Friday, 13 July 2012

Former Barracudas hope to extend their careers through the Dispersal Draft

NOTE: Special thanks to Outlook Hockey for their up to date draft information
In the struggle to win the Battle of Toronto, the remaining franchises in the Greater Toronto Area, the Brampton Hockey Club and the Toronto Furies evaluated what remained of the underachieving (and defunct) Burlington Barracudas roster, and selected the players still hoping to continue their careers.
With the 2012 CWHL Draft offering an attractive amount of high quality talent, the value of some of the dispersal draft picks may not be appreciated until the 2013-14 campaign. That is when rosters will be gutted of their finest players, as they must undertake an almost year long commitment for their national teams at the Sochi Winter Games.
Of all the players selected, Brianne McLaughlin is the most intriguing. As she never played a game in the CWHL, let alone for Burlington, she should have been declared a free agent. Having played for current Brampton General Manager Jody Katz at Robert Morris University, the familiarity between the two may serve as a deciding factor if she decides to compete at the CWHL level.
Currently, an assistant coach with the Robert Morris Colonials, McLaughlin’s career would greatly benefit if she could help Brampton win a Clarkson Cup. As a third string goaltender for the US National Team, the only competition that McLaughlin has for that spot is Alex Rigsby, an elite backstop with the Wisconsin Badgers. A big factor in the US winning the gold at the 2009 IIHF Under 18 Worlds, Rigsby followed it up with a Frozen Four title in her freshman year at Wisconsin. She has made a bold statement that she is one to watch. A Clarkson Cup for McLaughlin would result in her status with USA Hockey being solidified, while Rigsby may wait until 2018 for a roster spot.
As Outlook Hockey pointed out, Mallory Johnston registered a plus minus rating of +2 for a club that had a dismal -104. The Chatham, Ontario native and former Colgate Raiders member will be a suitable defense partner for All-World player Molly Engstrom. With the Thunder having played in the Clarkson Cup final two of the last three times, a veteran presence such as Johnston means that the Thunder can still draft a young defender. The benefit is that the club does not have to rush the development of that player. Clearly the best defender selected in the draft, she will be the key cog in helping to nullify the Montreal Stars offensive power.
Lindsay Vine appears destined as an insurance pick for the club. With such a loaded roster, she will likely occupy a marginal role during the 2012-13 season. Her value as a pick will emanate in the 2013-14 campaign, when Brampton is decimated by the losses of Gillian Apps, Jayna Hefford and Cherie Piper. The irony is that she would have been counted on to provide a huge leadership role with Toronto. A former member of the now defunct Niagara Purple Eagles in the NCAA, Vine played in the 2002 NCAA Frozen Four. She holds the Purple Eagles record for consecutive games played, and was the captain for Niagara in her senior season. A long time veteran of the NWHL (the precursor to the CWHL) with the Oakville Ice, Vine’s leadership skills are at a true premium in the still young league.
The wild card selection in the dispersal draft is the 2011 Laura Hurd Award winner (awarded to the top player in NCAA Division III), Sarah Dagg. As one of the greatest players with the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, Dagg was expected to be a building block for the Barracudas, while providing offensive capabilities. After the disastrous season with Burlington, Dagg is a work in progress. In the same mold as Jayna Hefford, Dagg is a sniper with game changing abilities. She will now have the opportunity to learn from Hefford, one of the greatest who ever laced up in the women’s game. If she can regain her scoring touch from RIT, she offers Brampton a myriad of possibilities on the offensive side of the puck. She will definitely be counted upon to deliver in the 13-14 campaign.
In selecting Ohio State legend Jana Harrigan, one cannot wonder if there is an element of strategy to that choice. With two Buckeyes available in the draft (all-time Ohio State goals leader Natalie Spooner, and Laura MacIntosh, the Buckeyes all-times scoring leader), Harrigan would be a great mentor for either, or both. While Harrigan has many seasons of hockey left, her presence on the team would be of great benefit to any rookies on the club.
Elmira College alumnus Allison Cubberley is the true unknown in the dispersal draft. With thanks to Outlook, scouts are quick to recognize that her Goals Against Average of 4.48 is better than Burlington’s team GAA of 5.56. A Division III legend in the same mold as Sarah Dagg, Cubberley rewrote many of the goaltending records for the Elmira College Soaring Eagles, but has been relegated to backup duty in the CWHL. Heading into Brampton, she will once again occupy a third string role, as she will lag on the depth chart behind Knox and a potentially more experienced goaltender (whether that is McLaughlin or a draft pick). Last season, the Montreal Stars suited up four goaltenders as they grabbed their third Clarkson Cup. Depth is an important factor in building a championship team, and if Knox (or McLaughlin, if she decides to play) is invited to their national team selection camps for Sochi, Cubberley may get her opportunity to shine in 13-14.   
While the Furies made fewer selections, there is definitely a sense of urgency to them. In observing the Furies picks, all have a veteran presence, something the young Toronto club can benefit from. Of note, Shannon Moulson is one player that would have been an ideal fit for either franchise. Having played with Brampton sniper Ashley Riggs at Niagara University, Moulson’s defensive skills would have provided a strong upgrade on Brampton’s defense. Moulson will be counted upon to relieve a lot of the defensive burden on Furies superstar Tessa Bonhomme.
If the CWHL ever introduces an award honouring a player’s charitable contributions (in the same vein as the Clancy Trophy in the NHL), it deserves to be named after Amanda Shaw. Another defender selected by the Furies, she is one of the faces behind Hockey Helps the Homeless. One of the great humanitarians of the sport, Shaw exemplified leadership at Boston University, while providing stability to a young BU squad.
Should the Furies decide to draft prominent defender Tara Watchorn (another star player who excelled at Boston University), Shaw would be a great influence on her. Not a prolific scorer by any means, her quiet and stoic presence will assist the Furies in maintaining their focus on winning throughout the season. For a team looking to return to the Clarkson Cup, Shaw’s experience and great attitude will be a welcome addition to the locker room.
In looking for an heir to Sami Jo Small’s goaltending throne, Christina Kessler may fit the bill. Just like Brampton backstop Liz Knox, Kessler has also competed for the Canadian national team. She was part of the Canadian roster that claimed gold at the 2010 Four Nations Cup. As a former starter for the Harvard Crimson, Kessler is the program’s all-time wins leader, and the NCAA’s all-time leader in save percentage. The 2008 ECAC Goaltender of the Year and former All-Ivy First Team league selection, she will help to anchor the Furies goaltending needs for the rest of the decade.
There are many variables to consider in determining which franchise emerged as the winner from said draft: long term vs. short term, quantity vs. quality, offense vs. defense. From the outset, Brampton emerged as the winner in terms of quantity as the club claimed six players. In the short term, Toronto holds a slight edge because their defensive selections will contribute immediately to a beleaguered defensive squad that requires strong leaders.
As both teams made strong statements regarding their goaltending, said draft will be defined as the goaltending draft. While the upcoming CWHL Draft will affect the balance of power in the league, whichever one of these goaltenders can help their team win a Clarkson Cup, that team will emerge as the true victor of the dispersal draft. 
Although Brampton needs a stifling defense in order to have any chance at usurping Montreal’s grip on the Clarkson Cup, the club stocked up on forwards as insurance in anticipation for the unknown 13-14 campaign. In addition, the hockey club acquired two goaltenders that will relieve some of the pressure from starting backstop Liz Knox. Based on the amount of quality backstops available in the draft, Brampton could have easily foregone one goaltender and selected Shannon Moulson or Amanda Shaw to bolster their blueline.
If McLaughlin decides to play for Brampton, on paper, she is the most talented selection made by either team. As Molly Engstrom is one of the few members of the US National Team to have competed for a Canadian based CWHL franchise, McLaughlin and Engstrom can develop a strong defensive rapport. Should McLaughlin decide to suit up for Brampton, her presence can easily hide any deficiencies on the blueline, while easily providing the club another five wins.
Facing the loss of Jesse Scanzano, the Furies did not select one forward. This is only intensified by the absence of CIS legend Brayden Ferguson in the dispersal draft, a two year member of the Barracudas. Therefore, a key focus for the draft is offense, offense, offense. While it is true that that defense wins championships, the Furies need to subscribe to the notion that one cannot win if they do not score.
A key factor in the emergence of St. Francis Xavier as a national power in the CIS, Ferguson won the 2008 Brodrick Trophy as the most outstanding player in CIS women’s hockey. Ferguson made a key contribution to international women’s hockey. A member of the Canadian contingent that competed in women’s ice hockey at the 2009 Winter Universiade (the first time that women’s hockey was contested), Ferguson scored the first ever Canadian women’s hockey goal at the Universiade. Not only would Ferguson go on to claim the gold medal, but the puck that was used to score that historic goal is at the IIHF Hall of Fame. While her tenure with the Barracudas has been a rude awakening to the increased level of competition in the CWHL, her presence reinforces how CIS players are an integral component in comprising talent for CWHL rosters.
Since the retirement of Becky Kellar, the Barracudas were unable to find a suitable replacement, and the end result was a sharp decline. As the franchise now joins the graveyard of other defunct teams, the truly tragic aspect is how quickly it could have been turned around. While Burlington seemed to endure obstacles which became insurmountable in the 2011-12 campaign, the franchise would have been assured the first pick overall. With it, the embarrassment of riches to choose from included Natalie Spooner, Rebecca Johnston, Haley Irwin, Jenn Wakefield, and Bailey Bram. In all likelihood, one of those players would still have been available with their second pick in the draft, thus creating a strong scoring line.
Their third pick could have been a goaltender (which included Amanda Mazzotta, Genevieve Lacasse, and Hillary Pattenden) to complement Christine Kessler, while anchoring its goaltending for the next decade. Later picks might have included NCAA legends Sara Bauer and Laura MacIntosh, to play alongside Barracuda prospects such as Sarah Dagg. In the space of one draft, its fortunes could have been reversed, and a foundation lay towards redemption and reward.
While the demise of the Barracudas brought an abrupt and perhaps unforeseen ending to many players’ careers, the dispersal draft offers the opportunities for some players to revive their careers. Although Becky Kellar was its greatest player, the opportunity for these few remaining players to claim a Clarkson Cup triumph will bring a glimmer of shine to a franchise whose history in shrouded in a dark and downward spiral.

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