Since the Calgary Inferno had their last home game way back in early December, the CWHL standings have gotten a bit tighter. Calgary remains right at the top, having accrued a 14-2-2 record and 30 points over 18 games, but their standings lead is by no means comfortable.
It’s a three-way race now, as Les Canadiennes have 28 points through 16 games, and the Brampton Thunder are up to 26 through 18 – including four points gained last week as the Thunder handed the Inferno overtime and shootout losses.
That doesn’t mean any opponents can be taken for granted, as the Inferno found out this past weekend when they hosted the Toronto Furies in their penultimate home series of the season. The Furies only have four wins through 20 games, but they found a way to make things close.
Goals by Bailey Bram and Jessica Campbell gave the Inferno a 2-0 lead in the first period. It was a commanding opening frame, as Furies netminder Christina Kessler was forced to deal with 16 shots from Calgary, while Inferno goalie Delayne Brian only faced six through the first.
It was special teams that nearly caused troubles, though. Not at first, as Brianne Jenner made it 3-0 with a power play goal rather nice power play goal – and not only do you have to love the drop to the knee, but also that, just like Mark Giordano, the Inferno’s captain also uses an orange stick.
— CWHL Gifs (@cwhlgifs) January 17, 2016
But then the Inferno started taking costly penalties of their own. First, Erica Kromm went off for hooking; then, just 41 seconds later, it was Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid off for holding, and suddenly, Toronto had an extended five-on-three.
It took Carolyne Prevost 34 seconds into the two woman advantage to solve Brian with a squeaker; 26 seconds later, Emily Fulton followed suit with the rest of the power play time, and suddenly, that 3-0 lead was cut to 3-2. The Inferno only mustered five shots throughout the second period, and it looked like it could be anybody’s game.
It didn’t stay that way for long. The Inferno came out ready to go in the third, and just 2:08 in, Elana Lovell added another power play marker to make it 4-2. Campbell scored her second of the game about halfway through the frame, and that was that as the Inferno defeated the Furies 5-2, successfully overcoming the brief five-on-three scare.
The Inferno outshot the Furies 32-18. Kessler stopped 27 of 32, performing rather well in a game in which she had to face a lot; Brian, meanwhile, stopped 16 of 18, only thwarted due to two goals trickling through her with the women advantages.
— CWHL (@TheCWHL) January 17, 2016
Following the game, the Inferno and Furies met at centre ice to form a 14 in honour of Boston Pride player Denna Laing, who suffered a spinal cord injury during the Women’s Winter Classic, joining other teams throughout the CWHL and NWHL in show of support.
The second game of the series nearly followed the same narrative as the first, although it was much closer. The Inferno once again scored two first period goals to take a 2-0 lead – again by Bram and Campbell – but shots were much more even, with the Inferno only outshooting the Furies 9-7.
The second period was a paced affair. It was the third when the Furies started creating havoc: 5:33 into the frame, Campbell took a slashing penalty, and near the very end of the power play, Kori Cheverie scored to cut Calgary’s lead to one. Just over three minutes later, Sarah Stevenson scored to draw Toronto even for the first time all weekend, and suddenly, with just under nine and a half minutes left, the Inferno lost their lead.
That’s when they turned their jets back on. While the Furies pressed to tie the game, they couldn’t hold their forecheck; not when the Inferno got back into it. Calgary’s efforts paid off, as with just under two and a half minutes to go, it was the Inferno’s captain and leading scorer, Jenner, potted the game winner.
Calgary held on for the 3-2 win, coming away from the weekend with another two wins and four points to give them the current lead in CWHL standings. The Inferno outshot the Furies 32-23 and Kessler, who stopped 29 of 32 shots, was appropriately named third star of the game, as she did her best to survive what can often become a relentless Inferno forecheck.
Brian’s 21 stops, meanwhile, helped get her team the win; it is worth noting, however, that she currently has the worst save percentage of all CWHL starters with a .892 save percentage.
The Inferno only have one home stand left this season: on Feb. 13 and 14, they host Les Canadiennes in what will likely be an intense battle between two of the CWHL’s best. Both games will be played in the Joan Snyder arena at Winsport.
One other little note: recognize that name from earlier, Mikkelson? She’s the sister of former Calgary Flames defenceman Brendan Mikkelson (he’s in Sweden now); more importantly, she’s officially back in her first home games after having given birth to her son, Calder, back in late September. She played in Brampton earlier in the month as well. Three months post-baby, and already back at high levels of hockey.