The Toronto Furies have struggled to get deep into the CWHL playoffs in the past several years, but the 2018-19 season might be a break from that trend.
The team has a new general manager, a new coaching staff, and plenty of new talent to make them a team to watch this CWHL season.
The changes for the Furies started with the front office. CWHL co-founder and longtime Furies goalie Sami Jo Small hung up her skates in 2018, but she didn’t go far. The Furies announced her as the new general manager in June. By July, she named Courtney Kessel as head coach and Ken Dufton as coaching advisor.
Fifteen players from the Furies roster in the 2017-18 season are not on the team for the upcoming 2018-19 season. A mix of retirements, free agency moves, etc. has opened the Toronto roster up for eight rookies, two free agents from the contracted Vanke Rays, and two returning Olympians.
Natalie Spooner and Renata Fast rejoin the Furies after taking silver in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Spooner led the Furies with 15 goals in the 2016-17 season, good for fourth overall in the CWHL. In her last season with Toronto, Fast led all blue liners with nine points (4 goals, 5 assists).
We are excited! Only 5 more sleeps! Watch our first games of the season vs China's @KunlunCWHL Oct 13/14/17 Buy your tickets online to avoid the rush at the door. https://t.co/5YfZxvywC1 #TorontoFuries #SheIsMyHero pic.twitter.com/biJ7I59nFo— Toronto Furies (@TorontoCWHL) October 9, 2018
The veterans are joined by Olympic teammate and CWHL rookie Sarah Nurse. This is a huge get for the Furies. The Hamilton-native is a dynamic skater is expected to join a line with Spooner, she told Jerred Bapty in a podcast interview towards the close of the preseason.
Additionally, Toronto acquired free agents Elanie Chuli and Shiann Darkangelo after the dissolution of the Vanke Rays.
Three Players to Watch
I would like to preface this section by saying, you should definitely watch out for Sarah Nusre. Yet, since I wrote about her here, and again here, I’ve opted to focus on a few players you may not know.
Before moving to the CWHL last season, Shiann Darkangelo played in the NWHL with the Connecticut Whale, and then with the Buffalo Beauts where she won the 2017 Isobel Cup. The Furies will be Darkangelo’s fourth team in as many professional seasons.
If Sarah Nurse the present of Hockey Canada, Brittany Howard can likely be the future. The rookie spent hails from Robert Morris University. She finished the 2017-18 season second-most among active players in career goals, career assists, and career points to earn a spot as a 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award top-ten finalist. She is ranked number one in Robert Morris program history in seven different categories.
This summer, she stood out for Hockey Canada with the development team in August and at the Fall Festival in September, showing perhaps a glimpse of what her pro career has in store.
Shea Tiley helped Clarkson University to back-to-back NCAA National Championship ahead of her rookie campaign. She graduated as the Golden Knights’ all-time winningest goaltender (114-24-14), which included 36 shutouts, a .937 save percentage, and a 1.38 GAA. She was a 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award Top-ten finalist and a first-team All-American.
She will look to separate herself from the remainder of the Toronto goalie trio: Amanda Makela and Elaine Chuli. This is Makela’s second season with the Furies, while Chuli came over from Vanke with Darkangelo.
If this team were to compete in the CWHL for the 2017-18 season, they would be a strong favorite for the Clarkson Cup. Yet, across women’s hockey, we’ve seen teams grow with Olympians back and a strong NCAA senior class — two really, including those who were centralized from the c/o 2017 — signing up as rookies, we are in for a treat.
Some may scoff at preseason results, but the Furies handing the 2018 Clarkson Cup Champions 6-1 loss is eyebrow raising. Markham will certainly come into form, but with the additions all the other teams have made, I’d say it’s a fight between Les Cannadienns, the Calgary Inferno, and the Furies for the top two spots.
The Toronto Furies have struggled to find a way back to the Clarkson Cup Final since their overtime upset of the Boston Blades in 2014. All signs point to this roster being able to make something special happen in Toronto.
They seem to have the right mix of leadership, high-level talent, and youth to make a run. All eyes will be on Small & Kessel and their ability to coordinate all the pieces this season.