Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Thunder Rolls

If there's one thing that has surrounded me in the last month, it's success. It's not my success either, but rather the teams that I seem to be following. The Colgate Raiders in the NCAA lost in the NCAA Frozen Four Championship after I jumped aboard their fan-wagon this season in what was a season of overwhelming success and firsts for them. The University of Manitoba Bisons, as you're well-aware, won the 2018 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship after their impressive season of firsts. Today, one of the Canadian professional women's teams I follow decided to cap their season off by winning their league's championship as the Markham Thunder downed Digit Murphy and her band of imported American and Chinese elite hockey players by a 2-1 score in overtime!

Look, I vowed never to write about a specific league again, and everyone will say I'm going back on my word. Maybe you're right. I did say that I would support the teams and the players, though, and that's where this blog is intending to settle in when it comes to the vow I made. This is less about the league and it's ridiculousness, and more about the Markham Thunder and their celebration in being the best women's team from that unmentioned league.

I also wanna give a quick nod to my good friend, Teri, who grabbed the photo at the top of the article. She'll be taking photos for the Markham Thunder next season, and I highly recommend you keep an eye on this up-and-coming photographer. She's gonna be big!

There was some surprise when American Megan Bozek decided to sign with the Thunder as there were two trains of thought in that she'd either sign with Toronto to play alongside friend Sami Jo Small or possibly return to the American professional beer league (full disclosure: that league is more ridiculous). Bozek, having been cut from the US Olympic squad in a rather surprising move, shocked everyone in her own right when she signed on to don the green-and-white.

While the Thunder got marginally better, you could sense that the confidence from this group was growing. I was lucky enough to take in a Thunder practice this season with Bozek on the blue line, and there was a palpable feeling of camaraderie within the Thunder ranks at the practice. While they were still battling for their playoff lives at the time, there seemed almost be a naivety about their situation which really took the pressure off the players.

Players like Melissa Wronzberg, Fielding Montgomery, Taylor Woods, Alexis Woloschuk, Megan Delay, Karolina Urban, and Jessica Hartwick may not have hit the scoresheet every night, but it was their play early in the season that helped buoy this club's standing as they found their footing. These foot soldiers went into corners, won puck battles, gave their hearts and souls to make plays, and sacrificed their bodies to block shots as they kept Markham in the running for one of the four playoff spots all season long. Make no mistake that these players who gave everything they had were vitally important in ensuring that the Thunder got their spot in the postseason dance.

There were some outstanding performances by players on the Thunder as well as Jamie Lee Rattray, Jenna McParland, Kristen Richards, Laura McIntosh, Nicole Kosta, and Nicole Brown did the bulk of the scoring up front while Dania Simmonds, Devon Skeats, Lindsey Grigg, and Kristen Barbara did some heavy lifting on the blue line. Combined with the efforts of the players in the paragraph above, this team started to find its groove towards the end of the season as they made a push up the standings towards the Vanke Rays. And by season's end, they had claimed the fourth and final playoff spot in the Clarkson Cup Playoffs.

GM Chelsea Purcell decided to welcome back the Olympians they desperately needed to compete with the highly-talented Canadiennes de Montreal, and the additions of Laura Stacey, Jocelyne Larocque, and Laura Fortino really bolstered the team in front of the all-world goaltending tandem of Erica Howe and Liz Knox. Two games later after staring down Caroline Ouellette, Hilary Knight, Emerence Maschmeyer, and the rest of Les Canadiennes, the Markham Thunder punched their ticket to the final with a 2-1 overtime win and a dominant 4-1 win over Les Canadiennes in Montreal.

But despite all the adjectives and praise I can heap upon this team, they still needed to beat a highly-touted Chinese Dream Team run by Digit Murphy and backstopped by Finnish Olympian Noora Räty.

Digit's Americans and the Chinese Elite wandered into a storm that they almost handled thanks exclusively to the pads of the Noora Räty. They were out-skated, out-shot, out-hustled, and out-hockeyed for most of the game including the eventual overtime period thanks to the score being deadlocked at 1-1 through sixty minutes.

The overtime period saw chances at both ends, but it was pretty apparent that one team was carrying the play. With 2:12 to play in the extra frame, we saw a champion crowned.
For the first time in franchise history, the Markham Thunder are your Clarkson Cup champions! I can't claim that I knew they were going to win as they went in as the lowest-ranked team of the four that played, but I can tell you that the growing confidence that I saw in this team in January simply went and ballooned with the two wins over Les Canadiennes and was carried into the final game against The Six Americans, the Finn, and the Chinese. Seeing this team add players of exceptional talent and character to an already good team helped build that confidence as they battled hard down the stretch, earned the trust of one another, and went into the playoffs as a unified force that captured the imagination of everyone in winning the Clarkson Cup!

Fred Shero, legendary coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, may have said it best when he stated, "Win today and we walk together forever." The Markham Thunder can certainly wear that motto proudly because they rose to the challenge and won today when it mattered most. This team, no matter where they go and what they do in their remaining lives, will always be known as the 2018 Clarkson Cup champions.

Well done, Markham Thunder, and congratulations on your Clarkson Cup championship! You can walk together forever as a team that seized its opportunity and embraced its destiny. No one will ever be able to take that from you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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