Monday, 9 January 2017

Notable weekend highlights strong start to New Year for Calgary Inferno

Opening their 2017 with a weekend series against the visiting Brampton Thunder, the Calgary Inferno established themselves among the league’s elite. Clinching a playoff berth with an opening win against Brampton, it may have been an even more impressive win because the club was missing five of its star players. With forwards Sarah Davis and Jillian Saulnier, blueliners Kassidy Gosling and Brigette Lacquette, along with goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, these five fantastic stars suited up for Canada’s U22/Development Team in a silver medal outcome at the 2017 Nations Cup. Blayre Turnbull, whose legend includes the game-winning goal at the 2016 Clarkson Cup, logged the game’s opening tally. Gaining the assist included team captain Brianne Jenner and Delayne Brian, the MVP of the 2016 Cup playoffs. Said goal would prove to be the only scored in the first as a period of highly disciplined play and clean checking exemplified the high quality of hockey on this day. With the second stanza underway, All-Star Jess Jones continued her high scoring ways for the Thunder, slipping the puck past Brian. Both assists came from the Thunder’s blueline corps; Laura Fortino and captain Jocelyne Larocque. Despite the tie score, the Inferno would regain the lead at the six minute mark as Bailey Bram provided the heroics. Among the players who gained the assists included Erica Kromm, who played in her 100th career game with the Inferno earlier this season. Another member of Brampton’s blueline would make her presence felt in the second. Veteran Dania Simmonds, an alum from Union College kept the club competitive, tying the score at 2-apiece while CWHL All-Stars Courtney Birchard and Rebecca Vint earned the assists. Before the second would expire, there were more offensive fireworks to follow. First year player (and Russian national team player) Iya Gavrilova provided the Inferno with their second goal of the period, as Jenner earned her second assist of the game. The Thunder would reply with another goal, with familiar names contributing as Fortino placed her name on the scoresheet while super rookie Shannon MacAulay and Jones (currently second in the race for the Angela James Bowl) logged the assists, with the second ending in a 3-3 tie. Gavrilova would supply the heroics in the third period in a hotly contested match. With Simmonds serving the only penalty of the game, it provided Calgary with the much needed opportunity to break the tie. With 5:53 left in the game, Gavrilova scored on the power play as Bram and Johnston gained the assists. Despite Brampton’s best efforts, they were unable to force overtime, as Brian gained her fifth win of the season for the Inferno, while Gavrilova gained First Star of the Game honors. Jones was the only Brampton player to gain Three Star recognition, emerging as the Second Star, while Bram was honored with the Third Star. The following day, Calgary participated in a game which exemplified their proud role as hockey humanitarians. Hosting a ‘Keep the Beat’ fundraiser in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the event has seen over $10,000 raised in the past two seasons.

Organized by assistant captain Jacqui Pierri, she was proud of the way the team and community displayed tremendous teamwork. Such efforts during the game included a Silent Auction, the Chuck-A-Puck contest (which saw Pierri on the ice), along with educational resources including a CPR demonstration along with details on heart health and research, a win-win situation.

Looking to get the win on the ice was the Thunder, who scored the first goal of the game as Jamie Lee Rattray beat Genevieve Lacasse at the 2:30 mark, with Jess Jones adding to her team best point total. Penalties would define the latter half of the first period, as Aina Takeuchi, the first Japanese player to win the Clarkson Cup was called for body checking, while Haley Irwin would sit in the penalty box for slashing.

As the second period progressed, it was Cornell alum Hayleigh Cudmore that would place the Inferno on the scoreboard as Jenner and Brittany Esposito gained the assists. Following the goal, the Inferno hoped to take the first lead of the game. Several opportunities presented itself as the Thunder were plagued by penalties. Starting with Jenna McParland called for tripping, it continued with captain Larocque serving a penalty for body contact. Afterwards, first year player (and Bemidji State star) Katlyn Tougas was directed to the penalty box.

Despite three unanswered power play opportunities, the Inferno were stifled thrice. Adding to the frustration was the fact that Jessica Campbell was called for slashing. Ironically, it was the Inferno that played more aggressively as Pierri nearly scored. Penalties would continue to define the third as Meaghan Mikkelson served two minutes for cross-checking. Taking into account that the Thunder now enjoyed a 5-on-3 advantage, it could have served as the game’s turning point. Instead, the frustrations continued, as the Thunder could not capitalize. Compounding their woes was the fact that Rattray would be called for body contact as both sides seemed to engage in rather sloppy play.

In the third period, the Thunder struggled to roar, as tensions rose between both clubs. Such tension saw Rattray and Nicole Brown add to the appalling number of penalties called in this game. While Rattray was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, emotions running high in this tight contest, Brown was plagued by 10-minute misconduct.

Rebecca Johnston would punish the Thunder by scoring on the power play, with Gavrilova gaining the assist, as the enthusiastic crowd roared in approval. While Johnston’s goal would serve as the game-winning tally, the final two minutes of the game would provide for more on-ice electricity.

With Kristen Richards called for boarding, a dejected Thunder saw any chance of tying the game withering away, as Gavrilova gained her second point of the game, lighting the red lamp, as Mikkelson and Bram earned the helpers. Refusing to show any signs of quit, the Thunder opted for the extra attacker in the final minute of the game. Despite the significant number of scoring talent that dons the Thunder colors, such efforts to tie the game were not meant to be on this day.

Instead, it was Calgary that scored again as Campbell soared down the ice, burying the puck into an open net, as Turnbull and Jenner added to their point totals with the assists. While the Thunder outshot the Inferno by a 12-6 margin in the third, the Inferno made it count when needed, strengthening their grip on home ice advantage for the first round of the postseason. Campbell (first) and Cudmore (third) were among the players named for the game’s Three Stars, while Courtney Birchard, who played valiantly on the blueline for the Thunder was recognized as the Second Star.

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