Thursday, 3 April 2014

Toronto Furies road to Clarkson Cup a modern-day Miracle on Ice

For the Toronto Furies and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the 2014 edition of the Clarkson Cup was filled with drama, excitement and another exciting chapter in the lore of the event. The donnybrook between the Boston Blades and the Toronto Furies resulted in an outcome that provided numerous historic firsts.

With Britni Smith having buried the puck past Blades goaltender Brittany Ott just 33 seconds into overtime, it marked the first Clarkson Cup to go into an overtime period. Becoming the first-ever team with a fourth-place regular season finish to hoist the coveted Cup was complemented by the fact that the Furies were the first championship squad with a .500 regular season record.

The road to the Clarkson Cup began with a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Inferno, who were making their postseason debut in 2014. Toronto battled back from a 1-0 deficit to prevail by a 3-2 tally. Two-point performances by Meagan Aarts, Tessa Bonhomme and Natalie Spooner helped contribute to the victory.

On March 20, the Furies competed against the Boston Blades, a preview of things to come by week’s end. A pair of power play goals provided Boston with a 2-0 advantage. Despite an unassisted goal by rookie Holly Carrie-Mattimoe, the Furies were unable to capitalize on the power play as Boston hung on by the narrowest of margins.

Tensions were high on the morning of March 21 as the winner of the contest between the Montreal Stars and the Furies would advance to the championship game against Boston. The game was a tense, defensive stalemate as 13 power play opportunities were nullified in regulation play. Jenelle Kohanchuk scored 26 seconds into the second stanza, while Emmanuelle Blais tied the game at the 2:30 mark of the third.

As overtime failed to resolve things, a shootout was required. Furies goaltender Christina Kessler displayed nerves of steel as she rejected Caroline Ouellette, Ann-Sophie Bettez (the 2014 CWHL scoring champion and league MVP) and Sarah Vaillancourt. Furies skater Natalie Spooner would bury the puck past Stars backstop Catherine Herron as their ticket was punched for a rematch with Boston.

Entering the contest as the defending Clarkson Cup champions, the Blades were definitely favorites to repeat. Stakes were high on both sides as each team had a player that was on the verge of accomplishing a unique feat. Boston’s Genevieve Lacasse and Toronto’s Natalie Spooner were teammates on the Canadian contingent that claimed gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. A Clarkson Cup triumph would make one of them the first-ever to win Olympic gold and the Clarkson in the same year.

Defensive play was the story of the game as neither team scored a goal in regulation play. With the Blades rookie backstop Brittany Ott between the pipes, she provided an admirable performance as the black and gold managed to outshoot the Furies by a 25-23 mark in regulation. Of note, Ott stumped the Furies on five power play opportunities, including the last 1:46 of the third, as rookie Rachel Llanes was called for body checking.

Only 33 seconds into the overtime frame, Brtini Smith solved the rookie backstop as the Furies clinched their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history. For Smith, this was not the first legendary goal in her career. In November 2012, Smith would score the first CWHL regular season goal in an NHL arena (Toronto’s Air Canada Centre).


Ironically, Furies backstop Christina Kessler also has a unique connection with Smith. Of note, Kessler also played in that November 2012 contest at the ACC would earn the first CWHL regular shutout in an NHL arena. Considering that Christina Kessler earned the shutout in a 1-0 upset win, it marked the third time that a shutout was recorded in a Cup win.

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