Fans of hockey in Calgary surely know what it is like to cheer for a team with shaky netminding. It is certainly no fun. As a brief digression, I myself have watched actual hockey games and weighed the merits of Joey MacDonald or Danny Taylor in the NHL.
Clearly, goaltending is an important component to building a winning hockey club, and the Calgary Inferno are no exception.
One of the reasons the Inferno have been able to maintain such a high standard over the past few seasons has been their outstanding depth between the pipes. Our next profile in this Inferno series is goaltender Delayne Brian, a graduate of the Notre Dame Hounds, Wayne State University, and Robert Morris University (Brian transferred when Wayne State folded their program).
Since assuming the starting job in 2013, Brian has achieved a staggering amount for the Inferno. In her CWHL rookie season, Brian made an indelible mark on the league-winning CWHL goaltender of the year, despite the Inferno only finishing a game above .500. The following season, buoyed by Brian’s strong performance, the Inferno went 15-6-3 and finished second in the CWHL and Brian was named a CWHL all-star. The 2015-16 season may have been Brian’s finest, as she was a member of the CWHL champion squad, named Clarkson Cup MVP, and goaltender of the year for a second time.
However, the following season, the Inferno developed a rather unorthodox three-goalie system that saw them play Brian alongside two highly-accomplished goaltenders, Emerance Maschmeyer and Geneviève Lacasse. The result: more success. All three goalies posted a SV% north of .910 and though each goaltender’s play was worthy of starting for nearly every CWHL team, it led to Brian only playing seven games.
This season, Brian is sharing the net with recent draft pick and University of Alberta legend Lindsey Post, and both goalies are off to fantastic starts, each boasting a SV% over .920.
I asked Brian to describe what this season has been like and to get a sense of how the Inferno have been able to amass such depth at the goaltending position:
I believe there are a few reasons for this. My first year in the CWHL was also an Olympic year, meaning none of the US or Canadian girls were playing in the league during the regular season. The calibre of play was still excellent, however, the Inferno (who were called Team Alberta in the years before) still weren’t considered contenders for the Cup. Many of the other teams had players who maybe just didn’t make the centralization rosters, or had previously been in a national team program at some point in their career. We didn’t really have that depth, but we had the heart. We made the playoffs for the first time that year and although we didn’t win any of the games, they were all very close and we knew we could leave that season proud of our efforts.
Since then, since Calgary is the centralization city for Team Canada, it’s been an attraction to many of the players trying to make the team, or continuing to train with the program, because they get so much exposure to the scouts out here. With names like [Rebecca] Johnston and [Haley] Irwin deciding to come out west, the team continued to grow in raw talent each year. Since this year is again an Olympic year, we lost some big names.
However, with the program being built upon each year, there is no slowing us down. Sure, we lost the bigger names, but our [general] manager Kristen Hagg did some major recruiting this season and the group of girls we have right now, on top of the new coaching staff, have no intentions of using this as an “off season”. We want that Cup again now more than ever.
Brian and the Inferno are certainly backing up that kind of talk, sitting atop the CWHL standings, tied with the expansion Vanke Rays, without a regulation loss this season; the Rays, while with a regulation loss, have won one more game than the Inferno.
It is hard enough playing goalie at the best of times, but with the way that the CWHL schedule is organized, it can often lead to long periods of rest for goaltenders and then a flurry of games in short succession. I asked Brian what it is like managing this type of schedule for a goalie.
To be honest, since most of us played college hockey, we are pretty used to the game schedule of the CWHL as it is now. Yes, we do have to work around careers for practices or for road trips, and getting in workouts around everything isn’t always the easiest, but as student athletes in college you are pretty much trained for that. I can’t speak for everyone, but my university coach, Jim Fetter, made sure we understood that we were students first and athletes second, so if we weren’t excelling in school, we couldn’t even think about playing.
My first few years in the league, however, were tougher because we played three-game weekends, so not only were we exhausted because we would travel the day of our games, but we would have to miss more work as well. The China trip this year could also pose some work issues for a few of the girls since we head there for about 10 days, but other than that, we are ecstatic for the opportunity.
Broaching the rather uncomfortable subject of sharing the net, I asked Brian what it has been like to have a reduced workload in the face of so many talented netminders playing for the Inferno:
The Inferno have definitely had a good group of girls in net. My first three seasons on the team, my goaltending partner and I split most of the time, with me maybe getting a few more games each season. Kathy Desjardins was my goalie partner for two of those three seasons, and especially in the year we won the Clarkson Cup, I couldn’t have asked for a better goalie partner. She pushed me every day, and although she didn’t play very many minutes, she was so supportive of me and the team. When she did get in the net to start (or to relieve me), she stood on her head. I honestly don’t think we would’ve won the Cup without her that season.Obviously last year with Lacasse and Maschmeyer, we had two new world class goaltenders added to the mix. We ended up pretty much splitting the ice three ways, which was tough for all of us considering we all wanted to be the starter. After last season especially, I knew I wanted to return to the Inferno and try to earn my starting spot back.
Finally, Brian experienced personal tragedy when her mother, a passionate supporter of Brian and the Inferno at every home game, passed away this summer. Brian shared what this season has been like for her and the impact her mother had on her as a player and a person:
Like most parents, mine haven’t gotten as much credit as they should have throughout my hockey career and the countless roles they’ve played. They’ve been divorced since I was five, but that was never a factor in getting me to my sports and other activities. My mom was always signing me up for anything she could think of. It’s funny because I was her only girl, with my brothers being 10 and 13 years older, so she had me in baton and tap dance classes thinking she could maybe convince me to be interested in those. When she realized that I wanted to be like my older brothers playing hockey, lacrosse and football, she signed me up for those instead. There were times when we weren’t doing well financially, but my parents always found a way to keep me involved in sports, and for that I am eternally grateful.
My mother had been on disability retirement for about 10 years due to strokes she had had throughout her 40s-50s. However, because of that, I was able to bring her out to Calgary from Winnipeg the past few seasons. She quickly became the most popular person at our games because she was always talking (bragging) to anyone who would lend an ear. Inferno games were the highlight of her week during her time in Calgary.
Unfortunately this past April, a week after I had driven her home to spend the summer in Winnipeg, she passed away. The time since then has been difficult, but none more so than the first home start I got this season against Kunlun. It was tough not having her in her usual spot in the rink cheering us on. We won that game 4-1, with my play (and my play for the rest of the season) being dedicated to her.
I never imagined I would lose her so soon, so to those out there that still have their parents or caregivers, make sure they know how much you love and appreciate everything that they do for you.
Wise words from Brian to be sure, and, for what it’s worth, everyone here at Flames Nation is wishing her the best this season.
You can go check out Brian and the Inferno in person this weekend, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and 26 at 10:30 a.m. at WinSport, for a pair of games against the last-place Boston Blades.