for the other team. You don't have to pick and choose as much."
GAME NOTES: Leary had a scary collision into the boards during the third period on Sunday. According to Ambroz, she's been diagnosed with a mild concussion and will be out of the lineup until she's been medically cleared.
Coming Up Next
- Kunlun Red Star vs. Toronto Furies -- January 13 at 7:00 PM Eastern at MasterCard Centre - Rink 1; January 14 at 1:00 PM Eastern at MasterCard Centre - Rink 1
- Vanke Rays vs. Markham Thunder -- January 13 at 7:30 PM Eastern at Thornhill Community Centre; January 14 at 1:30 PM Eastern at Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex (Clarington, Ontario)
(Photo credit: Jess Bazal/CWHL)