Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Brampton Thunder pays homage to its proud Winter Games connection

As one of the longest running women’s hockey clubs in Canada, the Brampton Thunder (also known once as the Brampton Canadettes) has a proud heritage of its players competing in the Winter Olympic Games. Starting with the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the club has enjoyed the privilege of at least one member from its roster competing on the Canadian national women’s team at the Olympic level.

Considering that the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games signify the 20 Anniversary of Nagano, which was the first women’s ice hockey tournament at the Games, there is no question that current Thunder stars such as Courtney Birchard, Erica Howe, Jocelyne Larocque and Jamie Lee Rattray will all be given consideration for spots on the 2018 roster.

Adding to Brampton’s proud legacy is the fact that Lori Dupuis, a two-time Winter Games medalist (silver – 1998, gold – 2002) is doing a superlative job in her third season as the general manager of the Brampton Thunder. On January 31, Dupuis was joined by three other Brampton alums with Olympic roots.

Hosting Olympic Day, Brampton legends Jayna Hefford (4 golds, 1 silver), Kathleen Kauth (1 bronze with Team USA at Torino 2006) and Vicky Sunohara (2 golds, 1 silver) were on-hand to see the Thunder host the cross-town rivals Toronto Furies. All three were at centre ice for the ceremonial faceoff, which featured Brampton captain Larocque and Furies captain (and two-time CWHL All-Star) Michelle Bonello. As a side note, the three were gracious enough to hold a post-game autograph session, meeting the star struck fans.

The presence of such legendary players only added to the sense of excitement and
momentum for an energized Brampton team. In a first period that saw Brampton outshoot the visiting Furies by a 12-6 margin, the club assembled a dominant performance which resulted in five goals, for a convincing 5-0 lead.

Two-time CWHL All-Star Jess Jones would open the scoring at the 2:20 mark as Rattray and Fortino were credited with the assists. Less than three minutes later, Jones and Rattray would gain their second points of the contest, assisting on a goal scored by Candice Styles.

Enjoying the two-goal lead, Brampton continued to add to said lead as the club capitalized on a power play. With Sena Suzuki, the first international player to compete in the CWHL All-Star Game serving a hooking penalty, rookie sensation Rebecca Vint found the back of the net. Gaining the assist was Kristen Richards, who has played with Vint at the NCAA level with the Robert Morris Colonials, and also played together with the Toronto Shamrocks, capturing the 2015 Canadian ball hockey national championships.

At the 9:52 mark, Furies goaltender Christina Kessler would allow her fourth and final goal of the contest. Fortino would log her first goal of the game, and second point overall, while Jenna McParland and Courtney Birchard added their names to the score sheet, each logging assists.

Allowing three goals on just seven shots, Kessler was replaced by Sonja van der Bliek. Having started her season with the Thunder, she was traded to Toronto for a late round pick as goaltender (and CWHL co-founder) Sami Jo Small went on maternity leave. Facing her former Brampton teammates, van der Bliek would not exit the period without allowing a goal too. Sarah Edney, the first pick overall of the 2015 CWHL Draft scored on her former teammate, as Jones and Rattray registered their third points of an impressive first period with the assists.

Heading into the second stanza, van der Bliek would have a calming influence between the pipes, stopping all 11 Brampton shots. Meanwhile, the Furies could only muster seven shots, despite two power play opportunities that presented themselves as Jones was called for roughing and Birchard would be sent to the penalty box for cross checking.

Despite peppering Brampton goaltender Liz Knox with 10 shots in the third period, Knox was playing with a remarkable confidence, displaying the talent that made her the first rookie to start a Clarkson Cup championship game. Fortino and Jones would combine with Rattray once again, proving to be a dominant trio for Brampton, as Rattray added to the lead with her first goal of the game.

Adding to Toronto’s woes was the fact that the club was in penalty kill mode for the latter half of the third. Carolyne Prevost, who was also a member of the Shamrocks, was called for body checking at 10:33. Tensions would rise for Toronto as Candice Styles and Furies captain Michelle Bonello engaged in a physical confrontation. While Styles would serve two minutes for body checking, Bonello fared much worse. Called for two penalties, which included roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, it placed Toronto at a player disadvantage until the 14:02 mark.

In a game that took less than two hours to play (1:58 to be precise), the third place Thunder continued to add distance between themselves and the Furies, who are hanging on to fourth place, which is also the final postseason berth. Proving to be a valuable acquisition for the Furies, van der Bliek would record 31 saves. Opposing goaltender Liz Knox would only need 23 saves for the shutout, as she also emerged with First Star of the Game honors. Jones would gain Second Star and Rattray’s Third Star honor made it a clean sweep for a dominant Brampton working towards their first postseason berth since 2013.

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