The CWHL returned to action this weekend for the first time in three weeks to open 2019. The Calgary Inferno had a much better start to this year than they did in 2018.
This weekend was a big one for the league. It was the CWHL Sportsnet weekend, with two games being shown on Sportsnet channels. Saturday’s featured the Toronto Furies against Les Canadiennes and Sunday featured the Calgary Inferno against the Markham Thunder.
During both broadcasts, an All-Star captain was announced and we learned the two captains are Inferno defender Brigette Lacquette and Thunder goaltender Liz Knox. Early on in the voting, Lacquette already had 55% of the votes for captain among 34 players, so that one seemed likely.
Let’s get into the games.
Both games didn’t have Brianna Decker in the lineup since she’s in Japan as an assistant coach for Team USA’s U18 team. Saturday’s game started with the Inferno taking three penalties in the first period. Not ideal against a Thunder powerplay that was at 50% heading into the game. On Markham’s first powerplay, they didn’t get much going and it was a good kill for the Inferno.
On the second powerplay, nearing the dying seconds of it, the Markham skaters were fed on a rush by goaltender Erica Howe and Laura Fortino gave them the 1-0 lead. Their third PP came a couple minutes after that second one but the Inferno did a good job of killing that one off and the period finished 1-0 for the Thunder.
The second period didn’t have a whole lot of action in the first half. It was quite a back-and-forth game until captain Rebecca Johnston found the back of the net at the 12:45 mark to tie the game up. Less than two minutes later, Blayre Turnbull gave the Inferno their first lead of the game. The second finished 2-1 for the Inferno.
The third period started with Lacquette taking an early penalty, but the Inferno managed to kill it off. A couple minutes later, they had their first powerplay of the game, but they basically kept the puck around the perimeter and couldn’t quite set it up efficiently, so this one went scoreless.
A couple minutes later, the Thunder went on another powerplay and they had some good chances, but this one also went scoreless. With under five minutes to go in the period, Brianne Jenner made it 3-1 for the Inferno.
With under three to go, the Thunder cut the lead to one with a goal by Kristen Barbara. They kept pressing and managed to tie things up with just 31 seconds left in the game, so this one needed extra time.
In overtime, the Inferno started with possession, but couldn’t quite get any quality scoring chances. The teams basically took turns with possession of the puck with the Inferno getting a couple of shots away. While the game looked to be heading to a shootout, with just 13 seconds left Kacey Bellamy got the game-winner for the Inferno.
Sunday’s game saw an early chance for Turnbull which was saved by Liz Knox. This was then followed by a good chance by Markham which was also stopped by Alex Rigsby. The Inferno had another good chance from Jenner setting up Kelty Apperson, but it was also stopped.
Erica Kromm then took a penalty, which was somewhat of a questionable call, but so be it. Less than a minute into the PP for the Thunder, the Inferno took another penalty so they tried to kill off a 5on3 penalty against a strong powerplay team. Well, it wasn’t successful, and Markham capitalized with a goal by Jenna McParland which took a few weird bounces before going into the net. They continued the pressure once the 5on3 was over and made it 2-0 with a goal by Megan Bozek who was set up by Laura Macintosh who just returned to the lineup. The first period finished 2-0 for Markham.
The second period started with an Inferno powerplay. As the Inferno were setting up, Lacquette shot from the point which was tipped in by Jenner to bring the Inferno within one.
A few minutes later, Katelyn Gosling sniped one past Knox to tie the game early in the second period. The Inferno then went on the powerplay and with a good feed from Rebecca Leslie over to Jenner who was waiting right in front of Knox, and the Inferno took their first lead of the game.
Later in the period, Turnbull and Venla Hovi were somewhat on a two-on-one breakaway. Turnbull noticed Johnston rushing from behind the play, passed it over to her, and she wired it past Knox to give the Inferno a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of play.
The first half of the third didn’t see a whole lot of action. The Inferno had a slight edge in chances, but overall, it was an even game. A little past the midway mark, the Inferno were putting some pressure and Turnbull, who tried scoring, stuck with the puck and got her own rebound to give the Inferno the 5-2 lead.
Less than a minute later, Victoria Back had a great cross-feed pass over to Laura Fortino who brought the Thunder back within two. With less than three minutes to go, the Inferno took a penalty so the Thunder also took out the goalie for the extra attacker. The Inferno then took another penalty so Markham had a 6on3 advantage. They managed to get one past Rigsby that just trickled through, but with only 15 seconds left, it wasn’t enough to tie the game, so this one finished 5-4.
Overall, the Inferno played a much better game on Sunday than on Saturday. They may have been trying to adjust the lines a little without Decker on that top line, but they managed to find their feet better in their second game.
They continue to lead the standings with 29 points in 17 games. However, after losing two games in December, one in a shootout to the Thunder and one to the Toronto Furies, Les Canadiennes are now only one point back.
What’s coming up
Start the Spark
The Inferno’s next home game is this upcoming Saturday, which is their annual Start the Spark game. People and/or companies can make a donation to send children to the game with proceeds going to the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre to help with youth mental health. The Inferno will also be auctioning off their purple Start the Spark game-worn jerseys after the game. If donations of $150+ are made, those can also be tax-deductible.
The All-Star Game is rapidly approaching with the game held at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 20, hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you live in the area or want to make a trip down to Toronto, tickets can be found here with the CWHL announcing Monday morning that this game will feature the Barenaked Ladies singing the anthem.