Tuesday, 23 January 2018


With apologies to rock band AC/DC, I had the opportunity to get thunderstruck tonight as I went with my good friend, Teri, to the Markham Thunder practice! I had no idea what to expect as Teri briefed me that the Thunder, who are on a bye week, would most likely just play a fun scrimmage game, but any time you can watch professional players do what they do best with an added element of fun? Yup, you sold me on it being a good idea. So away we went as Teri had a job to do in taking photos of the practice for the team. Me? I was just going out of curiosity and with the hopes of meeting some of the Thunder players!

I will honestly tell you that I don't get starstruck. Seeing the players on the ice is, to me, like watching a bantam team in that they're playing and learning and having fun, and the Thunder were no exception in this practice. Granted, the skill level is quite a bit higher than bantam-level hockey out on the ice, but the players simply look like they're enjoying playing the game. There were a lot of laughs, some intense battles between friends as bragging rights were on the line, and some standout performances including a monster glove save by Liz Knox at one point during the scrimmage!

Of note, I should mention that watching Megan Bozek play in this scrimmage was rather surreal. The former US Olympian just sees the game differently than the vast majority of players, and this is most evident in the offensive zone where she legitimately should be quarterbacking the Thunder power-play. She skates extremely well, the puck seems to stick to her blade, and she makes solid, crisp passes that often wind-up as scoring chances when received by her target. If Megan Bozek is representative of the type of player cut by the US Olympic team, her replacement on Team USA has enormous skates to fill. The Thunder should be doing everything in their power to ensure she sticks around longer than the remainder of this year if her contract doesn't extend past the end of this season.

Other players who caught my eye included Jenna McParland, Jamie Lee Rattray, Dania Simmonds, and Taylor Woods.

McParland is a pure shooter with moves for days out there, but she sometimes tries one dangle too many rather than just shooting and using the defender as a screen. Regardless, there's a ton of shots in her stick, and her one-timer, when she connects fully and completely, might be one of the best in the league. If I'm the coaching staff, her new office is the left face-off circle. If she can let the one-timer fly off a cross-ice pass from there, there will be a pile of goals to be celebrated.

Rattray is the engine that drives this team as she does it all - pass, skate, shoot, and backcheck. I don't know if Rattray has the best shot on the team, but she certainly had the best shot on this night as her wrist shot continually found ways through traffic to end up on net. The only thing that I didn't like about Rattray's game tonight? She often found herself either below the goal line or shooting from ridiculous angles that won't end up in the back of the net. Rattray either needs to station herself in the slot area or nearer to the face-off dot to get better shooting angles with that shot.

I had seen Dania Simmonds play via the online streams, and I admit I was kinda "meh" towards her overall game. Having seen what she does in person, though, I now have a greater respect for how important she is to the Thunder blue line. Defensively, she's a beast in terms of blocking shots, fighting for position, and simply being a pain in the butt for opposing forwards. Offensively, she was a possession machine, blocking clearing attempts and finding her teammates with smart, safe passes at the point. Dania does what every team needs - she plays tenacious defence, she does the dirty work in her own zone, and she's a handful in a puck battle. I'd take two Dania Simmonds-es on my team if I could.

Taylor Woods, who was a guest on The Hockey Show, never seemed to stop moving out on the ice. She has some explosive speed up the ice which certainly is a must-have when it comes to the penalty kill, her shot is deceivingly quick and on-target, she doesn't take unnecessary risks with the puck, and she forechecks like a demon. Along with Fielding Montgomery and Melissa Wronzberg, the speed from these three players should give the opposition fits when they're on the ice. Woods was good in all three zones on this night.

I was confused by some of the coaching tactics employed by the coaching staff in this practice when it came to working on specific things, but I'm just an observer. I'm not paid to stand behind the bench. If I were, there would be more work done with the special teams as there's more than enough talent for this team than what their fifth-place power-play shows. The penalty kill, which sits seventh-place out of seven teams, should also be much better with the players assembled on this roster, but I'm sitting in a hotel room and not standing behind the bench.

Regardless, the pace was up-tempo, the battles were fierce, and the goals were earned on this night as both Erica Howe and Liz Knox showed why they're one of the best one-two punches in the entire circuit. I was very impressed with how this team played in a fun scrimmage setting, and that should translate to good results on the ice.

After practice, I did get a chance to chat with both Taylor Woods and Melissa Wronzberg, and these two women are absolutely awesome. Taylor will be a returning guest at some point in the future while Melissa will definitely be an upcoming guest. I had too many laughs at their stories, and that's a pretty good indicator that I'd like them back on the show. Keep up the great work, ladies. You're two of the best in my books!

I'd like to thank Teri for allowing me to tag along to see the Thunder practice. I also want to thank Maria, the social media guru for the Thunder, for welcoming me and allowing me to take in the practice for the purpose of chatting it up here. Both women do yeoman's work for the Thunder in a variety of capacities, and the passion they have for this team is evident in everything they produce. Keep up the amazing work, ladies. You're two of the unsung heroes on this squad!

If you get a chance, go see the Markham Thunder play. They're a talented group of players who play an exciting brand of hockey. While you're there, keep an eye out for Maria and Teri as well as they're doing all they can to market this team to the masses. To you. So buy a ticket and check them out. It's well worth the price of admission!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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