The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
This weekend saw some blow-out scores and a major upset.
Les Canadiennes de Montréal and the Toronto Furies split their series, leaving Montreal tied with Kunlun Red Star at the top, albeit with a game in hand. The Red Star beat Markham in overtime in their only meeting, while Calgary swept Vanke handily, which gives them four points of breathing room.
Around the League
- The Toronto Furies hosted Les Canadiennes de Montréal in Sarnia, Ontario as part of Hockey Day in Canada.
- The Markham Thunder held a fundraiser game to support Baycrest Health Sciences' Alzheimer's disease research.
- The Calgary Inferno held their annual Start the Spark game supporting youth mental health awareness on January 20, in partnership with Do it for Daron, the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, and the Canadian Mental Health Association; they also honored their Canadian Olympians at the game.
- The league confirmed that the international player rule that applies to Kunlun and Vanke is six skaters and one goalie. According to Red Star head coach Digit Murphy, this rule is included in the contract between KRS management and the CWHL.
- I received updates on the status of (potential) Olympians in the league: Noora Räty will play this weekend in Boston before joining Team Finland, and is expected to return to Kunlun after the Games. As of right now, Iya Gavrilova has been issued a Chinese visa and is expected to play for Calgary during their series there in early February, but her status could change pending Russia's decisions around the Olympic Athletes from Russia team.
- Les Canadiennes announced that Caroline Ouellette will make her return to CWHL action this weekend in a three-game home series against Vanke.
Toronto Furies vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal
Saturday's game was part of Sarnia's Hockey Day in Canada celebrations, and reportedly drew close to 1000 fans. It marked a rare hometown game for the Furies' Carolyne Prevost and Jessica Platt, but Montreal took it 7-3.
Jenna Dingeldein scored first for Toronto just 42 seconds in, but Noémie Marin and Ann-Sophie Bettez, shorthanded, responded within three minutes to make it 2-1 Montreal. Mélanie Desrochers and Karell Emard added one each to close out the period at 4-1.
"We gave up a couple good rushes, and both goals were really good goals," explained Furies head coach Jeff Flanagan. "They were shot through our defence and our goalie really didn't see them, so they were certainly nice goals, that's for sure. Then after you go up a goal then right away you go down a couple, it's pretty hard emotionally on the team. Montreal is a very good squad so they just come wave after wave, and if you're not 100 percent dialed in it can get out of hand pretty quick, so that seemed to be what happened on Saturday."
The Furies swapped out goaltender Sonja van der Bliek for Sami Jo Small to start the second period. Bettez tallied a power-play goal 1:32 in, Marin got her second at 4:10, and Erinn Noseworthy made it 7-1 just 12 seconds after that. Small seemed to settle into the net at that point, though, and shut the door for the remainder of the game.
Toronto regained its form in the third as they held Montreal scoreless and narrowed the gap. Sydney Kidd notched her first CWHL goal midway through the period, and Jessica Platt got a power-play marker in front of her hometown crowd.
"What we talked about as a group was the importance of not giving up," Flanagan said. "When you get in a game where things seem to be out of reach, it's easy to say 'well, it's over anyway', but the problem with doing that is it can get way worse. So as a group, we talked about what we needed to do, the little things that we needed to do to be successful."
Les Canadiennes were 1-for-4 on the power play and killed off seven of eight penalties taken.
Van der Bliek allowed four goals on 16 shots through 20 minutes, while Small stopped 26 of 29 in relief. Emerance Maschmeyer made 21 saves on 24 shots for Montreal.
The Furies got off to another quick start on Sunday, with Brittany Zuback scoring 1:58 in, and this time they were able to keep the momentum, as Emily Fulton made it 2-0 partway through the period.
"Our plan going into the game was very simple," said Flanagan. "We spoke to the team and the team spoke as a group about the impact that we have as players on fans, kids watching, or the person sitting next to us. In order to be a positive impact, you need to make sure you're accountable to your own game, and that's doing the little things like making great passes, not turning pucks over, executing systems. If we followed along that path, we would be successful."
Catherine Herron had started in net for Montreal, but was replaced by Maschmeyer to start the second. Fulton added a power-play tally midway through the frame, giving Toronto a 3-0 lead. Kayla Tutino and Marin quickly replied for Les Canadiennes, but Amanda Makela stood tall in net to keep the third period scoreless.
"Slowing them down through the neutral zone is a big focus when we play Montreal because they are so quick and so skilled, and we did that," Flanagan said. "We did a good job at recognizing when we could get in on the forecheck to create some pressure. We play kind of a combination of passive and aggressive from a forechecking perspective, and we did a better job at recognizing those opportunities as well.
"We seemed to do a good job [executing] on Sunday until we took a few too many penalties, which let Montreal back into the game," he added. "But we managed to hold on."
Montreal was 2-for-7 on the power play and 6-for-7 on the kill in a chippy affair.
Makela turned away 28 of 30 shots for her first career CWHL win. Herron allowed two goals on four shots in the first period, while Maschmeyer saved 13 of 14 through 38:24.
The Furies hope to carry the momentum into next weekend's series against Calgary.
"We want to strike a little bit of fear in the hearts of the teams that we're going to play," Flanagan said. "I think if we come into a game and the teams say 'well geez, they beat Montreal last weekend so they're certainly not going to be a pushover'...I think that goes a long way for our players and their confidence.
"[The Inferno] always bring their best game against us as well, which is what we want," he continued. "It's never fun to play a team that doesn't respect you, and certainly Calgary does. They're in a good position themselves and they can't afford to lose any games going forward because it's so tight up there at the top."
Kunlun Red Star vs. Markham Thunder
The season series was tied 2-2 going into the game, with both sides undefeated at home.
"When we played them at the beginning, we were just kind of finding our feet, trying to figure out who we were and what our identity was, and probably they were doing the same thing," said Murphy of the previous meetings. "And in Shenzhen, it's always a different model because you don't know what [opposing] players are going to be there.
"I think they're going to be a really formidable opponent today. They've got a lot of key players back, they have great goaltending, so it should be a really, really close game," she predicted ahead of puck drop -- a projection that proved more than accurate.
Kelli Stack opened the scoring 23 seconds into the game for Kunlun and added another at 3:21, but Jenna McParland narrowed the gap just 34 seconds later.
After a scoreless second period, Jamie Lee Rattray tied things up early in the third, and the game went to overtime.
Jessica Wong ended things with 37 seconds left in the extra frame, which gave Kunlun the series, 3-2.
Räty made 27 saves on 29 shots for the Red Star, while Liz Knox saved 44 of 47 for the Thunder.
Next weekend's series in Boston is a homecoming of sorts for Murphy, as well as for a number of Kunlun's North American players who previously suited up for local teams.
"They're a really, really, really good team," said Murphy of the Blades. "It's just they haven't been that successful for whatever reason, because it's a competitive league. But they took us right down to the wire in Shenzhen when we were kind of already [mentally] gone on break. I'm looking forward to it.
"It's always different for us because we're used to playing on the Olympic sheet because that's what we train on for the Chinese nationals," she continued. "Then when you come to these other rinks, it's this extra kind of X-factor -- what are we going to be like in this really small rink and how are we going to perform? Every game in the CW is competitive, so I don't look past any opponent. It's really about making sure we focus on the task at hand and do a good job."
Vanke Rays vs. Calgary Inferno
The teams entered the weekend tied in the standings, but the Inferno claimed both games in commanding fashion.
"We watched them a lot on the tape and we knew that they have extremely talented players, five or six of them," explained Calgary head coach Tomas Pacina. "We also knew that they are double-shifted or triple-shifted the whole game, so we had to play four lines and we had to out-change them and we had to be playing a team game. We don't have the talent they do, but we certainly are a very good team."
On Saturday, Brittany Esposito opened the scoring at 8:13 of the first, and Gavrilova followed it up at 10:40 before Brooke Webster got Vanke on the board at 15:54 to end the period 2-1.
Esposito tallied her second on the power play at 5:34 of the second, then made it a hat trick at 6:51. Louise Warren pushed the score to 5-1 at 8:09 and Dakota Woodworth scored 59 seconds later, for four goals in as many minutes. Kelty Apperson made it 7-1 at 17:07 and Kelly Murray followed it up 24 seconds later, before Webster's second made it 8-2 after two.
"We like to double-shift the players who score, and they happened to score four or five goals in a row," Pacina said. "Sometimes you get really hot and you feel really good about yourself, and that was one of those games. That one line basically decided the game within five minutes."
Vanke's Lauren Kelly netted her first CWHL goal at 5:50 of the third, but second-year defender Brittney Fouracres scored her own first at 8:39 to make it 9-3. Esposito -- who didn't get to celebrate her hat trick goal as it was initially miscredited -- then added her fourth of the evening to round out the game.
Calgary was 1-for-2 on the power play and killed off all three penalties.
Delayne Brian stopped 17 of 20 shots in her return from injury. Elaine Chuli allowed six goals on 14 shots through 29:08 before being swapped out for Zhang Tianyi, who turned away 14 of 18 chances in her first game action.
Rhianna Kurio struck 3:09 into Sunday's contest to put the Inferno up 1-0, then doubled the advantage on the power play a minute and a half later.
Katelyn Gosling made it 3-0 on a power play goal midway through the second, and Gavrilova rounded out the scoring 1:49 into the third for a 4-0 final score.
"The score really didn't matter," said Pacina. "We always look at how we play, and we executed really well and we played a really solid game, especially in the third period [Sunday] where we didn't give them anything. We defended well, we played really well with the puck, we possessed the puck most of the time. We look at not so much 'was it 10-0 or 2-0 or 4-0 or 5-4', but 'how did we do, how did we play as a team?' So we have different measures to evaluate the weekend than just the score."
Calgary went 2-for-5 on the power play and killed off seven penalties.
"I was very happy with our penalty kill, especially because Vanke has probably one of the top, if not the top power play in the league," Pacina noted. "So for us it was a really good opportunity to use all of our players on the penalty kill, and the fact that we killed them off... we were very happy with the result."
Lindsey Post made 24 saves to earn the shut-out, while Chuli stopped 27 of 31 pucks.
With Brian's return in net, the Inferno find themselves in the familiar position of balancing minutes for three capable netminders.
"We knew that we had to get Delayne back into the net, so we gave her the opportunity [on Saturday] and she was very good," Pacina offered. "At the same time, we also have the other two goalies who have proven themselves, so we gave Lindsey the chance [on Sunday] and she was fantastic, she had a shut-out. So now we are left with three goalies who each of them can be a number one, and we can take it only one game at a time. Next week in Toronto, we will look at who's going to be in the net, and we don't know that yet, but obviously Lindsey made a really good case for herself [Sunday]."
Coming Up Next
- Vanke Rays vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal -- January 27 at 5:30 PM Eastern at Aréna Michel-Normandin; January 28 at 1:30 PM Eastern at Aréna Michel-Normandin; January 30 at 7:30 PM Eastern at Aréna Michel-Normandin
- Calgary Inferno vs. Toronto Furies -- January 27 at 7:00 PM Eastern at MasterCard Center - Rink 1; January 28 at 1:00 PM Eastern at MasterCard Center - Rink 1
- Kunlun Red Star vs. Boston Blades -- January 27 at 8:00 PM Eastern at Larsen Skating Rink at Eruzione Center; January 28 at 2:30 PM Eastern at Larsen Skating Rink at Eruzione Center
(Photo credit: Laine Schuck/CWHL)
Filed under: ice hockey; cwhl; les canadiennes de montreal; Toronto Furies; kunlun red star; markham thunder; calgary inferno; vanke rays; jeff flanagan; digit murphy; tomas pacina
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