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Calgary Inferno season preview: Clarkson Cup champs should defend their title

How is their goaltending even real?

Though they technically upset Les Canadiennes in the Clarkson Cup Final last year, the Inferno are anything but underdogs.
Michelle Jay

Fire, or more specifically fire power, is what the roster consists of for the appropriately named Calgary Inferno.

After winning the Clarkson Cup championship last season (with a regular season record of 16-6-2) the Inferno established themselves as a perennial Clarkson Cup contender. A big part of that is the 14 players who are in the Canadian National Team program.

The Inferno didn’t have anyone in the CWHL’s top five regular season scoring leaders; instead, all lines were contributing spreading the points around. Brianne Jenner clocked in at the top, finishing seventh overall with 28 points. But the Inferno roster also consists of goal-scorers like Jillian Saulnier, Brittany Esposito, Rebecca Johnston, Bailey Bram, Hayley Wickenheiser -- the list goes on and on.

After so many of the Inferno spending quality time together at the recent national team Fall Festival and gelling at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship, look for more offense from this team this season. They were only outscored by Les Canadiennes de Montreal during the 2015-16 regular season, who finished 17 goals ahead of them. The Inferno will have to pick it up in that department if they want to be the regular season champs.

Key Departures

Three veteran players announced their retirement from the CWHL over the summer. Jenna Cunningham, Kristin Hagg and Kelsey Webster were experienced Inferno players having played together since the team’s first season in CWHL five years ago with Team Alberta transitioning into the Inferno.

Hang will be staying with the team as Calgary’s assistant GM, helping the newly- hiredJeff Stevenson.

X-Factor

Not only does the Inferno have a stacked set of forwards, which includes CWHL rookie of the year Elana Lovell and 2016 draftee CIS standout and Russian national team member Iya Gavrilova, their defense will be tough to get past.

Let’s not forget that the Inferno were without blue line stalwart Meaghan Mikkelson, also a veteran with Team Canada, for most of the season. She re-joined the team on the ice on the back half of the season after giving birth to her son. The Inferno’s defensive core will look much like how it did last year with the exception of Kaitlyn Gosling, selected second overall by the Inferno during the 2016 draft, joining the team to take the retiring Webster’s spot.

Gosling spent four seasons at the University of Western Ontario where she was a CIS First Team All-Canadian and Second Team All-Canadian, was on the OUA first all star team, captained the Mustangs to their first CIS national title and won a silver medial at the 2015 Winter Universiade.

Heck, even if a team can get over the Inferno blue line they are going to have to find a way to put the puck past either one of three outstanding goalies in Delayne Brian, Genevieve Lacasse, and Emerance Maschmeyer — a CWHL MVP, an Olympic gold medallist or a Patty Kazmaier Award nominee.

Another X-Factor is Haley Irwin, who returns to the ice after missing almost two years with two injuries including a concussion. She served as Canada’s captain in their gold-medal winning 2014 4 Nations Cup run, scored the game-winning goal to help the University of Minnesota Duluth to the 2008 NCAA championship and among her other international accolades has two Olympic gold medals to her name.

Newcomers’ impact

What makes the Inferno even more dangerous this season isn’t only the scary amount of talent up front. A bullpen of three great goalies will have opponents wondering if they will ever be able to light the lamp. Kathy Desjardins departed during the summer leaving Brian, who helped the team to hoist the Clarkson Cup and earned MVP honours along the way.

Two key pickups during the off-season makes the Inferno’s goaltending a deadly trio. First, the Inferno drafted Olympic-hopeful Emerance Maschmeyer during the CWHL draft. She shined for Canada at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship, which was a coming out party for her on the national team. Then the announcement came that Canadian Olympian, and 2014 Sochi gold medallist, Genevieve Lacasse had been traded to the Inferno from the Boston Blades — part of a fulfillment of the trade that sent Tara Watchhorn to the Blades.

The Inferno tied for second place with the Brampton Thunder in goals against during the regular season last year. They allowed 67 pucks to get by them and looking at the depth in the net this season there is no reason why they can’t match the stinginess of the Les Canadiennes, who only allowed 36 goals against last year.

Mark Your Calendars

Opening weekend will be a special moment for the Inferno. On October 8, their home opener, they’ll host a playoff rematch against Clarkson Cup semifinalists the Brampton Thunder, the same team they knocked out in the first round en route to the Clarkson Cup, at Winsport’s Markin MacPhail Centre during World Girls Hockey Weekend. Prior to puck drop they will raise their first championship banner.

On October 9 the Inferno will play at the former home of the NHL Calgary Flames, the Stampede Corral, giving all minor hockey player wearing their team jersey complimentary admission. Following the game the Inferno are inviting female youth hockey players (ages eight to 18) to Fast Female Champ Chat presented by Fuelling Women Champions. Several players and female ambassadors will lead participants through physical literacy activities, a yoga/dance party, inspiration chat and Q&A and an autograph session.

The Inferno will host a heritage game on November 12 against the Toronto Furies, wearing throwback jerseys which will be auctioned off following the game.

November will also bring some special games for the Inferno with Wickfest in the city, Hayley Wickenheiser’s minor hockey tournament that brings teams from across North America. The Inferno will host an exhibition game on Nov. 17 and then play regular season games on Nov. 26 and 27 for the thousands of female players in town. The November 27 game is slated as a Pride game where the Inferno will wear special pride themed jerseys that will be auctioned off after.

The Inferno will host the third annual Keep The Beat game on January 7 offering fans a chance to learn about the importance of heart health and raise awareness for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

In February, the return of Start the Spark for Do it for Daron (DIFD) and Youth Mental Health will be the focus. On February 4 Inferno players will work with select schools and wear purple jersey that will be auctioned off and a portion of the proceeds given to the Sparks Mentorship program.

Inferno players likely have circled February 18 on their calendars as they will take on the Les Canadiennes for a rematch of last years’ Clarkson Cup final. The game will be played as part of Hockey Day in Canada.

Season Prediction

Given how the Inferno performed last year and adjustments made for the 2016-17 season, the prediction for the team is to finish in first place. It would be no surprise if the Inferno were once again battling in the Clarkson Cup finals, maybe even a rematch against Les Canadiennes.

Follow Along

Catch up on all things Inferno on their website at www.calgaryinferno.ca, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.