CWHL 2017-18 Season Preview: Markham Thunder
The Thunder moved from Brampton to Markham, but there's still concerns after some serious on-ice turnover.
The Thunder have established themselves as a gritty team who can eke out a win when they need to. But while other teams are dealing with the effects of Olympic centralization, the Thunder lost players both to centralization and to other leagues - three of their top players are now in the NWHL. As a result, they've got some re-structuring to do.
Look Back At Last Season
The Thunder struggled a bit last season. They've been pretty solidly stuck in the middle of the pack for the last couple years - better than teams like Boston, not quite at the level as teams like Calgary and Montreal. But with two solid goaltenders and a gritty group of players, the Thunder finished third in the league last year with 26 points, just four points ahead of Toronto.
But they fell in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Clarkson Cup champions, Les Canadiennes de Montreal. The Thunder were handily swept in two games, allowing 12 goals and scoring just two.
The Thunder are going to struggle this year; after finishing in the middle of the pack this season, they'll stay there this year, but it won't be easy. Our prediction - the Thunder will finish third in the regular season but will see a first-round playoff exit.
Jenna McParland is our pick for break-out player of the year, and it's going to be out of necessity.
McPharland is the only player who finished in Brampton's top-10 in scoring who's returning to the team this year. So...we're hoping she can step up from her 10-point season last year and take over some more scoring responsibilities for the Thunder.
Also worth watching: Nicole Kosta, who's technically a CWHL rookie but scored 17 points in 18 games for the Connecticut Whale last season.
The Thunder's biggest offseason move was not on the ice, but off it - the team rebranded from the Brampton Thunder to the Markham Thunder, complete with new logo, uniforms, and rink. On the surface, it looks like a great move for the team, who's been welcomed with open arms by the city of Markham.
But on the ice...oh boy. Who didn't the Thunder lose?
Calgary lost the most players to centralization, but it's the Thunder who may have been the most decimated this offseason.
Gone is leading scorer Jess Jones to the Buffalo Beauts of the NWHL, and with her went Sarah Edney and Rebecca Vint. Laura Stacey, Jocelyne Larocque and Laura Fortino are all with Team Canada for centralization. Also not listed on Markham's 2017-18 roster are Courtney Birchard and Shannon MacAulay.
Three must-watch games
Saturday, October 14: It's a good-old fashioned GTA showdown to open the season. Both Toronto and Markham lost a lot of players this year, so this should be a good benchmark to see where each team stands.
Saturday, October 21: It's the team's home-opener and it's the first chance Markham will have to see how Kunlun, the first of the two expansion teams, stacks up. This one will be fun.
Saturday, October 28: The Thunder will face Montreal in a rematch of last year's playoffs. Will Markham be able to take revenge for their early postseason exit?
Here's what may define Markham's season - who do they get back after the Olympics? All three of their centralized players are listed on the team's roster, so there's a chance they could return for the playoffs. If they do, this team has a shot at a potential Clarkson Cup final appearance; if not...this may be a rough season.