There will be playoff hockey in Calgary, after all. It won’t be at the NHL level, but the Calgary Hitmen have all but clinched their spot in the post-season – while the Calgary Inferno are not only going, but hosting.
The CWHL has a bit of a modified playoff system set up this year. It’s still the first seed against the fourth, and the second against the third, but with something new: the first and second seeds host the fourth and third seeds for a three-game semifinal series on home ice.
The Inferno needed just one win to clinch the second seed over the Brampton Thunder, and they got it in dramatic fashion. With that, here’s their upcoming playoff schedule:
- Game 1: Friday, Feb. 26: Markin MacPhail (Rink A) at Winsport, 6:30 p.m.
- Game 2: Saturday, Feb. 27: Markin MacPhail (Rink A) at Winsport, 6:15 p.m.
- Game 3*: Sunday, Feb. 28: Markin MacPhail (Rink A) at Winsport, 12:15 p.m., *if necessary
With two games over the weekend, the Inferno had two cracks at getting the one win they needed. Unfortunately, on Saturday’s game, they fell behind almost immediately due to Rebecca Vint’s 18th of the season, just 2:24 in. Jamie Lee Rattray soon made it a 2-0 advantage for the Thunder, but the Inferno’s Blayre Turnbull was able to draw Calgary back within one.
However, Jess Jones restored the Thunder’s two-goal advantage 15 minutes into the first period. Turnbull would score her second goal of the game 7:48 into the second, but that was it for goal scoring, despite Calgary outshooting Brampton 13-6 in the final frame in desperation to tie the game.
And so, the Inferno fell 3-2 to the Thunder, turning their final game of the regular season into a must-win.
Sunday’s game got off to an even worse start.
Rattray, Vint, and Jenna McParland scored back-to-back-to-back goals, giving the Thunder a 3-0 lead just 14:14 into the game. Rattray and Vint’s goals came only 10 seconds apart, really putting the Inferno behind from the get-go: not the start they needed for a must-win game.
The goaltending change seemed to spark the Inferno – that and Rebecca Johnston. Playing in just her fourth game of the season, Johnston answered back with two quick goals – not even two minutes apart – at the end of the first, pulling the Inferno back within one and ensuring it would be a regular season finale to remember.
There was just one goal in the second period: Sarah Davis deflecting Hayleigh Cudmore’s point shot in on the power play, tying the game, and setting up a 20-minute battle for home ice to close out the season.
Just 1:52 into the final frame, the Inferno got their first lead of the game off of Brigette Lacquette’s point shot. Just 2:04 later, however, Laura McIntosh responded for Brampton, tying the game at four, with still 16:04 left to go in what was quickly becoming a game for the ages.
Enter: Meaghan Mikkelson. Having missed half of the season due to the birth of her and Inferno Head Coach Scott Reid’s first child, Calder, Mikkelson was finally able to get her first point of the season: the goal that clinched home ice for the Inferno.
Desjardins stopped 25 of 26 shots she faced in relief duty, as the Thunder outshot Calgary 11-7 in the final frame, but that was it for the final game in Brampton of the 2015-16 CWHL season. Johnston and Brianne Jenner both had three point games en route to clinching home ice.
As the weekend showed us, these are two very evenly matched teams that should make for a phenomenal playoff series. No victories are guaranteed; three-goal leads aren’t enough, and being just one win away meant nothing until the final 20 minutes. It should be a fantastic weekend of hockey in Winsport’s Markin MacPhail rink.
The winners of the two playoff series will meet at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa to compete for the Clarkson Cup on March 13. Hopefully the Inferno will be one of them.