For the crowd pouring into Waterloo’s RIM Center, it must have been a surprise for the CWHL’s hardcore fans to see Tara French wearing an opposing team’s sweater. A reliable and steady blueliner for the Brampton Thunder, Tara French now has a new home with the Toronto Furies.
Exchanged for rookie blueliners Leah Whittaker and Candice Styles, it must have been a visceral experience for French to wear the colors of a Furies team she has only known as a rival. Suiting up for the Furies as the Brampton Thunder challenged them in a neutral site game; the Furies would emerge with a hard fought 2-1 victory in the shootout.
On the surface, it would appear to be a win-win trade for both sides. Styles and Whittaker, selected 17th and 27th overall in the 2014 CWHL Draft are a pair of talented blueliners with plenty of potential. Raised in Cambridge, Ontario, Whittaker competed at the NCAA level with the now-defunct Niagara Purple Eagles program. A stay at home defender, her presence should allow Brampton’s offensive minded blueliners the chance to open their game.
Hailing from Orangeville, Ontario, Styles had a distinguished career with CIS national power Wilfrid Laurier University. Considering that she played her senior season at WLU with Laura McIntosh as a member of the coaching staff, it may be a move that benefits Brampton. As McIntosh spent the last two seasons playing for Brampton, while juggling a season of coaching at WLU, she obviously knew Styles’ merits.
Named WLU’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2014, Styles was also the recipient of CIS All-Canadian honors. In addition, Styles also played for the Canadian contingent that captured the gold medal at the 2011 Winter Universiade.
Taking into account that Brampton already features three blueliners with experience on the Canadian national team (Courtney Bichard, Laura Fortino and Jocelyne Larocque), they should be able to help groom Larocque and Whittaker into two dependable blueliners. As a side note, Brampton had acquired Furies 2013 draft pick Sasha Nanji last season. A promising blueliner who had a sterling career at Dartmouth, Nanji did not return to the club this season. With Brampton currently in last place in the standings, the club can afford to think for the long-term and hope that Styles and Whittaker can provide a presence for the franchise, while compensating for the loss of Nanji.
Although French struggled with only one point registered during a difficult 2013-14 campaign with Brampton, her importance is measured in the fact that she brings a veteran leadership that will make the franchise even stronger. While the club boasts a significant number of veterans on the team, French has experience that shall add significant depth to the blueline. Later in the season, it is that kind of depth which may prove crucial in attempting to repeat as Clarkson Cup champions.
With blueliner Megan Bozek, the second overall pick in the 2014 CWHL Draft, temporarily leaving to Colorado to practice with the US National Team, French helps to fill that void. Of note, she brings a fundamentally sound game and team-first approach that made her the 2007 ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year and four-time All-ECAC selection. For a competitor such as French, a change of scenery may bring an added benefit. The chance to skate for the Furies may supply her with the best chance at winning the Clarkson Cup.