Womens Hockey

Calgary Inferno start title defense with back-to-back wins

Blayre Turnbull, of Stellarton, NS, in action as the Calgary Inferno host the Toronto Furies in Canadian Women's Hockey League Action at the Markin McPhail Centre in Calgary, Alberta on January 6, 2016. (Photo Credit: Dave Holland/Courtesy of CWHL)
Dave Holland/Courtesy of CWHL

The Calgary Inferno raised their 2016 Clarkson Cup Championship banner before their home opener against the Brampton Thunder on Saturday night. At 9:30pm, the 2016-17 CWHL season began. Just 14 hours later, after a very chippy game, the Inferno and Thunder played again at the Stampede Corral.

Both games featured a convincing start from Calgary that spiraled into a special teams battle.

On Saturday the Inferno’s top line of Brianne Jenner, Blayre Turnbull and Rebecca Johnston scored less than three minutes into the first period. But all of Calgary’s momentum was lost after Brampton’s Sarah Edney got a rebound past Emerance Maschmeyer. By the midway point of the first period the Inferno had unraveled. They took three consecutive penalties in less than three minutes.

The Thunder took a 2-1 lead on one of the resulting power plays.

Calgary found their game again halfway through the second period. They out-shot Brampton 11-to-4 thanks in large part to drawing three straight penalties. The Inferno hit a post, but couldn’t capitalize on their power plays. Erica Howe preserved Brampton’s lead with several big shorthanded saves.

In the first half of the third period, and for the second time in the game, the Inferno took three consecutive penalties — this time in just over three minutes. But they killed them off thanks to Maschmeyer’s outstanding play and some staunch defending led by Meaghan Mikkelson.

Jill Saulnier’s speed gave the Inferno their second even strength goal of the game in the final five minutes of regulation. After a scoreless overtime, Jenner and Maschmeyer won it in the shootout. It was a roller coaster of a game.

The Inferno’s home opener was Maschmeyer’s first game in the CWHL after her impressive career at Harvard University. The fifth overall pick in the 2016 CWHL Draft did not disappoint. Maschmeyer stopped 29 shots and all three of Brampton’s shootout attempts to earn her first professional win.

The next morning former Boston Blade star Genevi√®ve Lacasse made her debut with the Inferno. The CWHL didn’t broadcast the Sunday matinee game online. Lacasse didn’t have a brilliant game like Maschmeyer, but she didn’t need one.

The Inferno out-shot the Thunder 31 to 19 and won the game 3-2. Lacasse’s 17 saves and Hailey Irwin’s clutch performance on the power play were enough to win Calgary their second game in less than 24 hours.

In both games the Inferno came out swinging. They out-shot the Thunder 19-to-5 in the first period on Sunday and scored three minutes into Saturday’s game. But in both games the Inferno took their foot off the gas, leaving the result to be settled by special teams.

On Saturday Calgary failed to capitalize on all five of their power plays. On Sunday they scored two power play goals on five more chances. After taking seven minor penalties in their home opener they showed better discipline at the Stampede Corral. They allowed one power play goal on three penalties against a Brampton team that took two separate misconduct penalties.

The Inferno have started the 2016-17 the way they wanted to: with back-to-back wins. But there is clearly a lot for the team to work on. Thankfully, they have plenty of time to clean up their game. Calgary doesn’t play again until another two-game weekend at the end of October against Lacasse’s former team.

Sloppy hockey at the start of a season is seen at every level in every league, even from defending champions. Calgary’s lack of discipline and structure nearly cost them dearly in both games against their rivals. But the Inferno’s speed, forward depth, and goaltending earned them two important wins this weekend.

A similar recipe won the Inferno the Clarkson Cup in March.

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