The Toronto Furies began their trek for the Clarkson Cup via the CWHL’s tenth season with some surprising news on Oct. 6. The team announced that veteran leaders Michelle Bonello and Alyssa Baldin would enter retirement; Bonello to pursue a career as a firefighter, and Baldin to focus on coaching in the Oakville Hornets organization.
Bonello and Baldin are two names that have become synonymous with the Furies in their careers. Bonello joined Toronto in their inaugural season and was arguably the team’s strongest defenseman in her five-year professional career. She was an integral part of the 2014 Clarkson Cup championship run. Bonello had served as team captain for the last two seasons, and is on a very short list of players selected for both the 2015 and 2016 CWHL All-Star game.
Baldin, who was named alternate captain for 2015-16, was a rock for Toronto in her three seasons with the team. Her rookie season was one of the best in Toronto; Baldin set a record for points by a rookie and tied for the team’s lead in overall scoring. She buried the last goal of the Furies’ season to keep the team from being shutout by les Canadiennes de Montreal in the 2016 Clarkson Cup semi-final series.
Both Bonello and Baldin represented Team Canada in the 2016 FIRS Inline Hockey World Championship, which took place in Italy. In true Canadian fashion, the team dominated the tournament and took home the gold. Baldin and Bonello finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in Canada’s scoring ranks.
After giving fans some time to process the decision made by Baldin and Bonello, Toronto followed with the news that Natalie Spooner would serve as the team’s captain for the 2016-17 season. Spooner was the Furies’ leading scorer last year, and her commitment on the ice is an amazing example for her teammates.
“I’m really honored to wear the ‘C’ for the Toronto Furies,” Spooner stated in a tweet sent out by the team. “There have been so many great captains before me to pave the way.”
The Furies’ figureheads leave a big gap on a team which also saw the departure of Kori Chevrie in the 2016 offeason. The veteran exodus leaves Toronto with an inexperienced team. The roster announcement showed 10 new faces that will don the blue for the Furies this season.
As discussed on a recent episode of Don’t Snow the Goalie, the CWHL as a whole has grown in both youth and skill. Many players selected in the 2016 draft will have an immediate impact on their team, and Toronto’s first two choices, Renata Fast and Erin Ambrose, are certainly included on that list.
Fast and Ambrose will have some big skates to fill when it comes to supplanting a solid defenseman like Bonello, but the pair represent a turn toward speed and skill by the Furies. At the draft, Ambrose said of Fast, “I love playing with Renata – it’s so easy to play with her. You can never get in trouble because Renata is always there to bail you out…it lets me play a lot more freely.”
Benello was one of the league’s premier defensemen, and Fast will need to be steady and dependable in the wake of her departure. There is a lot of pressure on the young rookie, but Fast seems prepared to step in immediately.
Baldin will be difficult to replace, as well. She was a perfect foil for Spooner, and the pair were among the Furies’ best stories in 2015-16, where the team finished fourth in the standings. Breaking up a dependable scoring line is a harsh blow to a team that struggled to put the puck in the net. Hopefully, Spooner can find a similar chemistry with some of Toronto’s newer faces and the Furies can improve from last season’s disappointing performance.