The Brampton Thunder managed to turn last season in a storming success, transforming a lackluster 2014-2015 season into a third-place finish for the 2015-2016 season. A brand new coaching staff, refocused direction, and a distinct new style both on and off the ice were widely attributed to the Thunder’s success.
Finishing with 33 points and a 16-7-1 record, the Thunder seemed pleased with their progress during the regular season. However, they struggled to translate that optimism to the postseason, where they were knocked out in the first round of the Clarkson Cup playoffs by the Calgary Inferno.
As for intangible factors, the team struggled with discipline, amassing a league-high 282 penalty minutes. While it’s clear that the team is pushing a more physical style of play, as well as increased focus on scoring, their penalty issues could hinder them in the long run - it’s impossible to score from the penalty box.
This was exacerbated during the Thunder’s lifeless Clarkson Cup stint, where their frustrations got the better of them and provided all too many opportunities for the Inferno.
Long-term personnel issues will crop up this season, both with roster spots and call-ups. GM Lori Dupuis stated at the 2016 CWHL Entry Draft that they intend on having prospects challenge for roster spots directly out of training camp, which could push some veterans farther back in the fold. This mirrors the post-draft strategy of last season, which had rookie and first-overall pick Sarah Edney making a splash and fellow draftee Rebecca Vint cracking the top three in team scoring.
Pair the newcomers fighting for roster spots with player shortages when the build-up towards the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang gets underway, and the Thunder will see themselves taking on a very delicate balancing act when the season starts.
Joining the team in free agency is Hayley Williams, who earned a spot on the roster after getting a tryout at the team’s camp this year. Williams was on the Buffalo Beauts in the NWHL last year and was previously announced as a practice player for the Beauts before she made the Thunder. Williams can expect more regular playing time on the Thunder than she could have as a practice player.
2016 CWHL DRAFT
The following is a list of the players drafted by Brampton in the 2016 CWHL entry draft:
- Right Wing Laura Stacey (Kleinburg, ON - Dartmouth College)
- Forward Shannon MacAulay (Mt Herbert, P.E.I - Clarkson University)
- Left Wing Nicole Brown (Oshawa, ON - Quinnipiac University)
- Forward Jaimie McDonell (East York, ON - Princeton University)
- Forward Kaitlyn Tougas (Thunder Bay, ON - Bemidji State University)
- Forward/Defender Taylor Woods (Morden, MB - Cornell University)
- Defender Kristen Barbara (Hamilton, ON - York University)
- Forward Darlene Clapham (Tottenham, ON - Western University)
- Defender Jessica Hartwick (Brampton, ON - Ryerson University)
- Forward Melissa Wronzberg (Thornhill, ON - Ryerson University)
- Defender Emily Grainger (Sooke, BC - University of British Columbia)
- Goaltender Jetta Rackleff (Bend, OR - Rochester Institute of Technology)
- Defender Jessa McAuliffe (Odessa, ON - York University)
- Forward Nicki Robinson (Eston, SK - U of Saskatchewan / Saskatchewan University of Technology)
- Goaltender Kelly Campbell (St. Thomas, ON - Western University)
Laura Stacey, former captain of the Dartmouth College Big Green, was the Thunder’s first pick in this year’s draft. She has plenty of experience and will bring a fresh wave of youthfulness to the seasoned Thunder squad. Shannon McAulay, coming to the Thunder from Clarkson University, impressed many with her Frozen Four play last year and her 2014 championship win. Both player should make Brampton’s roster and should fit right in.
THE UNCHANGED CORE
Brampton’s core is nearly identical to that of last season; expect Laura Fortino, Courtney Birchard and Jocelyn Larocque to anchor the blue line, while the likes of Jamie Lee Rattray, Jess Jones and Rebecca Vint take care of things up front. Vint had a fantastic rookie year, and she will likely play a bigger role in the upcoming season. Vint and Rattray, along with defenseman Laura Fortino, could potentially be the team’s most predominant and consistent offensive threats in the upcoming season. Expect Brampton’s goaltending situation to reflect last year’s as well, with Erica Howe and Liz Knox sharing the net.
This past offseason was fairly uneventful for the Thunder, which may prove to be either beneficial or detrimental to the team in the near future. Because no major trades were made in the offseason, one can assume that the club believes their on-ice discipline issues can be resolved without trading away key players, though only time will tell.
Discipline issues aside, expect the Thunder to have a similar season, with slight and scattered improvements. The Thunder developed good chemistry throughout the course of the year; they are entering this season with a close-knit team who are potentially still heartbroken by the crushing playoff defeat from last year, and expectations are higher than ever. GM Lori Dupuis told the media at the 2016 CWHL entry draft that the goal this year is to qualify for the Clarkson Cup Final, a reasonable goal for this seasoned Brampton squad.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
The Thunder will kick off the 2016-17 CWHL season on October 8 in an exciting playoff rematch against Calgary to face the Inferno at Calgary. Their home opener against Les Canadiennes de Montreal is just one week later on October 15. Brampton will have to be on top of their game right away against two of the league’s top teams. The CWHL will be commemorating its 10th season of operation this year by giving each club their own heritage game: teams will honor alumni, as well other key figures who have contributed to their team since the league’s launch in 2007. Brampton’s heritage game will take place on November 19th, as the team takes on the Calgary Inferno.
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