Pre-Season Preview: Toronto Furies

Toronto Furies

Toronto won the Clarkson Cup last season as an upset– before the tournament, Elena and I had it pretty firmly down to either Boston or Montreal, as both teams had been pretty dominant all season. We were both proven wrong– the Toronto Furies won their first Clarkson Cup in a 1-0 final over the Boston Blades.

Toronto’s regular season, however, finished with 23 points on the season in 23 games– they actually had a perfect .500 season, with ten wins, ten losses, and three overtime losses. That’s clearly a regular season performance they can improve upon, and Toronto took the first step to improvement by drafting Megan Bozek, second overall, a defender most recently of the US Olympic team that took silver in Sochi.

2014 Olympic silver medalist, two-time NCAA champ.
Megan Bozek: 2014 Olympic silver medalist, two-time NCAA champ.

In her college career, Bozek played on the University of Minnesota Gophers, where she won two NCAA National Championships and was an All-American in 2012. At the Sochi Olympics, Bozek had 5 points, 1 goal and 4 assists, in 5 games.

Of the other six players that Toronto drafted, all but two were defenders as well.

 

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* I can’t actually find anything else out about Saar, except that she’s from Toronto, and she’s a D.

This is good, because Toronto has a problem keeping D for all their games. With 23 games in their season, Toronto only had three defenders dress for 20 or more games– Shannon Moulson, Lexie Hoffmeyer, and Michelle Bonello. Of the remaining five defenders on their roster, Toronto released Sasha Nanji to Brampton after three games, and lost Tessa Bonhomme for the beginning of the season to the Canadian National Team until she was released in November. Britni Smith, Kristen Marson, and Martine Garland all played 15 or fewer games. Smith was coaching last year with the University of Toronto, which caused her to miss games, and it looks like she’s coaching this next year with Clarkson. Marson and Garland may have had injuries or other conflicts– we’re not sure. In any case, having a more stable d-corp and adding another Olympic-level defender can only help that situation.

Particularly, we’re looking for Toronto to improve its penalty kill. Toronto had the second best power play in the league, with a 22.64% chance of converting a power-play into a goal, but they had the second worst penalty kill, at 83%.

In the second round, Toronto took their only forward of this year’s draft, Kelly Terry, a former assistant captain of the University of Minnesota. She was a teammate of Bozek’s at Minnesota, and also won two NCAA Championships. She was also a member of the 2010 Canada U18 team that won gold at Women Worlds U18.

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Toronto has had better luck with their forwards– Carolyne Prevost and Alyssa Baldin tied for 7th in league scoring, with 23 points in 23 games. Prevost in particular I remember as being outstanding in the Clarkson Cup. However, Toronto also had lost several forwards to the Canadian national team– Jenelle Kohanckuk, Rebecca Johnston, Jennifer Wakefield, and Natalie Spooner. While Spooner returned for the Clarkson Cup tournament, and Kohanckuk returned mid-season last year after being cut from the Olympic roster, I haven’t seen comments one way or another from Johnston, but it sounds like Wakefield is trying out for a men’s team in Sweden. In more recent days, Toronto released Jordanna Peroff, a forward with 3 points in 22 games last season, so that she could pursue other things (I’m told hockey) in Italy.

The final piece that Toronto picked up in the draft was Danielle Butters, a goaltender from Minnesota State University Mankato. Butters posted a .924 save percentage in 30 games her senior year at Minnesota State, with a career .909 SV% over 90 games.

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As Sami Jo Small has slowly been relinquishing more and more of the net to Christina Kessler, who actually started all of this year’s Clarkson Cup games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Butter backing up Kessler on the regular, or even challenging for the starting position. Kessler had a .908 SV% on 15 games with the Furies this last season, although she put up a .957 over the Clarkson Cup tournament.

All in all, I’m VERY excited to see what the Toronto Furies look like next season. I think they picked up a bunch of depth and some solid top-end talent for their blue line, and with the pick up of Terry and the return of their Olympians, their forward group is going to be very strong indeed. I think they’ve given Kessler someone to compete against for the net, which can only improve their goal-tending. In short, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Furies repeat next season– at the very least, I expect to see them neck and neck with Montreal and Boston this season.

 

[Updated 8/28/2014 1:30PM CDT with some more info on where Furies players are going this next season]

Pre-Season Preview: Brampton Thunder

Brampton Thunder

Brampton ended last season bottom of the league. They had 13 points on a 24 game season, with only five wins to their name, the most penalty minutes of any team, and their starting goaltender had the worst save percentage in the league. It was kind of rough.

But! New season coming up, new players, new chances to address those issues and improve!

Laura Fortino
Laura Fortino, first pick of the 2014 CWHL Draft

Brampton had this year’s first overall pick, and chose Laura Fortino, a defense from the Canadian Olympic team. Fortino won silver at the 2013 Women’s World Championship, and gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Fortino assisted on Marie-Philip Poulin’s heartbreaker of a game winning goal in overtime against the US in the final match. Fortino played for Cornell University in college, where, in her freshman season, she lead all NCAA defense in scoring, and later was named to the First Team All-American and was a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier. Fortino was the only defense that Brampton picked up in the draft, and I’d expect to see her make an impact.

Four players were drafted from last year’s NCAA champ Clarkson, including Jamie Lee Rattray, the 2014 Patty Kaz winner. All but Vanessa Gagnon went to Brampton– Gagnon went to Montreal. Interestingly, this includes Erica Howe, the former starting goaltender for Clarkson, who had a .941 SV% over 41 games and who lead the league in her senior year. Brampton has mostly been starting Sonja van der Bliek, who was drafted in 2013. van der Bliek had a SV% of .883 over 18 games in the 2013-2014 season. For reference, in van der Bliek’s senior year at Rensselaer, she had a .893 save percentage over 32 games. While we don’t know exactly how Howe is going to adapt to the CWHL, nor do we know how the goaltenders are going to be deployed, I would expect to see Howe steal the starter position. Depending on how the defense in front of her sorts out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howe leading the league at the end of this next season. Going to be interesting to see how that situation sorts out.

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Last season, Brampton was bottom of the league in their penalty kill– picking up a stud defense and improving their goaltending are big steps to try and correct that. But according to the work Mike Burse has done with the CWHL Stats program, the power play is actually the more valuable of the special teams, in the sense that it correlates to more team wins. Even more valuable is shots on goal (and goals), and Brampton didn’t skimp on any of these needs.

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As I mentioned, Brampton drafted Jamie Lee Rattray, the 2014 Patty Kaz winner, with their second pick. Rattray was also Clarkson’s all time leading scorer, with 70 goals, 100 assists in four years, 138 games with Clarkson. She was also the NCAA Women’s Scoring Champion for 2013-2014, and led in power play goals particularly. My one concern with Rattray is her penalty minutes. She had 53 PIMs this last season with Clarkson, just behind Gagnon for the team lead. I don’t have a real feel for why Rattray had such high PIMs, not having watched her play a lot, but it could be a problem for Brampton, already a highly penalized team.

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I was slightly surprised to see Rattray fall to the second round– I had rather expected her to go like hot cakes. The other Clarkson forward that Brampton drafted isn’t any slouch either– Carly Mercer was 13th in league scoring with 14 goals, 31 assists.

Overall, I think Brampton picked up some really good pieces. I’m hopeful that between van der Bliek and Howe, and improving their blue line with Fortino, Brampton can get their “getting scored on a lot” situation more under control. They picked up a crop of good forwards who appear to have a great chance to get started on the other half of winning at hockey, the “scoring a lot on the other team” part. I don’t know that Brampton will be winning the Clarkson Cup next May, but if the team can put their new pieces together with their existing team and maybe calm down on the penalties, I think they’re going to be a lot better. It’s a five-team league– better is all you need to go to the Clarkson Cup tournament. 🙂

The 2014 CWHL Draft!

So, the 2014 CWHL Draft happened earlier this week, and it was pretty exciting! I enjoyed following it along on Twitter, and having a bit of conversation with other fans about women’s hockey in the tail end of summer. Very nice all around.

We’re going to have posts coming out over the next two weeks or so on how each team did in the draft, and how we think it’s going to impact their chances this upcoming season, so look forward to that! In the mean time, here’s a quick snapshot of the draft:

In 19 rounds, there were:

  • 58 players total drafted
  • 18 defense
  • 31 forwards
  • 9 goalies

Looking forward to the CWHL Draft!

Looking forward to the CWHL Draft!

Somehow, we’ve rolled around again to August, and that means things will soon be starting to move on the CWHL front. We’ve been very lazy on the blog front this summer (mainly because we’ve been very very busy elsewhere), so we figured we’d recap some of the upcoming events, and start to get women’s hockey back on our minds again.

The CWHL Draft

Player registrations are due for the Draft by August 12th, and new players will be signed on August 19th. Notably, this is only for new players– we probably won’t know who, of the players whose CWHL right are already taken, will sign with a CWHL team for the 2014-2015 season until closer to October.

Florence Schelling, for example, was drafted by Montreal, but has played for Brampton in the 2012-2013 season. With the 2014 Olympics and a bronze medal behind her, will she return to the CWHL or will she return to the Swiss leagues?

Another Olympic goaltender, Shannon Szabados, is returning to the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) for the 2014-2015 season. The Calgary Inferno has her CWHL rights, but she has yet to play for the team.

We’ll have more on who shakes out where as the season approaches.

CWHL Expansion

Despite rumors that a potential new expansion team might be on board for the 2014-2015 season, there has been no official word yet on an expansion team, and with the Draft looming, it seems very unlikely that an expansion team will be playing this upcoming season. That doesn’t mean we won’t have an expansion team announced, however, and the Draft seems like the perfect time to us to announce it.

For further reading on the possibility of a CWHL expansion team, check out Pat Borzi of espnW’s excellent article on the different proposals, and Mike Burse of The Hockey Writer’s more in-depth look at the Minnesota proposal

CWHL Schedule?

We don’t have the full schedule yet, but Montreal’s twitter has confirmed their home opener as October 14th, vs the Boston Blades.

Other news!