The Calgary Inferno’s offensive depth and puck possession played a big role in their 2016 Clarkson Cup victory. The Inferno have re-tooled their roster over the offseason. There are a few new skaters in the mix, but the one to watch this year is second-year forward Blayre Turnbull.
In her rookie season, Turnbull turned a lot of heads with her play from late November to the middle of January. The 19th overall pick in the 2015 CWHL Draft had 14 points through the first 15 games of the season. Fans saw why Turnbull was better than a point-per-game player in her last two years with the Wisconsin Badgers.
But towards the end of the season, Turnbull cooled off. She had just two points, both of which were goals in a losing effort to the Brampton Thunder, in her last seven games. She had a minus-four rating through those games and the Inferno struggled. The team had a record of 3-4 to close the season.
Thankfully for the Inferno Turnbull rebounded in the Clarkson Cup Playoffs in a big way. She had three goals and two assists in Calgary’s three playoff games. Two of Turnbull’s goals came in the final against Les Canadiennes. She gave the Inferno a three-goal lead that was quickly erased by a Noemi Martin goal. Turnbull took back the Inferno’s three-goal lead just 24 seconds later with her second goal of the game.
“She came in a quietly last year and gradually worked her way up,” Inferno assistant general manager Kristen Hagg noted. “She was really one of the most dominant players in the Clarkson Cup game. If possible she seems to have stepped it up a level from that. Coming into camp this year she looked incredibly strong and incredibly confident.”
Turnbull didn’t benefit from deployment on the Inferno’s top power play unit with Brianne Jenner and Elana Lovell last year. She had to make her mark at even strength. The former Badger scored more even strength points than Jenner did in the postseason. In the regular season, Turnbull had just two power-play assists. She picked up her other 14 points at even strength.
The Inferno’s group of forwards managed to get even better this offseason. The addition of 2016 draft pick Iya Gavriolva has been largely overlooked, but the Russian veteran gives Calgary yet another scoring threat. And Rebecca Johnston and Haley Irwin being healthy again is bad news for CWHL defenders and goaltenders.
“I think, very much like last year, one of our strongest areas is having an extremely potent offense,” Hagg recently told Today’s SlapShot. “We’re very deep offensively. It’s almost like our best defense is offense. Just continuing to come at other teams, wave after wave, and overwhelming them with puck possession”
All of that forward depth means that there is no guarantee that Turnbull will see more power play time. But it also means that there will be more dangerous players around her. Turnbull has already shown that she can make an impact at even strength. She did it at Wisconsin and she has already done it in the CWHL.
The Inferno have three lines they can depend on to drive possession and score goals. Turnbull is one of the forwards that makes that possible. The key for her and the rest of the Inferno’s forwards will be finding consistency. If the 23-year-old is able to build off of her outstanding Clarkson Cup performance there will be no stopping her from breaking the 20 point mark this season. And if that is the case, there will also be no stopping the Calgary Inferno.