Over the past three seasons, the Calgary Inferno have established themselves as an absolute powerhouse in women’s professional hockey. Coming off of back-to-back Clarkson Cup appearances, a first place finish in the regular season and a combined record of 48-13-4 in their last 65 games, the Inferno have been absolutely dominant. If you’re looking for more proof of that, last year the Inferno outscored their opponents by a combined score of 100 to freaking 45. That’s pretty impressive.
However, Les Canadiennes bested them in last year’s Clarkson Cup final, a surprising and frustrating outcome for Inferno players and staff.
In some ways, this season is shaping up to be one of the most challenging years in the history of the young franchise. Just as brief context, the year prior to the Olympic Games, Team Canada ‘centralizes’ to play games as a team to prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympics. If you’re wondering why, it’s probably because they care about having their best players represent their country at the Olympics, taking advantage of a massive opportunity to grow the game. That’s all I’ll say on that matter.
Victims of their own success, the centralization roster announced in May featured 19 players from the CWHL and 10 of them played for the Inferno (that number includes goalie Emerance Maschmeyer who was later traded to Montreal). While an impressive endorsement of the franchise, it leaves some pretty significant holes in the Inferno’s roster this season, putting an enormous strain on the team to find capable replacements.
In order to get you prepared for this season, I’ve contacted a few players and coaches for a series of profiles we’re going to run before the Inferno start their season on the road in Boston on Oct. 21. Today’s profile features Erica Kromm, a veteran of five seasons with the Inferno and a team leader tasked with maintaining the standard set over the past three seasons.
When asked to describe herself as a player and her goals for the upcoming season, Kromm explained:
I played the past two years on D and now I am going back to forward (I’ve played both throughout my life) so the type of player I am for this season is slowly being determined. It’s hard to say because D is completely different from forward. If I had to guess as to what kind of player I’d be as forward, probably backchecker, wins battles, gritty, etc.I’ll be aiming to execute the little things properly and just take it one game at a time. My main goal is to be reliable in all parts of the game… PP, PK, 5v5. Wherever I am needed.
Moving from defense to forward is a pretty drastic transition to be sure, but Kromm’s unique ability to play both forward and defense will surely serve the Inferno this season with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the roster. During her NCAA career at Brown University, Kromm notched 39 points and she originally joined the fantastically-named Alberta Honeybadgers of the CWHL in 2012-13. The Honeybadgers became the Inferno and Kromm has played for Calgary ever since, including being a member of the 2015-16 Clarkson Cup champion team. This is how Kromm characterized the 2017-18 squad as she has seen it so far:
The best way to describe our group this year is “energized.” Everyone is excited not only for a fresh start, but for the opportunity to work hard and make our own path to success. With a new coaching staff comes a new philosophy and I think I can speak for most of the players when I say things feel really good.
We have a big range in ages this year. I am 10 years older than our youngest player. It’s a fantastic opportunity to gain new perspectives and have important roles, all the while working together to achieve an ultimate goal.
In a year with so much roster overhaul, the team is a little light on veterans with institutional memory of the Inferno in Calgary. Kromm is uniquely positioned to help educate new players on the Inferno’s culture. Here, Kromm described the on- and off-ice culture of the Inferno:
I think there’s definitely something to be said about what our culture has historically been. The players and staff built this team. It feels like ours and there’s pride in that. We’ve worked to create partnerships in Calgary by extensive volunteering initiatives. We’ve held numerous charity events at our games.
No player who’s worn the Inferno jersey has ever been told she needs to reach out to the community. We’ve just gone out and done it. Our culture is one of ownership and accountability.
With that said, there’s a new kind of culture emerging (especially since we have so many new faces). It’s a chance for new players and coaches to make their mark under the “Inferno” name. Making your mark is something that takes work. Winning a championship takes work. I think we will be priding ourselves on our work ethic and positivity this season.
Kromm didn’t seem too concerned about the Inferno’s ability to replace the talent lost to Olympic centralization, stating that:
Our expectations have always been to win the Clarkson Cup. A roster change doesn’t change that. The eight bodies that have replaced the previous eight are well-equipped to help make the Inferno successful this season.
Heading into her fifth season on the Inferno, Kromm is one of the longest-tenured players on the team. I asked if preparing for this season has been different compared with years past:
My preparation for this season hasn’t changed much compared to previous seasons. The first step is always making sure I am fit and ready for camp. Whether it’s my fifth or first season, a spot is never guaranteed, just like winning isn’t. These are things that will always require preparation. Going into the season, I do feel more confident than I have in the past. Playing 5 years as an Inferno does give some experience and I look forward to using that in any way possible to help the team out.
Lastly, this has been a summer of enormous growth for the CWHL with the league’s ambitious Chinese expansion and introduction of player salaries. As a player who has witnessed a lot of change in the CWHL, I asked Kromm how she would describe what she’s observed during her time in the league:
The CWHL has grown significantly even since I started here. There have been a lot of people working tirelessly to make that happen. The introduction of salaries is just an outcome of those efforts. It has definitely given our team some breathing room in that we have money available for additional human resources.
Overall, the changes have been positive. Getting fans out to our games is the number one goal and will help our league become more self-sustaining. It is a work in progress, but it is headed in the right direction. The entertainment value will never be the issue; it’s getting our name out there that takes time.
Kromm’s Inferno will start their season on the road on Oct. 21 in Boston. Their first home game is Oct. 28, as they host Kunlun Red Star at Max Bell Centre.