(Original image courtesy: Brandon Taylor / CWHL)
Editor’s note: The seventh annual Clarkson Cup playoff tournament will be contested in Markham, On. from March 4-7th.
Named after former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, the Clarkson Cup is the CWHL’s prestigious championship trophy. In roughly a week, four teams will play for a chance to hoist it: the Boston Blade, the Calgary Inferno, the Montreal Stars, and the defending champion Toronto Furies.
To prepare you for all the action, our CWHL writers Valerie Chiasson, Angelica Rodriguez and Zoë Hayden have put together an extensive preview.
Read on past the jump!
The Boston Blades
Record:15-6-1 (current); first in the CWHL with 2 games to play.
Last year: Last season the Blades finished second in the league behind the runaway leaders, the Montreal Stars.
They played the Clarkson Cup Final against the Toronto Furies, who were 4th in the league
but just 3 points behind the Blades in the standings. The Blades lost to Toronto in the Final, 1-0 in
overtime. The Blades’ roster was very different last year, and they have many new additions
via the 2014 draft. Unless Hilary Knight returns, only Jillian Dempsey and Blake Bolden will
remain on the roster among players who scored a point for the Blades in the 2014 Clarkson Cup playoff tournament.
This season: The Blades have been offensively dominant, and their only real defensive
meltdown came on December 5 with an 8-3 loss to the Inferno. Otherwise, they have not
lost by more than 2 goals all season. Newly-appointed captain Hilary Knight hasn’t played
since January 24 with an apparent lower-body injury, but Brianna Decker quickly filled
the offensive void. Overall, the Blades have a good combination of experience and
youthful energy in their lineup. Rookies like Corinne Buie and Jordan Smelker are only getting
better, and Blake Bolden is having a sparkling sophomore season on the backend.
Meanwhile, players like Kacey Bellamy and former captain Jessica Koizumi add years of
both CWHL and Olympic experience.
It’s worth noting that two of the Blades’ regulation losses were actually forfeits to the Stars during a labor dispute–they’ve only actually lost 5 games all year.
Players to Watch:
Decker joined the Blades for just half a season after completing her senior
year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but she has 30 points in 10 games. She’s the biggest weapon in the Blades’ offensive arsenal, and is likely the most
threatening player in the entire tournament.
A veteran defender, Watchorn has the most points of any blue liner in the
CWHL and a great slapshot, but what makes her really stand out is her tough physical play
along the boards. She can take and give huge hits with ease.
Llanes has just 10 points, but her goals are always timely and
always gritty. Llanes is the player on the Blades most likely to be in the blue paint.
Bolden’s second pro season has been fantastic, and she has really shown
her gifted playmaking ability as a defenseman. She is creative and mobile, able to cycle
down low on the power play.
The Blades are loaded on the blue line, and Lamoureux is a
jack-of-all-trades who excels at both ends of the ice and can play forward if needed. She is
a steadying presence every shift.
Goalies: The Blades have evenly split the workload between Genevieve Lacasse and
Brittany Ott, and they have similar statistics in net. However, Ott seems more
likely to get the starts in the playoffs. Ott’s 0.898 save percentage is deceptive, and is
lowered significantly by the 8-3 Calgary blowout. She also leads the league in shutouts, with
Did you know?: Going into the season’s final weekend, the Blades’ special teams are the best in
the CWHL. Their power play is converting at a 23.3 percent clip, while their penalty kill has prevented power-play goals against 85.7 percent of the time. The Stars
are not far behind them in either category, but the Blades also have taken the fewest
penalties this season (only 63 to the Stars’ 73). Boston hasn’t needed to be bailed out by
their special teams very much, but should the
occasion arise, both special teams units are exceedingly capable.
Record: 14-7-1, 29 pts (current); tied in points with Calgary for 2nd
Last season: The Stars cruised into the 2014 Clarkson Cup playoff tournament with a 19-2-2 record. They were 16 points ahead of the 2nd place Blades!
A championship wasn’t in the cards for the Stars though. They fell to the Blades in regulation and in a shootout to the Furies, which prevented them from repeating as Clarkson Cup champions. The Stars had 4 of the 5 league’s scoring leaders in the regular season with Ann-Sophie Bettez, Sarah Vaillancourt, Vanessa Davidson and Cathy Chartrand. Catherine Herron led the league with a 2.11 GAA and 3 shutouts in 18 games played.
This season: The Montreal Stars currently have a 14-7-1 record with two games to go. The two game series this weekend against the Blades will determine which team will be 1st in the overall standings. Although to be fair, the Stars’ record includes a couple of additional wins that were the result of games forfeited by Boston in November due to a labour dispute.
The Stars had a slow start this season with only one win from their first five games. Even if they have the second best goals against total in the league, they only have the third highest goals for, and by a wide margin. The Stars have scored nine fewer goals than Calgary and 24 fewer than Boston!
The Stars started hitting their stride as the season progressed. Caroline Ouellette is Montreal’s leading scorer with 25 points, good for third best in the league at the moment. Ann-Sophie Bettez is riding a five games point streak heading into the final matchup of the season against Boston. Cathy Chartrand is the Stars’ most productive defender with 16 points and has one of the heaviest point shot in the league. She’s only one point behind Julie Chu and Noémie Marin, but has played a couple more games.
In net, Charline Labonté has the second best GAA of the league (1.88 in 15 games vs Genevieve Lacasse’s 1.75 in 10 games) which gives the Stars a chance of victory in every game.
Players to Watch:
The Stars’ best scorer has started trusting her shot again and it’s paying off. The speedy forward now represents a bigger threat because her scoring ability makes the defence think again, instead of always assuming that she’s going to pass.
She’s not as productive as last season but she’s currently riding a four game streak of multi-point games, so she might be peaking at the right time.
Her incredible vision allows her to make plays other players can only dream of and she has the skills to make those plays happen.
Before being shut out in her last game Sunday, she had 11 points in 5 games. She always seems to be at the right place at the right time so she won’t be held pointless for long.
The most reliable and versatile player on the Stars’ roster, she’s been playing defence in several games and I like how she’s bringing new looks on the power play while doing an amazing job on the penalty kill.
She’s not as productive as Cathy Chartrand but her +11 on-ice goal differential is the Stars’ best. She’s the perfect partner for the more offensively minded Chartrand.
Goalies: What more can be said of Charline Labonté? She’s the most technically sound goaltender in the league with razor-sharp positioning. She rarely has a bad game and is so cool, calm and collected that it gives a lot of confidence to her teammates.
Did you know?: Noémie Marin and Caroline Ouellette both scored their 100th career goals over the weekend. Ouellette also broke the CWHL all-time scoring record.
Record: 13-6-3, 29 pts (current); tied in points with Montreal for 2nd in the CWHL.
Last Year: The Inferno finished only slightly above .500 and made the Clarkson Cup playoffs in third
place. They went 0-3 in the playoffs, including a 6-1 drubbing by the Blades.
Danielle Stone led the way
in the regular season with 15 goals and 25 points (over a point per game), while Delayne Brian was the
third best goalie in the league with a 2.52GAA.
This Year: The Clarkson Cup race just got a bit tighter this year. Calgary dropped their season opener
to Montreal but got off to a blazing-hot start regardless, winning seven of the next eight. Olympians
Rebecca Johnston and Haley Irwin have been a big part of that success as anchors on offense for much
of the season. With Irwin out of the lineup for the past month, rookies Brittany Esposito and Jessica
Campbell have each stepped up to fill her shoes.
Even with a deep roster offensively, the Inferno have
struggled in the last couple of weeks, particularly against two tough teams in the Blades and Stars. Right
now the Inferno have 29 points, same as the Stars, but are behind in 3rd place thanks to fewer wins and more
OT points. This is a young team experiencing some adversity, but their strength from the beginning of
the season may shine through come playoff time.
Players to Watch:
The 25-year-old forward is practically unstoppable. She’s the league’s leading scorer
with 35 points in 22 games, and when you watch her play, it’s no wonder why. She has speed, strength,
and the ability to make plays as well as finish them.
Bram had a slow start, but has picked things up lately on offense, adding two goals in the
Inferno’s final home game. She takes a lot of shots and is highly creative with them as well, so opposing
blue liners should watch her closely.
A great puck-moving defenseman in her sophomore season who has no problems
jumping into the play when needed. She provides good transitional play with her speed, deceptiveness
and strong wrist shot.
This talented rookie forward has 11 goals on the season. Much more of a finisher than an assist
generator (she only has three helpers on the season), she nonetheless can provide quick goals to get the
Another rookie, Davis is more of a grinder, unafraid to get scrappy along the boards, but
every now and then she can pull out a move or score a goal that might surprise you. Given that she’s
scored goals when they’ve counted most in the past (most notably as a Golden Gopher), who knows? A
pressure-filled setting like the Clarkson Cup could be just the ticket for her.
Goalies: One year removed from a rookie campaign that earned her Goaltender of the Year
honours, Delayne Brian has been fairly steady all season, but she seems to be heating up at the right
moment. She made 34 saves in the Inferno’s last loss against Boston and has improved her numbers
(2.49 GAA, .907 save percentage currently) while adding on almost 200 more minutes of ice time.
Behind her, rookie Camille Trautman is a solid backup option, but it’s safe to say Brian will be carrying
them through their playoff run.
Did You Know?: This will be Scott Reid’s first Clarkson Cup behind the bench as a head coach. He has
been an assistant coach with the team since its inception as Team Alberta in 2011-12, but took over the
reins after Kevin Haller’s release at the beginning of February.
Record: 8-13-3, 19 points (currently); 4th place
Last season: The Furies ended last season in fourth place with a 10-10-3 record, but wins over Calgary in regulation and Montreal in a shootout allowed them to reach the Clarkson Cup final. Then the Furies defeated the Blades 1-0 in overtime to win the first Clarkson Cup championship in franchise history.
This season: Toronto is the fourth and final team to secure a spot for the Clarkson Cup despite being the only team in the playoffs with a losing record of 8-13-3. The Furies started the season on a good note with shootout wins over Calgary and Brampton, before losing two games to Boston. Defensively, it was a though year for Toronto as 21 out of their 23 skaters posted negative on-ice goal differentials. Nine Furies skaters posted a minus-10 or worse.
The Furies’ negative-37 goal differential also put a lot of pressure on their goaltenders. Despite the massive workload, Christina Kessler was between the pipes for 19 of the 24 games and has a GAA of 3.41, which is fifth among CWHL goalies.
Most of the Furies’ offensive production fell on the shoulders of 4 players : Jenelle Kohanchuk, Carolyne Prevost, Natalie Spooner and Megan Bozek. The four of them combined for 58 points while the rest of the team (18 skaters) combined for 53!
The Furies have also had more than their share of injuries. Lately, Toronto has been playing without: Kohanchuk, Tanis Lamoureux, Mallory Deluce and Alora Keers, which certainly didn’t help. Kohanchuk being out for the season with a broken arm is a huge loss for the Furies.
Though Lamoureux was back in the lineup this past Sunday against Montreal, she definitely doesn’t have the same impact as Kohanchuk.
Players to Watch:
Toronto’s second best scorer behind Kohanchuk, she will have to step up in Jenelle’s absence without being a defensive liability.
One of the fastest players of the league, she’s pretty strong and has amazing hands. It’s impressive how she manages to regularly produce points with all the coverage she’s getting from opposing teams. With Kohanchuk out, Spooner will have to set up her teammates more instead of trying to
take everything on her shoulders.
She hasn’t been scoring regularly but currently has a three-game point streak and could heat up in the postseason because of increasing ice time.
She has played only half of the season but is one of the Furies’ most reliable defensemen. Let’s hope we will see her in the Clarkson Cup.
She would be a tremendous calming presence on the ice and would help settle her team’s defensive play.
She’s a very good defender who plays with a lot of intensity, which could provide the spark her team needs throughout the playoffs. I really like her, but she often plays on the edge so she needs to avoid the penalty box.
Goalies: Hard to imagine that the Furies would go with anyone aside from Christina Kessler who stole two huge games in which the Furies were badly outshot (Boston 51-19 and Calgary 52-29). She can’t be expected to have such performances every game though so Toronto will have to provide a more sustained defensive effort to help her out.
Did you know?: Sami Jo Small is one of two CWHL founders who are still playing in the league. The other is Montreal’s Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux.