The Inferno have firmly established themselves as a powerhouse in the CWHL - when they have a full roster, that is. But with roughly a third of their team gone to centralize for the Olympics, the Inferno are going to have to find some new team chemistry this year. They've made it to the Clarkson Cup Final in the last two consecutive seasons...can they do it again?
Look Back at Last Season
Last season the Inferno were one of the hottest teams in the CWHL. They had a terrifying trio of netminders in Delayne Brian, Genevieve Lacasse and star rookie goalie Emerance Maschmeyer, who posted two shutouts and lead the team is save percentage and goals against; on top of that, they also had about half of Team Canada on their roster. The Inferno finished the season with only four losses and topped the league with 40 points, beating out Montreal by four points. They had the highest goals for with 100 over the season and the lowest goals against with just 45.
After finding their way back into the finals to defend their title, in the end, the Inferno fell 3-1 in the Clarkson Cup Final to Les Canadiennes de Montreal.
This season will be interesting with the absence of the bigger name national team players, but losing those players is a hit every team experienced. With the addition of two new teams, Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays, and big names from the NWHL to represent the CWHL in China it is hard to say how this season will shake out.
However, going off past performances I will say that the Inferno will finish the season in the top four but I don’t confidently think they’ll take back the Clarkson Cup.
Even though she was the 2016 Clarkson Cup MVP, Delayne Brian is still poised to have a breakout season. A lot of attention went to Maschmeyer after she made a name for herself on Team Canada. However, with Maschmeyer in Montreal this season and Lacassee centralizing with Team Canada ahead of the Olympics, this year it will be Brian who will likely take back the crease full-time.
Last season, Meaghan Mikkelson won the Defenseman of the Year award, but this season she will miss CWHL action, also centralizing with Team Canada. With a dominant defender like Mikkelson out of the lineup, this gives the rest of the defense a chance to step up and any player on defense has a chance for a breakout season this season.
This offseason was one that saw most of the CWHL get new coaches and new GMs. For the Inferno, head coach Scott Reid, who won Coach of the Year last season, was replaced by Tomas Pacina. Pacina has a history of working in women’s hockey; he coached the Calgary Oval X-Treme from 1999-2007, winning four WWHL championships and two NWHL championships. He also works as a strength coach in the NHL, most notably with the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the past six years, he has worked with the WHL Portland Winterhawks. Other new coaches include assistants Juliane Jubinville and Kelly Bechard; Gina Kingsbury will also return. The team also welcomed back Kristen Hagg as the full-time general manager.
From a player standpoint, one of the biggest offseason moves for the Inferno has to be the trade of Maschmeyer to Les Canadiennes de Montreal to complete a deal from 2014. Fans were shocked by the move, and while losing Maschmeyer does hurt, Brian still remains on the roster and is a capable starter.
The Inferno also only have nine returning players on the roster; this is in part due to the fact that the CWHL as a whole lost players to the centralization of the national teams ahead of the upcoming Olympics. While adding a few rookies to the roster this offseason, the Inferno also traded for established players like Brittney Fouracres and Dakota Woodworth.
Three must-watch games
Saturday, October 21: Calgary opens their season on the road against Boston.
Saturday, October 28: marks the first time Calgary will face off against one of the China expansion teams and on March 2nd they will play their first game overseas against the Vanke Rays.
Saturday, January 6: The Inferno will face Montreal for the first time since last season in a Clarkson Cup rematch.
My season prediction is that the CWHL will see a general leveling of talent with the national players gone and that the Vanke Rays and Kunlun Red Star might be among the more talented teams. A lot of games will be close this year with the goaltending each team has going into the season.