by Mark Staffieri
In a season that saw many members of the Toronto Furies reach significant career milestones, the opportunity to hoist the Clarkson Cup was an extension of the feelings of friendship and teamwork that defined the Furies never-say-die season.
While the victory over the defending champions, the Boston Blades, marked the first time that a fourth place team captured the coveted cup, the cast of characters made it a memorable run.
Sami Jo Small, co-founder of the CWHL and the Furies, became the oldest goaltender to win the Clarkson, while becoming the second CWHL co-founder to win the cup. The first was Lisa-Marie Breton Lebreux of the Montreal Stars.
Along with teammates Tessa Bonhomme and Natalie Spooner, this titanic trio became Triple Gold Club members, having each captured IIHF women’s world gold, Olympic gold and the Clarkson Cup in their careers.
For Meagan Aarts, the opportunity to win the Clarkson Cup complemented a remarkable career milestone. Near the end of the regular season, Aarts registered the 100th point of her CWHL career. Along with Kristy Zamora, the two also played in their 150th career games during the season.
"Reaching my 100-career point milestone was a personal milestone which I will never forget, but winning the Clarkson Cup this season has been an unbelievable experience," Aarts reflected. "Our entire team really came together and proved what it means to be a team. I am so proud of everyone for what we have achieved."
There were also several other CWHL veterans that made their mark with the Furies during the run to last season’s Clarkson Cup. Sommer West, honoured as 2014 CWHL Coach of the Year, became the first coach to have played in the CWHL to win the Clarkson Cup.
Having led all rookies on the blue and white in scoring, Alyssa Baldin emerged as one of the CWHL’s top freshmen. Only Boston’s Jillian Dempsey scored more points among CWHL rookies. The two then faced off against each other for the Clarkson Cup.
A former captain at both NCAA Division 1 and CIS levels, Baldin also finished her remarkable rookie campaign tied as the lead scorer for the Furies. Playing alongside sensational sophomore Carolyne Prevost, who was also in her first year with the club, both led the Furies with sparkling 23-point campaigns.
"Being able to be a part of all this during my first season has been an unbelievable accomplishment and honour that some people do not get the chance to experience throughout their career," Baldin said. "I have learned so much from both the coaching staff and my teammates. The energy and excitement, especially within our locker room during the Clarkson Cup, is a feeling I will never forget. I could not be more proud of this team."
For another pair of CWHL veterans on the Furies, the chance to hoist the coveted Clarkson represents redemption. After a year away from CWHL competition, Michelle Bonello returned to the Furies. A charter member of the franchise who appeared in the 2011 Clarkson Cup championship, her opportunity to hoist cup was one of the feel-good stories of the season.
Brooke Beazer, who appeared with the Brampton Thunder in the 2010 edition of the Cup, is another CWHL veteran who finally earned her chance at distinguishing herself as a champion.
Another player looking for a chance to redeem herself after a visceral Cup loss was Carolyne Prevost, a two-time NCAA Frozen Four champion with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Having also played for Hockey Canada at the international level, the Clarkson win complemented her Meco Cup gold medal. She carved her own piece of CWHL history at the 2014 edition of the Clarkson Cup.
"We played our best hockey at the end of the year and peaked at the right time. From the net out, it was a great performance from everyone," Prevost said. "Everyone on the team contributed to that win. I definitely did not want to see the Clarkson Cup end in a shootout. Although I do not think any pucks were getting past Kessler that day. I am very excited about the first-ever Clarkson Cup win with the Toronto Furies."
Heading into the title game, Prevost earned the distinction of becoming the third player to compete in back-to-back Clarkson Cup championship games with two different teams.
Prevost competed with the Montreal Stars in the 2013 title game, losing to the Boston Blades. Redemption was the order of the day in 2014 as Prevost faced the Blades once again. She earned one of the assists on Britni Smith’s Cup-winning tally in overtime.
"I was just so happy and relieved to see the puck go in the net. It did not matter who scored or got the assist at that point," Prevost said. "I saw Brit alone in front of the net and wanted to get it over to her as soon as I could. When I saw the puck go in, I think we all just started jumping on the ice and it was an amazing feeling sharing that moment with this team."
Goaltender Christina Kessler, who earned the first CWHL win in an NHL arena, became the first goaltender with a losing record in the regular season to win a Clarkson Cup championship game. Kessler shares these two milestones with Smith, for she was the player who scored the game-winning goals in both contests.
A former recipient of the CWHL Rookie of the Year, Smith’s legend grew when she scored the first-ever CWHL goal in an NHL arena. The historic feat was accomplished in a Nov. 2012 contest at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, in a shutout win over the Alberta Hockey Club.
"The game played against the Calgary Inferno at the Air Canada Centre was one of the most memorable experiences I have had as a member of the Toronto Furies," Smith said.
"Playing at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, my favourite NHL team, in front of 5,000 enthusiastic fans, is an experience I will never forget. It is because of sponsors, like MLSE, that opportunities like this are made possible. MLSE has really helped promote and grow our game and our league, which has allowed the players to focus on hockey."
Only 33 seconds into the overtime frame, Smith solved Blades rookie goalie, Brittany Ott, as the Furies clinched their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history. Being able to make history again at the CWHL championship is one that Smith will treasure for many years to come.
"Another amazing experience, and the highlight of my career with the Furies, was hoisting the Clarkson Cup at the end of this season," Smith said.
"This was something that the Toronto Furies, as a team, had never done before. While Toronto was not favoured to win the Clarkson Cup, we never stopped believing that we could. I am very proud to have played a role in making history with such an amazing group of girls and an extremely hard-working and dedicated coaching staff."