It was a final that nobody predicted. The fourth-seeded Markham Thunder faced off against the Kunlun Red Star, an expansion team in their first season in the CWHL.
But against all the odds, a rejuvenated Thunder team swept the No. 1 Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the first round, stunning everybody...except maybe themselves.
Jamie-Lee Rattray put home an overtime winner in Game 1 and Jenna McParland had a hat trick in Game 2 to send Les Canadiennes packing.
Meanwhile, the Kunlun Red Star, who finished ahead of the Calgary Inferno in the playoffs, came into their semifinal as a bit of an underdog and quickly put themselves behind the eight ball with a Game 1 loss. But the squad’s international players came through as they have all season, with Stephanie Anderson scoring in overtime off an incredible Kelli Stack feed in Game 2. Game 3 bled into what essentially became Game 4; the contest went to triple overtime before Alex Carpenter punched Kunlun’s ticket to the Clarkson Cup Final.
Naturally the game went to overtime, and after several golden opportunities for both teams, Laura Stacey got a beautiful feed from Nicole Kosta to end the game.
It was a nail-biter from start to finish. Both goaltenders put on a show, but Noora Räty gave Kunlun a chance to win; the Thunder outshot the Red Star 39-18 but Räty kept her team in the game as she has all season.
Markham struck first on a beautiful goal from Nicole Brown off a great dish from Laura Fortino early in the first period, a lead that would hold until the end of the second.
But an ill-timed penalty from Devon Skeats (we’re so shocked. Like, so shocked. Really, we’re SHOCKED) gave the Red Star the opportunity they needed, and league MVP Kelli Stack netted the tying goal.
The third period was a back and forth affair, and there were a couple moments where it looked like Markham would take the lead again, but Räty stayed perfect and forced overtime.
While the early round of the playoffs were five-on-five for as long as needed, the Clarkson Cup overtime period was a five minute four-on-four format, with a shootout if needed.
Luckily, a shootout wasn’t needed. Laura Stacey was the hero for Markham, with Kosta dishing an absolutely gorgeous feed to a streaking Stacey.