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2018-19 CWHL Preview: Markham Thunder

Defending champions look to return to the top

The Markham Thunder look to defend their 2018 title
Teri Di-Lauro/CWHL

Last Season

The Markham Thunder underwent a relocation and name change ahead of the 2017-18 season. Formerly of Brampton, the team moved a short 51.7 kilometers (32 miles) to the City of Markham. The team shed its old name and old logo for something new.

Late addition Megan Bozek and Canadian Olympians Laura Fortino, Laura Stacey, and Jocelyne Larocque helped the Thunder finish the season on an 11-0-2-3 run. They went on to sweep Les Canadiennes in the semifinals before grinding out a 2-1 overtime win over the Kunlun Red Star in the CWHL Final. By the close of the season, they stood alone at the top, bringing home their first Clarkson Cup Championship in franchise history.

Off-season Moves

The Thunder had four players retire from the 2018 championship team: Karolina Urban, Melissa Wronzberg, Fielding Montgomery, and Jessica Hartwick. Another four players from last year are not represented on the 2018-19 roster.

To fill some of those gaps, Markham drafted five rookies and signed free agent Brooke Webster from the dissolved Vanke Rays.

Three Players to Watch

Ailish Forfar is one of two pre-signed players for Markham leading into the 2018 CWHL Draft. Forfar played with Laura Stacey at Dartmouth College in the NCAA before transferring to Ryerson University in the U SPORTS system.

At Dartmouth, Forfar tallied 12 goals and 16 assists in 58 games for the Big Green. She missed the 2013-14 season due to an injury suffered in the preseason. The English and Geography major was also named to two ECAC All-Academic teams.

With the Rams, Forfar broke the program record for goals (11) and points (23) in a single season. She received the Marion Hilliard Award for Academic and Community Excellence in 2018, as well as Ryerson’s G. L. Dobson Trophy for Contributions to Athletics, Campus & Community Life.

The other pre-signing for the Thunder was Victoria Bach. The Boston University alumna was a 2018 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Top Three Finalist. She had a record-breaking campaign at Boston University, leading the Terriers in all-time goals (104) and points (198). Only Rebecca Leslie (102) and Marie-Philip Poulin (100) topped Bach’s 94 career assists—not bad company!

Victoria Bach leads all offensive categories for the Boston University Terriers.
Al Saniuk

Bach is also a rising talent in the Hockey Canada system. She has yet to crack a senior roster, but it shouldn’t be long now. Her ability to adjust to the pace of the CWHL playing with and against the most elite of her countrywomen, as well as American-born talent like teammate Megan Bozek will be key to her development.

To round out the top players to watch, I’m going with Jamie Lee Rattray. She was third-overall with 39 points behind Kelli Stack (49, Kunlun Red Star) and Ann-Sophie Bettez (41, Les Canadiennes). When Markham needed a leader last season, the Thunder relied on her not only to score, but to hold down the ever-important task of dressing room DJ.

Jamie Lee Rattray was voted the 2018 CWHL NVP en route to claiming the 2018 Clarkson Cup with the Markham Thunder.
Teri Di-Lauro. Courtesy of the Markham Thunder

“This league is not easy to play in,” the 2018 Jayna Hefford Trophy winner told The Ice Garden’s Mike Murphy last season. “I’ve learned to play with no cares and I’ve been lucky to have a good team around me. It’s been a good year all around, even at the beginning of the year when we were struggling I think we did a good job of staying together as a group and that’s really what has got us here.”

Season Prediction

Like last season, it will be an uphill climb for the Markham Thunder this season. They will be all too eager to erase a disappointing preseason outing against the Toronto Furies. Speaking of the Furies, I predict Markham will be vying for anywhere from second to fourth place alongside the Furies.

Final Thoughts

With that said, the Thunder have their three Olympians back for the entire season. No doubt the addition of Larocque, Stacey, and Fortino for the final push made a difference for the defending champions. Additionally, the goalie duo of Liz Knox and Erica Howe return between the pipes in Markham.

The Markham Thunder will raise their championship banner this weekend ahead of their opening series with the newly branded Worchester Blades (formerly Boston Blades). The pucks drops on the 2018-19 Markham season this Saturday at 7:30 pm ET at the Thornhill Community Centre.