Over the weekend General Manager Jeff Stevenson and Assistant General Manager Kristen Hagg put together the 2016-17 Calgary Inferno roster. Both Stevenson and Hagg are new to their roles this season, but they aren’t new to the Inferno.
Stevenson has been a member of Calgary’s media, marketing, and operations team since 2013. Hagg was a forward on last season’s Clarkson Cup Championship roster.
Hagg’s experience and understanding of the returning Inferno players left her able to focus more on players she wasn’t familiar with in training camp. But her knowledge of the returning cast was still a useful tool for her in putting together the roster.
“When you’re familiar with players sometimes you might actually start overlooking certain things,” Hagg shared. “There might be tendencies of that player that you might not notice as much. But at the same time the more familiar you are with players, the more you can kind of break things down about them.”
Stevenson and Hagg evaluated 33 players at training camp, including 20 players from last season’s roster. After five days they whittled those 33 players down to a list of 26 players. The most noteworthy additions to Calgary’s roster are elite goaltenders Genevieve Lacasse and Emerance Maschmeyer. It should come as no surprise that the Inferno are choosing to carry three goaltenders at the expense of a fifteenth forward.
“We feel we have three of the best goalies in women’s hockey,” Stevenson boasted. “With Delayne Brian coming off a Clarkson Cup MVP performance it is going to be a challenge to get all three goalies the ice time they deserve. But our coaches have a plan in place and all three goalies are on board with it to do what’s best to win hockey games.”
All told there are five new faces on the Inferno roster. Veteran defender Kelsey Webster retired and Kanae Aoki left the team. Stevenson and Hagg were pleased with the competition in camp to fill those roster spots. Rookies Kaitlyn Gosling and Akane Hosoyamada will be the new faces on the Calgary blue line.
“There seems to be a really good combination of offensive puck-moving defensemen and also some more stay-at-home defensemen,” Hagg observed. “We’ve had strong defense in the past, but this year it’s real solid up and down. So we probably have a little more depth than we’ve had in the past.”
The Inferno struggled on special teams during the regular season. They had the least successful penalty kill and the third best power play in the CWHL. But the general managers trust that the answers to those problems were already on the roster.
“Special teams was an area we know needed improvement,” Stevenson acknowledged. “But towards the playoffs once we had all but [Haley] Irwin back from injury they were a positive factor to our Cup win. [Rebecca] Johnston’s return was a turning point last season. Having Irwin back this year from injury should take things to the next level.”
A healthy Johnston and Irwin are big additions to a very deep forward group. Iya Gavrilova, the Inferno’s third pick in the 2016 draft, is the only new Calgary forward. Hagg believes that one of the Inferno’s greatest strengths is their offensive depth. And you can’t talk about the Inferno’s offense without talking about captain Brianne Jenner.
“Even just having played one season with her, she’s a tremendous leader both by example and also a really strong voice in the room,” Hagg revealed. “She has a tremendous amount of respect from all the other players.”
With Jenner, Lacasse, Hayley Wickenheiser, Bailey Bram, and Meagan Mikkelson in the locker room the Inferno have no shortage of leadership. Calgary’s general managers are confident about their team for good reason. The Inferno are a dangerous puck-possession team with enviable depth. The big question now is whether or not they can get back to the Clarkson Cup Final.
“There are a lot of talented players in the CWHL and repeating in professional sport is one of the hardest things to do, because everyone is gunning for you,” Stevenson shared. “That being said, if we come in every day and put the work in and focus on ourselves, we are confident that we can get the job done.”