With the start of the NWHL and CWHL seasons creeping ever-closer, we’re kicking off a series of season previews for both leagues where we will encompass what all new fans need to know about last season, what might happen next season, who to keep an eye on and which player we’re oh-so-glad (or sad) to be rid of.
Today, we complete our women’s hockey preview with the Toronto Furies.
Recap of last season
Toronto managed to maintain a good enough record to secure the last spot in the playoffs, but the performance there was less than satisfactory. In the 2015-16 season, the Furies won only six games and were plagued by a lack of scoring, with only 2.46 goals per game. The Furies trailed Brampton in the standings by quite a margin, largely because the Thunder averaged 3.79 GPG.
Toronto’s back end fared poorly as well. Goaltender Christina Kessler carried a 3.34 goals against average, with a lackluster .902 save percentage in the regular season. That statistic dropped to .811 in Toronto’s brief two-game playoff run. In the regular season, only defenseman Katie Gaskin had a positive plus/minus rating. As a team, the Furies were minus-95.
Furies general manager Rebecca Davies clearly had identified her team’s weaknesses in the in 2015-16 season. In the 2016 entry draft, Toronto used the second-overall choice to obtain Clarkson University defenseman Renata Fast. Fast led the Golden Knights with seven power play points in her final season, which is certainly an interesting statistic for a team like the Furies, who were woeful with the extra attacker, scoring at a rate of 13.46 percent. An offensive defenseman like Fast is a perfect fit on Toronto’s blue line.
In the second round, Toronto chose Fast’s teammate and occasional defensive partner, Erin Ambrose. There was certainly a method to Davies’ approach to the draft, and the Furies are much stronger as they head into the league’s tenth season.
Toronto lost the talents of veteran forward Kori Cheverie when it was announced she’d taken an assistant coaching position with Ryerson University’s men’s hockey team. She was second in scoring on the Furies and will certainly be missed on the ice, though she has committed to helping the team with practices throughout the season.
Though not technically a departure, Toronto also gave up their fourth-round draft pick to satisfy a trade made with Brampton. It is difficult to measure the value of that pick, however, the opportunity to choose a forward whose skills placed them among the 20 most desired players available cannot be overlooked.
Player(s) to watch
Natalie Spooner is nothing short of a joy to watch. She’s quick and dynamic, and she is deadly in the open ice. Opponents who give Spooner time to work are quick to hang their heads. She’ll be joining Fast and Ambrose, as well as Kelly Terry and Jenelle Kohanchuk at Team Canada’s Fall Festival.
Each of these players selected by the Canadian Women’s team is a cut above the rest – dominating hockey players on the world’s dominant hockey powerhouse. It will be interesting to see how Fast and Spooner work on the power play.
Primary scoring is the team’s biggest strength. Overall, scoring is not something that Toronto does well, but the players who are expected to score, do. The Furies had three players rank in the top 20 for scoring, and though the loss of Cheverie weighs heavy on the team, an improved defense may help in transition and increase production – especially if Renata Fast is the player doing the transitioning.
The Furies have a lot to work on in the offseason. They don’t seem to have improved at goaltender, which could be their biggest issue going forward. Kessler’s backup, Sonja van der Bliek, had better stats in her five starts but is untested in the long-term regular season. Toronto is going to have to get better at stopping the puck if they are going to improve in the standings.
Bold and overly specific prediction
Renata Fast for league MVP. The Furies are going to make a comeback this season, and if they do, it’s going to start on their blueline. If it starts with their blueline, it’s going to start with Fast.
Most likely to have her name used as a pun in a future article
Renata Fast. Obviously.