If the Brampton Thunder wanted to build off of last season’s success, the schedule maker sure didn’t make it easy for them.
Last year, Brampton was a game away from clinching home-ice advantage over the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Calgary Inferno. Instead, they had to travel to Calgary and got swept in the best-of-three semi-final.
This year, they opened the season against with four games against the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes, losing all four. They then split their next three series against the Toronto Furies, Calgary and Montreal to end up at a 3-5-2 record to start the season.
“We had a very rough start, we’ve had an up and down season,” said Brampton defender Laura Fortino. “There were moments throughout the year where we really had to come together as a team and say, ‘listen, it’s a long season, we’re not going to give up now’ and with the leaders that we have within our team we really kept the team morale together, we were very positive, we never gave up and that was huge character that showed within our team.
“To see where our team has come from then to now and jumping all the way to third place and securing that, that speaks volumes and I’m so proud of all the girls and the season we’ve had.”
It may not seem like it but Brampton is only two seasons removed from a last place finish that saw them go 6-16-2 and miss the playoffs. From that team, nine players remain, and most of them are key parts of the leadership group and of their on-ice talent.
The nine players are CWHL co-leading scorer Jess Jones, Fortino, Jamie-Lee Rattray, Jocelyne Larocque, Courtney Birchard, Fielding Montgomery, Dania Simmonds and goaltending duo Erica Howe and Liz Knox.
Brampton’s home arena is notoriously small, and they know all too well that teams don’t like to play there.
“Every team hates coming into our barn and playing against us,” Fortino said. “That’s something we have to use to our advantage. Every shift going out there and knowing that the other team hates being on the ice playing against us. If we do that, we’re going to really make an impact.”
“We’ve always been that kind of team that’s always played together as a team and always played for each other and Brampton has always been that mentality of get the work done,” said forward Jamie Lee Rattray. “Go out there, put your hard hat on and get to work and that’s no different this year I don’t think. We’re willing to work for each other and work for common goal and that’s to be successful.”
The Thunder also have one of the league’s best defensive corps. Led by last year’s defenceman of the year (and nominee again this year) Fortino, they also have Sochi teammate Jocelyne Larocque as well as Courtney Birchard, who is in the National team program, and Sarah Edney, a former first overall pick. They form one of the best top four groups in the league.
“It’s huge,” said Rattray about the depth on the blue line. “Everything starts from back there. From our goaltending to our D to our forwards, as forwards we may score some more goals but it starts from back there and having that confidence back there especially in net and on the blue line is huge for us and makes our job so easy as forwards.”
“We take pride in that,” said Fortino. “Everything stems from back there. We try to lead the team from the backend and play a two-way game. Bring the offence but at the same time be so strong defensively and I think that helps our success as well. We’re able to play both ways. And I think that’s something we’re going to use to our advantage.”
“I think sometimes we think we should never have a goal scored against them looking back there,” Rattray said, laughing.
The Thunder have played some very close games with Montreal over the last two seasons. They have two wins this year, one win a year ago and two losses in overtime or a shootout. They know they’re in tough, but they like that role.
“As a team, we’ve really come together at the right time,” Rattray said. “I think we’ve started to play really, really well down the stretch. Every team you play, it doesn’t matter who it is, you’re going to have a tough battle and Montreal is no different. They’re a team that plays really well together, their top line is unbelievable and I think if we go in with the mindset of never back down and just play our game and play together and play for each other which we always have in Brampton I think we’ll be just fine”
“This is the time for Brampton to step up and show what kind of team we are,” Fortino said. “Montreal is a very skilled, they’re fast and we’re going to have to play our best in order to beat them and we know that. We’re going to be prepared, we’re going to be ready, we’re going to be focused and we’re really looking forward to going to the Clarkson Cup because that’s our main goal.”
“We have that mentality of us against the world,” Rattray said.
Brampton Thunder scoring
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