The Markham Thunder took to the ice for the first time in an official Canadian Women’s Hockey League game on October 14th, 2017. With 17 returning members from the Brampton incarnation of the squad, the team added new blood with four draftees and two free agents. The Thunder came out rolling, and you could see the chemistry on the ice.
Games against GTA rivals the Toronto Furies always bring an extra intensity, for the fans and for the players. The first period saw two penalties awarded to the Thunder, both successfully killed off. Both teams would leave after the opening frame without any pucks getting behind the netminders, Erica Howe for the Thunder and Sonja van der Bliek for the Furies. Fielding Montgomery blocked a shot during the period and would not return to the game.
The intensity heightened in the second period as five power plays were handed out – two were awarded to the Thunder. During the 5-on-3 advantage Kristen Barbara scored, unassisted, giving Markham the lead.
The goaltending battle continued through the final 20 minutes. The Thunder peppered van der Bliek with high-quality shots, including three turns with the man advantage. Howe held down the fort, making 24 saves in the game, earning her first shutout of the season! Howe was awarded the second star of the game, along with the Thunder voted Player of the Game title, and Barbara took first star honours.
Sunday’s match had a similar goaltending duel with Liz Knox taking care of the Thunder’s net. Markham’s first penalty of the game arrived only 3:21 into the period with Kristen Richards serving time. Following a successful kill, Richards returned to the ice and scored a few minutes later, assisted by Jessica Hartwick, giving the Thunder an early lead. Two more penalties would be given to the Thunder, but the Furies could not solve Knox or the Thunder defence.
With Toronto taking a penalty late in the first period, Markham began the second frame with over a minute on the power play. After dictating the play, the Thunder would once again be on the skater advantage halfway through the period. After a prolonged stint in the offensive zone and an unlucky bounce off a post, the puck transferred to the Furies. Two quick goals in the last minutes of the second gave Toronto the 2-1 lead.
Markham showed good coverage in their own zone during a penalty kill and 4-on-4 action during the final period. The Thunder continued to put pressure on the Furies, spending long stretches in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, they were unable to put the puck past van der Bliek, or the post (again), and Toronto took the second game. Devon Skeats was awarded the third star of the game.
Thoughts from the Thunder
Overall, the players and coaches echoed the same sentiments – strong play in all zones and palpable team chemistry are good signs for what is to come this season.
“Anytime you can go into the other team’s arena and come out with a split, it has to be considered a success. We had some veteran players take a big step forward in their development, and our rookies showed great poise,” said Kevin Stone, assistant coach. “Our offence generated a lot of opportunities, and with some tweaking and polishing, we’ll do just fine. It was great to see a fine effort from our back end. Our defence will be the anchor of this team. The excitement going forward with this group will only grow.”
Candice Moxley, assistant coach, concurred. “I felt our team got progressively better throughout the weekend and although the second game didn’t show the results we wanted, it was a great learning opportunity for our team early on.” She continued, “We are just scratching the surface with our teams potential and that is exciting to us as a staff.”
Those at the MasterCard Centre this weekend were able to see the high-quality scoring chances the Thunder generated and the strong offensive zone pressure, but the players know what they need to work on. “I think we improved as the weekend went on,” Kristen Richards said. “We definitely deserved a better fate in Sunday’s game, but we have a lot of work to do to find the back of the net. It’s coming.”
Liz Knox agreed, “I think as a team, we showed some progress between game one and game two. We were gripping the stick a little less today and showing that we have some chemistry and creativity up front. Although we struggled to finish on Sunday, I was much happier with the overall performance of our team game. We have work to do, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Her goalie partner Erica Howe reiterated the sentiments on team growth. “It was a good weekend to start the season, we continued to get better as the games went on. I think we played a team game and you could see the chemistry building shift to shift. I look forward to getting back to work and building on what we accomplished this weekend.”
Long-time fans of the Thunder would have noticed a familiar face that returned to the lineup – Laura McIntosh was all over the ice this weekend, showing no rust after taking a break from CWHL action last season.“It was great to get back on the ice with the Thunder, and I’m looking forward to playing with the team this season!”
A 2016 draft pick who played a couple of games for the Thunder last season before being sidelined by an injury, Kristen Barbara continued her strong two-way play exhibited in the pre-season. “I thought it was a great opening weekend for us – we battled hard and had a lot of fun with it,” she said. “Essentially we want to bring that momentum into the rest of the season.”
Be sure to catch the Thunder’s home opening weekend this Saturday, October 21st at 7:30pm and Sunday, October 22nd at 12:30pm for our Brain Tumour Fundraiser. Games are played at Thonrnhill Community Centre. For group pricing please contact [email protected].