After narrowly defeating the Brampton Thunder in Game 1 of their best-of-three series, the Calgary Inferno needed just one win to clinch a spot in the Clarkson Cup. They’d dominated the Thunder the night before, but only got two goals out of the tilted ice. Then, Brampton came back, and made for an extremely tense final minute as they pushed to tie the game, but were ultimately thwarted by Rebecca Johnston’s empty netter.
It was a fantastic game. And Game 2 was even better.
Lopsided ice was nowhere to be found to start. The Thunder came to play, and the game kicked off with intense back-and-forth action. It was the Inferno who struck first, though, thanks to a point shot from Meaghan Mikkelson – and despite Brampton’s better start, just 2:34 in, they were already down 1-0.
This wasn’t a team that was going to go anywhere, though. The Thunder kept pace with the Inferno for shots, and were eventually rewarded when Sarah Edney got one past Delayne Brian about halfway through the frame, tying the game at one.
As the period went on, however, the Inferno started to draw away, both in shots – they ended up outshooting the Thunder 14-8 in the first period – and where it really counted: the scoreboard.
Bailey Bram beat Erica Howe from the high slot with a shot that just pinged in off the crossbar. Almost right after, Rebecca Vint went off for a holding the stick penalty, and Brigette Lacquette made her pay just 14 seconds into the infraction with a point shot of her own.
Suddenly, that even period was a little less even, as the Inferno had a 3-1 lead – and seemed to be Clarkson Cup-bound.
Let’s keep in mind, though, this is the fourth game in a row these two teams were playing each other. They know one another extremely well by now, and all three of their previous games came right down to the wire. There was no chance the Thunder were going to go quietly into the night: they were going to fight to extend their season.
They didn’t do it via two quick goals, but by continuously chipping away at the Inferno. The second frame kicked off with a 5-on-3 for the Thunder, but the Inferno’s trio of Blayre Turnbull, Hayleigh Cudmore, and Lacquette, along with Brian, helped keep the puck out of their net. They killed off both penalties – and the two penalties Jacquie Pierri took later in the frame, too. (She was not impressed with either call, and she might’ve had a point.)
But even though the Inferno were perfect on the kill, the Thunder were still able to break through. A phenomenal save by Brian one second gave way to a goal against on Brampton’s next chance, as Courtney Birchard drew her team within one with just 1:06 left in the period.
The scene was set. The Thunder had just 20 minutes to keep their season alive; the Inferno had 20 minutes to stay ahead and book their ticket to the Clarkson Cup. It was only fitting the game between these two teams came right down to the wire.
Bram went off for tripping, but the Inferno killed her penalty. But 10:03 in, Vint tied the game at three – and just like that, Calgary’s two-goal lead was officially gone, and having failed to score since the first period, they’d have to do work.
Two minutes and 24 seconds after Vint’s goal, Johnston pulled away, and with a beautiful move, reclaimed the Inferno’s lead, making it 4-3. Brampton’s season was back on the brink.
A too many women penalty not even a minute later gave the Thunder their seventh power play of the game. It was a prime opportunity for them, but the Inferno’s penalty kill held strong, and stayed perfect as they protected their lead.
That set the game up for an insane final five minutes, with Brampton pressuring, hard. They outshot the Inferno 14-8 in the third trying to tie up the game, making Brian seriously work to keep it a one-goal game.
And work she did. Each passing second, the Thunder were a threat; each passing second, the Inferno defended well, with Brian providing the ultimate last line of defence until she got the win.
In their push, the Thunder outshot the Inferno 33-31; Brian out-duelled Howe, stopping 30 to her 27. Johnston had two points in the win, including the game winner, appropriately being named the first star of the game. Mikkelson and Vint were the other two stars, both having put up stellar efforts: a goal and incredible defending; a game-tying goal to put the game’s outcome in doubt late in, and a persistent threat all the while.
The Thunder and Inferno went toe-to-toe four games in a row: first for home ice advantage, and then, the right to play for the Clarkson Cup. The Inferno took three of the four games, but they were all close, separated by just one goal each (and an empty netter) in what turned out to be genuine classics.
Next up for the Inferno: Les Canadiennes, the CWHL’s top team. They aren’t unbeatable – the Inferno handed them two of their three losses – but Les Canadiennes did beat the Inferno four times as well.
It’s one game take all for the Clarkson Cup on March 13 in Ottawa. The top two teams in the CWHL will face off against one another – and though Les Canadiennes are the favourites, I’m going to go ahead and note that the Inferno looked like a totally different team when they got Johnston back – and had a rather convincing win over them with her in the lineup.
It’ll be one of the pinnacles of women’s hockey – and there’s no doubt that those two teams will put on hell of a show, just like these two did in the Inferno’s final home games.