There is a lot more to the Toronto Furies than meets the eye.
The team finished in fourth spot with only one win in 18 games against the league's top three teams. However, if you think this will be a cakewalk for Les Canadiennes, you only have to look at Toronto's regular season finale.
The game, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Brampton Thunder, showed that the Furies are not going to roll over.
"When you look back at that game, we had quite the opportunities to win that game we just didn’t bury a few of our chances," said Furies head coach Sommer West. "A couple of different bounces and we win that game but it was a character builder to know we have the abilities."
"We just have to have the confidence that we can play with good teams and keep up with them," said Furies top scorer and CWHL MVP nominee Natalie Spooner. "I think we just need to believe in ourselves going into Montreal."
Spooner is the quintessential superstar forward and one of the best players in the game. She had 30 points on Toronto's 59 goals this season, or just over 50%. She is one of the most recognizable players in the league as well, thanks to a stint on The Amazing Race Canada and her place on the 2014 Sochi roster.
That same year, Spooner became the first - and to date only - player to win a Gold Medal and Clarkson Cup as she joined the team for the playoff run. That championship year, they were also in fourth spot going into the playoffs although the format was different.
Last year, they were fourth again and had to play the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Boston Blades in the first round. They were swept in two games with 3-0 and 7-3 losses.
"We’ve gone into the last two playoffs in the fourth spot so we’re used to being the underdog," Spooner said. "I think we’re going to embrace it and give it all we’ve got."
"We got into the playoffs and that was our goal," said West. "It doesn't matter whether you’re 1-2-3 or 4, no matter how you perform, when you get to the playoffs you just throw it all together for that weekend."
Spooner is the x-factor in the series and can literally take a game over. Their only win against a top three team was a 6-5 win in Calgary against the Inferno. Spooner had five goals and an assist.
The season series between the two teams was a lot closer than the results would appear, and the Furies definitely aren't resigning themselves to defeat.
"Of any of the teams that we played this season, we had the most consistent games with Montreal," said Toronto goaltender Christina Kessler. "Not to knock anything off of them but I think that we’ve been able to match up better against them so in all honesty I was excited that we were playing Montreal this round and I think it’s a confidence booster for everyone knowing that we’ve been pretty successful against them."
This is the first time that home ice advantage is being used in the CWHL. Last year, all games took place in Markham just outside of Toronto in more of a tournament feel. This year, the top team hosts the playoff series before the championship game March 11 in Ottawa.
"I don’t think anyone likes to go play in Montreal, it is probably one of the worst places to play but it’s always fun when we get to be as a team on the road and just hang out so I think we’re looking forward to that," Spooner said. "When you go on the road, you don’t have anything to worry about so I think we’re looking forward to that. It will be good for our team to get away and focus on those games and do our best."
"They had a great season and they deserve home ice advantage," Kessler said. "We know that it’s not going to be easy, we expect that calls aren’t going to go our way. They are going to be selling out their games and have a real Montreal crowd so we know that going into this weekend and that will make the battle all that more exciting on our end."
Like previously mentioned, the games between the two teams had been close after 40 minutes. One game was tied, three games were one-goal games and the last was a two-goal Montreal lead. Toronto had a week off last week to fully prepare for Les Canadiennes.
Photo Credit: Shanna Martin
"One thing we try to pride ourselves on we need to really pride ourselves on going into playoffs is discipline," West said. "That’s not just discipline in staying out of the box, which is a big one, but discipline to stay within ourselves and things we go over in practice we need to execute and if we stay disciplined as a whole, good things can happen."
"We had a stretch where we lost nine games in a row and if you look back at them, you would see that in quite a number of them we were right there," West said. "If we had done any of those little things we could have won any of those games and I think against Montreal that’s the big thing is to stay disciplined and within ourselves and executing our game plan for 60 minutes"
"I think we need to put a full 60 minute game together," Spooner said. "A lot of the time we have breakdowns and they capitalize and in a short period of time they get a lot of goals so I think if we could just put a solid game together, we’ll have a lot better chance and just avoid those breakdowns in short periods of time."
"I feel like this season hasn’t been my best but when it comes down to it, hockey’s a game of 60 minutes," Kessler said. "It doesn’t matter what happened prior to that game or what happens next it’s the 60 minutes that matter. I don’t really like to look back at the games that have happened but I'm really looking forward to that first game against Montreal on Friday."
The series gets underway on this evening at 6:45 p.m. at the Etienne-Desmarteau Arena. You can get your tickets here. If you are unable to attend the games, the CWHL also has a playoff streaming package available for 10$ here.