The Brampton Thunder have begun the CWHL’s 10th anniversary season with four straight losses. With only one point, the team holds last place in the standings, and have a lot of ground to cover to move up, with Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto all undefeated in the early going.
It’s been a rough ride for the Thunder as they open the 2016-17 season. Their first matchup took them to Western Canada to face the 2016 Clarkson Cup champion Calgary Inferno – the team that had knocked Brampton out of the playoffs on their way to the cup.
The Thunder played well in back-to-back games against the Inferno, despite being outshot 67-50 in the two contests. Goaltender Erica Howe played well and weathered wave after wave of the Inferno attack, but had only a pair of 3-2 losses to show for her effort.
On October 15, the Thunder returned to Brampton to host les Canadiennes de Montreal for a set of two games. The 5-2 score of their home opener tells an incomplete story. For two periods, the Thunder held their own against offensive powerhouses like Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Lefort, but after giving up two goals in less than three minutes, Brampton struggled to create the offensive chances they needed to climb back into the game. Their bad luck continued on the following afternoon, and les Canadiennes handed Brampton their third 3-2 loss of the season.
Special teams – especially the penalty kill – are haunting the Brampton squad. Discipline has been a persistent issue for the Thunder, who lead the league with 17 minor penalties in just four games. Their .800 kill percentage accounts for three goals against, which is exactly the team’s goal differential in three of their four matchups. A tighter defensive strategy could be the difference for the Thunder in these close games.
Still, Brampton’s head coach Tyler Fines remains positive. In a recent interview, Fines candidly addressed the team’s record. Fines was asked how he kept the message positive in the dressing room. “Just believe in the system and [maintain]a winning attitude,” he said. “Last year we started the same way and turned out to be a top-three team. So, no panic and [we need to] continue to improve everyday.”
Fines was asked what he felt his team was doing well in their first four games. “[We] never quit,” he replied, “[we] keep fighting until the last buzzer.”
The Thunder have a lengthy list of rookies that general manager Lori Dupuis has added to the roster, and Fines understands those young athletes need time to develop their chemistry, stating, “Unfortunately we have yet to play a full 60-minute game as a unit but that will come with time and practice.”
The Thunder have a weekend off before a home-at-home series against their provincial rivals, the Toronto Furies. Fines recognizes that extra the practice time will have Brampton prepared to take their first win of the season. “We are confident with our preparation for games, and we know what we are getting into – who we have to identify as key players on Toronto’s roster and [how to] shut them down to have success.”
The Furies’ possessed the puck incredibly well against Boston in their opening series, and Fines knows that Brampton will have to find a way to disrupt Toronto’s offensive flow if the team is going to succeed, saying, “[We have to] rely on and trust that our defence can make smart plays in our zone to move the puck with one pass. Hopefully, we can expose the pressure and turn it into odd-man rushes and let our shooters become active.
“We’re going to do a lot of skating and identifying on the back check,” Fines continued. “We are getting beat on quick rushes. Like most teams, [the] defensive zone is the toughest to learn at this level.”
Furies’ captain Natalie Spooner leads the league in scoring with six points (three goals, three assists.) Brampton’s defense will certainly have their hands full with Spooner. The extra time to prepare will certainly help the Thunder as they battle Toronto in search of their first win.