Path to the Cup: Markham Thunder

 

2017-18 has turned into a historic season in the history of the Thunder with the team officially making the move to Markham this past offseason. The Thunder have been greeted with open arms by the Markham community and city council, including Mayor Frank Scarpitti who has proven to be the team’s number one fan.

The era of the Markham Thunder opened the way they hope their first campaign in the CWHL will end, with a win, defeating the Toronto Furies on opening night. Scoring the first goal in Markham Thunder history, and her first career CWHL goal, defence Kristen Barbara notched the game-winner in a 1-0 shutout victory over the GTA rival. CWHL Goaltender of the Year nominee Erica Howe earned the shutout, making 22 saves. The Thunder then welcomed their Clarkson Cup opponents, the Kunlun Red Star, for their first home series in front of a full crowd at the Thornhill Community Centre. Behind back-to-back two-goal games from team scoring leader Jamie Lee Rattray, Markham delivered exciting back-to-back wins over the expansion team.

However, Markham would enter the toughest section of their schedule after the first two weekends of success. Facing both the 2017 Clarkson Cup champion Les Canadiennes de Montreal and Clarkson Cup finalist Calgary Inferno over the next two weeks, before then making their first trip across the Pacific to challenge the Vanke Rays and Kunlun Red Star in Shenzhen, the Thunder ended the eight-game stretch without a win, going 0-6-2 (W-L-OTL).

Facing a battle to contend for a playoff position, Markham began their amazing push for the postseason following the CWHL’s Winter Break. The Thunder would not lose a game in regulation through the next 16 games of the season. Coinciding with that streak, Rattray notched a point in every one of those 16 games, claiming the longest scoring streak in the league this season, and the fourth longest scoring streak in CWHL history,  The CWHL MVP nominee finished in the top five in the CWHL scoring race with 39 points (22 G, 17 A), her first 30 point season in her fourth year in the CWHL.

Bolstered by the mid-season acquisition of free agent Megan Bozek and the late-season return of a trio of Olympians in Laura Stacey, Laura Fortino, and Jocelyne Larocque, the Thunder tallied seven consecutive wins to end the season in fourth, claiming the final playoff position.

Matching up with the Chairman’s Trophy winning Les Canadiennes in a Clarkson Cup best-of-three playoff series, a heated rivalry was set to continue. Having lost all five regular season meetings to Montreal in either overtime or a shootout this year, Les Canadiennes was the favourite entering the series despite Markham’s momentous run of wins to end the season. With outstanding play in net from Howe, a shorthanded overtime winner from Rattray, and a series-clinching hat trick from Jenna McParland, an upset sweep was completed, sending the Markham Thunder to the Clarkson Cup for the first time since 2012, when they were previously the Brampton Thunder.

The team will now look for their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history. Puck drop for the Clarkson Cup at Ricoh Coliseum in downtown Toronto on Sunday, March 25 is set for 12 p.m. The game can also be seen live on Sportsnet or the SN NOW app.

Purchase tickets for the 2018 Clarkson Cup Weekend including the 2018 CWHL Awards Show and the Clarkson Cup Final by visiting thecwhl.com/clarksoncup.

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