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.┬áInterestingly, 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. ­čÖé