The specter of centralization hangs heavily in the background of this CWHL season, but it may not be more acutely felt anywhere than in Toronto. After a loss to Calgary in last year’s Clarkson Cup semis, the Furies are hungry to take the next step but may be stifled by international competition.
Defenders Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast have been called to the Canadian national team, as has top scorer and team captain Natalie Spooner. When you factor in the departure of goaltender Christina Kessler, the 2017-18 season begins to look like a difficult uphill climb in Toronto.
Look Back At Last Season
Focusing on one star can be a successful strategy in a league without true parity, and it worked out well enough for the Furies to reach the playoffs as the third seed. Cava was named to the All Rookie Team, as was Fast.
Toronto’s 9-11-3-0-1 record was sufficient to overcome to woeful Boston Blades and secure a playoff spot, but with a relatively new lineup, can they achieve similar results this season? Perhaps the best sign for future success is the relatively low amount of goals against, along with success at staying out of the penalty box.
Toronto reached the semifinals last year, but will struggle to repeat that performance this season. Though talent throughout the league has been thinned out by the combined forces of the Olympic centralization and the addition of the Chinese expansion teams, the Furies remain a young squad that’s missing some important pieces. Without seeing obvious early season struggles from other teams, the prediction here is that Toronto will narrowly miss qualifying for the Clarkson Cup playoffs.
The Furies need to hope that someone on their roster is prepared to step up and assume the goal scoring mantle. Natalie Spooner’s 13 goals last season represented more than twice as many as the second-most prolific scorers, Michela Cava and Kelly Terry (six each). In fact, Spooner scored exactly a quarter of the team’s total goals last season, and those three players combined for nearly half.
All of those players have left the Furies, leaving them in desperate need of a goal-scoring threat. Julie Allen, who tied for the team lead with Cava with three power play goals last year, will be relief on for development. She’ll certainly be counted on for offense, though it remains to be seen whether she’s able to shoulder that burden.
Kessler’s departure has left the Furies looking for answers at every level. A notable addition in net comes in the return of Sami Jo Small from a front office role. Now in her 40s, Small might be looked to for stability along with Sonja van der Bliek, who's spent a few years as a backup and may be looking to step into the spotlight for the Furies. Amanda Makela also offers depth after moving from Montreal.
Perhaps the biggest move of the offseason for the Furies is one that didn’t come to fruition. Kristyn Capizzano, the second overall pick in the CWHL draft, opted to continue her education rather than pursue professional hockey. Capizzano represented an attempt by the Furies to shore up their offense, and missing on that pick means that they may very well struggle to score goals.
Three Must-Watch Games
Saturday, October 14 v. Markham: – Opening the season with a battle of the Greater Toronto Area will give the Furies a chance to define their place in the league. Markham should be a solid test to start the year.
Saturday, December 16 @ Calgary – YEEEEEHAW! CWHL action at the Stampede Corral is a pretty amusing setup, and could prove to be an interesting venue for a big game for the Furies. Calgary had a much stronger team last season, and if the Furies are in the thick of the race by Christmas, the venue could be the harbinger for a raucous and rollicking game.
Saturday & Sunday, March 3 and 4 @ Boston – This is cheating since it’s a set of two games, but the last two of the season for the Furies may represent crucial points for sneaking into the playoffs. Facing off with a Boston Blades team that’s bound to struggle again could represent a schedule advantage for Toronto.
Defense may win championships, but somebody has to score some goals. The Toronto Furies are incredibly thin up front. If they can figure out a way to patch those holes, they should be respectable. If they’re forced into constant defensive battles, they may find themselves on the wrong side of a close game more often than they would prefer.