In the first week of the 2018-19 CWHL season, the Markham Thunder swept the Worcester Blades, Les Canadiennes de Montréal split with the Calgary Inferno, and the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays took the opening two games of their three-game series against the Toronto Furies, with game three set for tonight, Wednesday October 17th.
Around the League
- Montreal opened its season at Place Bell's 10,000-seat amphitheatre, with 1,567 fans in attendance. For comparison, the AHL's Laval Rocket drew about 4,500 fans in the first game of the doubleheader.
- Markham Thunder forward Dania Simmonds played her record-setting 149th consecutive CWHL game on Saturday, then announced her retirement from the sport.
- Nine players scored their first CWHL goal this weekend: Maude Gélinas, Mélodie Daoust, Rebecca Leslie, Hannah Miller, Leah Lum, Victoria Bach, Ailish Forfar, Ella Matteucci, and Casey Stathopoulos.
- The Calgary Inferno announced a partnership with Sportsnet 960 The Fan, which will air four live radio broadcasts of Inferno home games this year and feature a weekly half-hour show dedicated to the team, running every Saturday throughout the season at 10:00 AM Mountain time.
- The Worcester Blades continue to build their roster, as the league recently approved the late acquisition of Demi Crossman, a forward out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Calgary Inferno vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal
Calgary began Saturday's game at Place Bell by implementing a torpedo system, with Brianna Decker centering Blayre Turnbull and Zoe Hickel, and Rebecca Johnston -- a natural winger -- lining up beside Kacey Bellamy at the blue line.
"Seeing four forwards on the ice was a little surprising," admitted Montreal head coach Dany Brunet. "We were wondering where they were going with it, honestly -- we were looking at their starting line-up and trying to figure out whether it was just a trick play to start the game, with them trying to pressure us in deep. We quickly saw that they're a team heavily centred on offense, and it ultimately allowed us odd-man rushes thanks to our quick transition game."
Decker opened the scoring for the Inferno at 7:43 of the first period, picking up a pass from Zoe Hickel and roofing a shot from in tight after beating her defender. Fourth-line forward Maude Gélinas replied for Montreal with just under five minutes left in the period, assisted by Catherine Daoust and Tracy-Ann Lavigne, to end the opening frame tied 1-1.
"I'm not generally a goal-scorer -- I'm usually known as more of a passer -- so it's pretty exceptional to have scored in my first game, and in front of this crowd," said Gélinas, who took two years away from the sport after wrapping up her Université de Montréal career in 2016. "I wasn't sure if this comeback was going to work out, so I'm just happy that I managed to make the team, and especially to score tonight."
The second period was goalless, but did feature the first penalties of the evening, after 28 minutes and 12 seconds of unimpeded play.
Rookie defender Catherine Daoust played on Les Canadiennes' first pairing alongside Lauriane Rougeau, and in addition to notching an assist, looked composed and dependable defending against some of the world's best forwards.
"It was very nerve-wracking at first," she offered, "But it was so much fun. Playing with Lauriane, I feel very safe to play my game and just do what I'm used to doing. It's so much fun to play with and against players of that calibre, and it forces us all to raise our game."
With 5:59 to go in a back-and-forth affair, Sarah Lefort poked in a shot by Hilary Knight, assisted by Jill Saulnier, to secure Montreal the first win of the CWHL season.
Both teams were perfect on the penalty kill, with the Inferno neutralizing two Montreal power plays and Les Canadiennes shutting down Calgary's lone chance.
Emerance Maschmeyer stopped 20 of 21 shots, while Alex Rigsby turned away 18 of 20 pucks in defeat.
"I think that we could take more advantage of [Calgary's structure], just being aware that there are four forwards, there's only one D that's used to playing D," said Maschmeyer of facing the torpedo system. "They're a lot more offensive around the net, so for me, having to be aware of all the players around me, it's challenging but it's kind of fun. It's a little different style to play, for sure."
On Sunday it was Montreal that struck first, with Mélodie Daoust sniping a pass from Marie-Philip Poulin, who coaxed Rigsby out of position. Ann-Sophie Bettez earned the secondary assist on the goal. It was a characteristic passing play for this line, which combined well in its first weekend together and generated a number of dangerous opportunities.
"I played with Ann-So when I was at McGill, so our connection was already there, and I play with Pou at the national level," explained Daoust of their instant chemistry. "I think we're three players who are able to see each other well on the ice, so we complement one another really well. It's definitely a lot of fun to play with them."
Inferno defender Katelyn Gosling went down after being tripped late in the first period and did not return to the game.
Brianne Jenner evened things up just 26 seconds into the middle period, carrying the puck up the ice and driving the net for an unassisted tally. Leslie followed it up by banking in a rebound just 40 seconds after that, set up by Johnston.
Montreal dominated puck possession and sustained zone time in the third period as its top line managed to dismantle the torpedo and generally keep Calgary -- with its lone defender -- tethered in its own zone. Rigsby, however, was up to the task and kept the scoreline at 2-1 for the Inferno until Johnston sealed the 3-1 win with an empty-netter at 18:29.
"We saw as soon as we put some pucks on net, it created chaos," noted Daoust of her line's success in the head-to-head match-up. "So if we can do that for a full 60 minutes, I think next time we're going to come out with the win."
Both teams were 0-for-2 on the power play.
"It was good to get those first two games under my belt and adjust to the pace of play and the style of play," said rookie Inferno defender Halli Krzyzaniak of her CWHL debut. "It's so good for our game to be able to play [at a top level] day in and day out, and helps us elevate our game and get us ready for those international tournaments."
Rigsby made 22 saves on 23 shots, 12 of which came in the third period, while Maschmeyer stopped 14 of 16 through 58:19 before being pulled for the extra attacker.
Filling the Stands
If you're looking to sum up the state of leaguewide attendance in a nutshell, look no further than the difference in reaction to Saturday's crowd between returning members of Les Canadiennes and new additions.
Marie-Philip Poulin: "They were good. We still want to have more, obviously -- we want to still reach out to more teams, to more people, to come out and watch us. Obviously it was the first game; I think as the year is going to go, hopefully more fans are going to come. But super exciting, super first start, and we're just looking forward to keep going."
Hilary Knight: "It was good. I mean, Les Canadiennes always has a great crowd. I would've liked to have seen a little bit more faces in the stands, but we're going to work on it."
Jill Saulnier: "It was outstanding. I mean, there were people in the stands for warm-up, which is a new feeling for me, so that was really exciting to see. The fans here are amazing, so I've heard, and it was proven tonight, for sure."
Montreal might still be an anomaly, but it's nice to have star players feel comfortable calling out a figure above 1,500 as disappointing. The fact that both Poulin and Knight seemed underwhelmed and intent on growing the number is a sign that even if Montreal's attendance far and away exceeds the rest of the league's, players know that they both deserve and can do better, and they're not going to settle.
Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays vs. Toronto Furies
Hannah Miller opened Saturday's scoring for the Rays midway through the first period, set up by Cayley Mercer and Hanna Bunton. Natalie Spooner evened things up just three minutes later, assisted by Mackenzie MacNeil and Sarah Nurse.
Alex Carpenter scored shorthanded halfway through the second to make it 2-1 after two, but despite the tight scoreline, Shenzhen dominated sustained zone time.
"We've been practicing pretty hard and I think it's a credit to our athletes, the fact that they could play so well together so early in the season," said Rays head coach Bob Deraney. "That's what probably impressed me the most about the weekend, how collectively as a group, we were in tune with each other."
Shenzhen's strength was reflected on the scoreboard as the game drew to a close, with Leah Lum scoring at 15:05 and adding a power-play marker just a minute and a half later. Kong Minghui rounded things out with a power-play goal with 17 seconds remaining, assisted by Fang Xin.
Chinese nationals saw more ice time and more varied roles in this game than most saw last season, but Deraney says it isn't because he's made a point of prioritizing their development -- all of the ice time as been earned from their performances in training.
"The only way I know how to coach is to reward the players that deserve to be rewarded," he explained. "The players that don't, they may play a little bit less, but when it comes to practice we work harder to help them to get to where we need them to be. If players want to play more, they just need to perform better, and that's really what the mindset has been since training camp started. That's why they're playing in the roles they are -- because they've earned those positions."
The Rays were perfect on two power plays and killed off both penalties while adding a shorty.
Noora Räty turned away 26 of 27 pucks, while Elaine Chuli stopped 25 of 30 against many of her former Vanke teammates.
Emma Woods got things started for Shenzhen on Sunday with a power-play goal at the tail end of the opening period.
Carpenter doubled the advantage at 4:15 of the second, then added an empty-netter with four seconds left in the game. She and Woods were both involved in all three goals.
"Toronto was just as beat up and tired as we were," said Deraney of the tighter contest. "I think it came down to who could stay focused and disciplined and do what they needed to do in order to make enough plays to win a hockey game."
The Rays were 1-for-6 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Räty made 26 saves to earn the shut-out, while Shea Tiley stopped 24 of 26 shots through 59:13 in her CWHL debut.
The Toronto-Shenzhen series continues Wednesday night before the Rays travel to Calgary and the Furies to Worcester ahead of the weekend's games.
"I'm just looking for us to be the best version of ourselves," said Deraney of the rematch. "That's really all that we can focus on, because if you get caught up in thinking about what they're doing and adjustments that they make, you're just not focusing on the right things -- the things that are in your control. We've got to be even better because you know they're going to be even better. We have to play like the team that's looking to win their first game, instead of the team that's won the first two games, and that's the mentality that I hope we bring to the game: that we play like we're looking for our first win of the season. If we do that, I think we'll be just fine."
Worcester Blades vs. Markham Thunder
After a banner-raising ceremony to honour Markham's 2018 Clarkson Cup championship, Victoria Bach opened Saturday's scoring with a power-play goal at 6:54 of the first period.
The Blades were playing with a shortened bench as Alexis Miller, who is Canadian and living in Massachussetts, couldn't make the trip due to issues with her U.S. visa, and fellow defender Carrie Atkinson had a passport problem that prevented her from traveling. The league also recently approved Worcester's addition of forward Demi Crossman, who was not available for the series.
Thunder returnee Jess Jones made it 2-0 just 2:15 into the second, and Laura Stacey added another, shorthanded, three minutes after that.
Ailish Forfar increased the advantage at 3:25 of the third period, before Jones tallied her second of the evening on the power play and Nicole Brown rounded things out with the game's second shorty at 13:16, for a 6-0 final score.
"We're in a huge learning curve trying to get the Worcester Blades to be different than the Boston Blades, because it's a different atmosphere, different being," explained head coach Paul Kennedy. "So it's trying to get those old ways out of the way. It's kind of a learning curve so we can teach them. This weekend was kind of a 'see what we have, see what we can do,' and then learn from those experiences. Clearly we have a lot to learn, of course. Markham is very, very good, well-coached; a real good team with great players. So we'll learn from that experience and then move on to this weekend."
The Thunder were 2-for-6 on the power play and killed off six penalties, netting two shorthanded goals in the process.
Erica Howe earned the 24-save shut-out. Mariah Fujimagari started in goal for the Blades and stopped 14 of 17 shots through 30:03 before being replaced by Lauren Dahm, who turned away 23 of 26 in 29:57.
"You have to manage that even though they're playing really, really well, I need to build on that for the season, not just for one game," explained Kennedy of the mid-game goalie swaps, which were motivated not just by high shot totals but by the amount of puck-tracking movement required as the Thunder sustained offensive zone time. "So you're not pulling goalies because they're doing bad, you're pulling them because they're playing hard and they've done their job. It's no different than a pitcher in baseball -- after so many pitches, you've got to take them out."
On Sunday, Jones opened the scoring with a power-play goal midway through the first period.
Ella Matteucci doubled the lead at 10:21 of the second, and Jamie Lee Rattray made it 3-0 with a power-play marker just under two minutes later before Casey Stathopoulos banged in the Blades' first goal of the season, at 14:33.
Bach sealed Markham's victory with the third shorthanded goal of the weekend at 17:32 of the third period.
The Thunder were 2-for-3 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, again with a shorty to show for it.
Liz Knox turned away 14 of 15 shots in the win. Jessica Convery started in net for Worcester and made 33 saves on 36 shots through 32:35. She was replaced by Dahm, who turned away 13 of 14 pucks in 27:25.
"This weekend was good starting off against Markham because they're extremely talented and their coaching staff is really good," Kennedy offered. "I'd rather play there, because now the players can learn and now we can teach them. Because when you go to practice, you can go over these things and say 'okay, we need to learn about all these mistakes.' They're smart kids, they can figure it out. They've got to know their roles -- what's my role on the team and what's their role on the team -- so we'll build on that. We will produce and we will get better, I'm not worried about that part of it. It just takes time."
Coming Up Next
- Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays vs. Toronto Furies -- October 17 at 8:45 PM Eastern at Mastercard Centre - Rink 1
- Toronto Furies vs. Worcester Blades -- October 20 at 3:00 PM Eastern at Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center (streamed); October 21 at 2:10 PM Eastern at Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center
- Markham Thunder vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal -- October 20 at 6:00 PM Eastern at Complexe sportif Bell; October 21 at 1:30 PM Eastern at Aréna Michel-Normandin
- Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays vs. Calgary Inferno -- October 20 at 8:00 PM Mountain at Winsport Arena A (streamed); October 21 at 10:30 AM Mountain at Winsport Arena A (radio)
(Photo credit: Shanna Martin/CWHL)