China Trip off to Slow Start for Thunder

After a long trip over to China, the Thunder faced off against the Vanke Rays, who were playing their first home games. Shenzhen came out to see what the CWHL is all about, and they got to see it all. Though the scores weren’t in Markham’s favour, both games were strong performances for a team facing jet lag of a 13 hour time difference.  

Game One

Jamie Lee Rattray took the ceremonial puck drop on Markham’s first visit to Shenzhen, and on her 75th regular season game as a member of Thunder! Both teams came out strong as play was going north and south for the first third of the period. Lindsay Grigg made a huge block to the right of goalie Erica Howe, who followed that up with a quick flash of her glove. The Thunder would get more pucks to the net, but all would stay out. A few minutes later, Vanke would get their first goal at home as Cayley Mercer found Brooke Webster who floated the puck over Howe’s shoulder. Markham continued to pressure in the offensive zone, with King breaking into the zone and passing it across the ice to Devon Skeats, but she was moving too fast and took the net off its moorings. The period would end with the Thunder down by one.

Markham came out strong to start the second frame. With the extra pep came the game’s first penalty, a hook called against the Thunder’s Dania Simmonds. The penalty kill unit was up to the task, but shortly after returning to full strength, the Rays snuck one behind Howe. Mercer connected with Webster again as she put the puck high glove side. Play would continue to go end to end, and Vanke would take the 2-0 lead to the second intermission.

The final 20 minutes did not start the way the Thunder had hoped. Kristen Richards sat for roughing. On the Vanke power play, Hanna Bunton got the puck from Ashleigh Brykaliuk and put it in the Thunder’s net. A quick goal from Emma Woods (Brykaliuk, Webster) was followed by two more power play markers for the Rays came as Jenna McParland (goalie interference) and Hartwick (roughing) made trips to the box. Bringing Vanke’s tally to 6-0 were Brykaliuk (Mercer) and Woods (Webster). Markham had difficulty establishing themselves in the offensive zone, but took momentum from a power play and a big save from Howe on a short handed Vanke. McParland pushed the puck along the boards to Rattray who brought it from the red line into the slot where her shot squeaked under Chuli’s arm, ending her shutout bid with 10:42 left in the game. The Rays would take two slashing penalties and the Thunder a hooking call in the remaining time. Despite the final score of 6-1, the Thunder almost drew even on shots (30 vs 32), but Chuli made the difference for Vanke.


Game Two

The next evening, the Thunder returned to the ice. Liz Knox got the call for Markham, and Vanke once again backstopped by Chuli. Much like the Thunder’s last period of play in the Shenzhen Universaide Center, things did not start in their favour. Brykaliuk (Webster, Bunton) would send the puck over Knox’s blocker to get the lead 1:36 into the game. Brykaliuk would connect with Mercer and then Bunton within the next few minutes as Vanke shot out to an early 3-0 lead. Urban was called for body checking and on the penalty kill, Taylor Woods was awarded a penalty shot as Brykaliuk hooked her as she blazed down the slot. Chuli was up to the task, and the game remained 3-0.

Rattray sat for a slash, and Knox and the penalty kill unit were up to the task. Just as the period wound down, Rattray took the puck up from the top of the circle, pulled the puck back from the Vanke defender, then crossed through the blue paint and tucked it around a sprawled Chuli. A hooking call against Skeats gave Vanke 25 seconds on the power play. Markham headed to the locker room down 3-1.

With Vanke resuming the game on the power play, it didn’t take long for Bunton (Webster, Woods) to tap the puck in at the side of the net. A little further into the period, Bunton was given a minor for slashing. On the power play Rattray was sent off for body checking and some wide open 4-on-4 play ensued. After her penalty expires, Rattray emerged from the box and made a beeline for the net, but was taken down before she could get a shot off. Becca King took the next penalty, a cross check, but it was killed off. Later in the period, Knox made a save on a Vanke 2-on-1 keeping her team in the game. The Rays’ Emily Janiga was penalized for high sticking at the end of the period.

The Thunder started the period with 1:25 left on the power play, and were quickly given another when that expired and Mercer was called for interference. Unfortunately, they were unable to convert of the advantage. Urban was shoved by a Rays player into Chuli, but there was no call. Vanke then made it down to Markham’s zone and Mercer put it past Knox to make it 5-1 in the Rays’ favour. Bunton sat for a cross check, and the Thunder turned up the pressure. Grigg was waiting at the side of the net for the puck, but when a pass was made she was unable to connect. Simmonds shot it from the point when Nicole Brown got it to Urban who shoved it past Chuli to cut Vanke’s lead to 5-2. Alexis Woloschuk was given two minutes for slashing, but the penalty kill was successful. For the rest of the game, play moved quickly. Richards had a quality scoring chance, and Knox made a blocker save after Vanke broke through the defence at the end of 60 minutes.