The Brampton Thunder likely did not foresee this situation developing at the beginning of the season.
Sitting at fourth place in the CWHL, Brampton has one win and one overtime loss through six games. Call it what you want - a bad start, unlucky, etc. - something has to change. This goes far beyond the possibility of the playoffs, too. A change in play is necessary if the Thunder want to start pulling out a few wins.
The Thunder see a lot of success when they play to their strengths: their energy and physical style of play. Anyone who has watched them knows that, despite their recent play, they are a very dynamic team. Though it may not be as easy as it sounds, the Thunder will need to return to that same high-energy style that has proven successful for them in the past.
I decided to break down the tape in an attempt to distinguish which factors have helped Brampton generate offense this season, and here’s what I found:
They Thrive on Defensive Contributions
The Brampton Thunder have a very talented defense core, from the likes of Laura Fortino and Sarah Edney to Courtney Birchard. In the offensive zone, the Thunder are particularly successful when they can get the puck back to the defense, who will, in turn, take the shot or set up a play. This is a strength Brampton will need to utilize once again, as they have a variety of skilled and knowledgeable veterans on the back end.
Take a look at this goal by Sarah Edeny, who jumps off the blue line to pick up a rebound and score a goal against the Calgary Inferno:
Jess Jones gets the puck back to Jocelyne Larocque off the faceoff, and Larocque sees an opportunity to shoot. Edney recognizes that there’s no one to grab the rebound on the left side, comes down off the blue line to fill the gap in front of the net. Her decision pays off as she picks up the rebound and nets the Thunder’s first goal of the season.
Another very simple example of an offensive contribution by a defenseman is this goal by Sarah Edney, yet again, against the Toronto Furies:
Though this is a very simple goal, it’s a good example of how the Thunder are able to generate offense by utilizing their back end. Edney is a very smart player and sees the shooting lane as she directs the shot five hole on Toronto netminder Sonja van der Bliek.
Constant Pressure in the Neutral Zone Forces Turnovers
The Thunder excelled in the neutral zone in the 2015-16 season. Putting pressure on their opponents, Brampton saw a lot of success by aggressively blocking the opposing team from entering their defensive zone. Strength in the neutral zone is something the Thunder have been lacking this year; they’ve had trouble forcing turnovers and putting on pressure. Having forwards positioned high amidst the opponent’s breakout can hinder their rush and create turnovers, and this is something the Thunder will need to work on in order to improve their neutral zone play.
Here is an example of good neutral zone pressure, as demonstrated by Nicole Brown and Courtney Birchard:
Though this specific play appears to be based more on luck than on strategy, Brown (no. 17 in white) is positioned well enough to break up the pass between the two Inferno players. Her stick catches the puck and cuts off the pass, and Birchard is in good position ahead to create a partial breakaway.
These are the kind of not-so-flukey plays the Thunder will need to adapt to their style of play. Strong neutral zone pressure will force turnovers similar to this; setting up well-planned offensive rushes will only add to Brampton’s goal scoring abilities.
They Need To Win More Puck Battles
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of winning puck battles in Brampton’s current situation. Winning battles should be a crucial aspect of the Thunder’s game, but a lack of energy and aggression is costing them those victories.
Sending two players into the corner for a puck battle can be beneficial to a team, especially if they are able to draw opposition players in with them. Though they may be outnumbered, they create space for their teammates in the offensive zone as long as they are able to actually win the puck battle itself. If they are unable to draw the opposing players in with them, they are still at an advantage as they now outnumber the opposition and stand a better chance of winning the battle.
Here is an example of a goal, orchestrated by Rebecca Vint, as she picks up a loose puck in the corner and carries it to the front of the net:
On a defensive breakdown by Toronto, Vint goes into the corner where Jess Jones is already battling. Left uncovered, Vint picks up the puck, carries it to the front of the net, and scores a goal. She saw the gap along the wall and shifted her position to adapt to the situation, and gave the Thunder their second goal of the game.
Two of the Thunder’s four regulation losses have been by one-goal margins. If they had been able to turn around even one of those games, the current narrative may be different. Nevertheless, Brampton will need to make a few changes as they seek improvement and success moving forward.
The Thunder will be taking on the Calgary Inferno in back-to-back games this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. The CWHL will be broadcasting Saturday night’s game on their YouTube channel at 6:30 EST.
All video courtesy of the CWHL’s Official YouTube Channel.