Toronto Furies: 2018-19 Season in Review

By Daniel Harbridge (Guest Contributor)

The Sami Jo Small Era Begins

Longtime Furie Sami Jo Small was named general manager of the team on June 11, 2018, taking over from Nicole Latreille who led the Furies to a 9-19 record in 2017-18 in her only season as GM.

Small, a Canadian Women’s Hockey League co-founder, decided to hang up her skates and take on the GM role after an illustrious career that included two Olympic gold medals and five world championships with the Canadian national team. She also captured a Clarkson Cup with the Toronto Furies in 2014.

“My vision is to build the organization to be amongst the best women’s professional sport organizations in the world,” said Small to the Toronto Star in June.

RELATED: Sami Jo Small named GM of CWHL’s Toronto Furies (Toronto Star)

New Bench Boss

Small’s first order of business as GM was to name Courtney Kessel as the team’s new head coach.

Prior to being named head coach of the Furies, Kessel won three Women's World Hockey Championship medals (one gold, two silver) as a forward with Hockey Canada. Kessel, a University of New Hampshire alumni, played five seasons with the Brampton Thunder (now Markham Thunder) before splitting last season between Ice Dream Kosice (Slovakia) and Linköping HC (Sweden).

Kessel officially retired as a player after the 2017-18 season and served as an assistant coach with Canada’s under-18 women’s team for the Nations Cup in Germany in January 2018.

Kessel told the Globe & Mail in August, “I think by the end of my career, I knew this was my passion, because I was coaching while I was in full gear and the girls really respected what I had to say.”

RELATED: Courtney Kessel on coaching fast track with Toronto Furies, Hockey Canada (Globe & Mail)

New Faces, Bright Future

Toronto Furies 2019 Draft Class (Photo credit: Chris Tanouye/CWHL)

The Furies entered the 2018 CWHL Draft with the most selections of any team thanks to a December 2017 trade with Les Canadiennes de Montreal that sent Erin Ambrose to Montreal in exchange for a first and third-round pick.

With the second overall pick, the Furies selected University of Wisconsin standout Sarah Nurse, a forward with the silver medal-winning Canadian team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. To close out the first round, Toronto picked goaltender Shea Tiley, a two-time NCAA national champion with the Clarkson Golden Knights.

Robert Morris University forward Brittany Howard was Toronto’s second-round selection, eighth overall. In 31 games with Robert Morris in 2017-18, Howard led the Colonials in scoring with 25 goals and 24 assists in 31 games.

With two picks in round three, Toronto selected defender Mellissa Channell (a teammate of Nurse’s at the University of Wisconsin), and Orillia, ON native Julia Fedeski, a forward out of the University of New Hampshire.

Burlington’s Emma Greco was Toronto’s fourth-round selection. Greco had her first taste of professional hockey during the 2017-18 season with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale, where she put up 2 assists in 6 games.

With their fifth-round selection, the Furies added University of Vermont forward Mackenzie MacNeil. In 140 games over four seasons with the Catamounts, MacNeil scored 17 goals and chipped in 20 assists.

TORONTO FURIES COMPLETE DRAFT LIST

Name 2017-18 Team GP G A PTS Draft Selection
Sarah Nurse Canada (National Team) 14 3 1 4 Round 1, 2nd overall
Shea Tiley Clarkson Golden Knights (NCAA) 35 (W) 4 (L) 1 (T) .939/1.20 Round 1, 6th overall
Brittany Howard Robert Morris Colonials (NCAA) 31 25 24 49 Round 2, 8th overall
Mellissa Channell Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA) 36 3 14 17 Round 3, 14th overall
Julia Fedeski New Hampshire Wildcats (NCAA) 36 7 17 24 Round 3, 18th overall
Emma Greco Connecticut Whale (NWHL) 6 0 2 2 Round 4, 20th overall
Mackenzie MacNeil Vermont Catamounts (NCAA) 35 6 5 11 Round 5, 25th overall
Megan Quinn Syracuse Orange (NCAA) 36 3 7 10 Round 6, 30th overall
Alysha Burriss Syracuse Orange (NCAA) 36 7 18 25 Round 7, 35th overall
Emma Pearson Western Mustangs (USports) 24 2 11 13 Round 8, 40th overall
Andrea Ziesmann Plattsburgh State Cardinals (NCAA III, '15-'16 season) 28 2 11 13 Round 9, 45th overall
Stefanie Thomson Union Dutchwomen (NCAA, '13-'14 season) 33 11 7 18 Round 10, 50th overall
Briana Vachal Hamilton Hawks Sr. AA (GHWHL) N/A N/A N/A N/A Round 11, 55th overall
Theresa Woodland Stoney Creek Sabres (PWHL, '13-'14 season) 5 1 1 2 Round 12, 60th overall

RELATED: 2018 CWHL Draft Tracker (The Ice Garden)

The First Half

With the second most rookies (9) of any team in the CWHL and a slew of other new additions, the first ten games were a feeling out process for Furies players and staff. Special teams struggled and the team was plagued by turnovers as they attempted to break out of their own zone. As a result, the team struggled out of the gate, managing only three victories in their first ten games.

A game against the defending champion Markham Thunder in Oakville was the turning point in the Furies’ first half of the season. The combination of Sarah Nurse and Natalie Spooner were especially lethal in the Furies’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Thunder, as both players were on the ice for all four of Toronto’s markers. With the Furies down 3-2 early in the third period, Nurse tied the game up with a shorthanded, breakaway tally on 2018 Clarkson Cup MVP Erica Howe. In OT, Nurse’s seeing-eye wrister found its way to the back of the net through a maze of players, ending Toronto’s five-game losing streak. Nurse was mobbed by her teammates in front of a boisterous, sold-out Joshua’s Creek Arena.

Toronto would close out its first half with three more victories, two over last-place Worcester at home before defeating the first place Calgary Inferno decisively at the Garry W Harris Canada Games Centre in Calgary, 4-1.

CWHL Firsts

Mellissa Channell

  • First point: Assist, Oct. 20, 2018 vs Worcester Blades
  • First playoff point: Assist, March 8, 2019 vs Calgary Inferno

Emma Greco

  • First point: Assist, Oct. 17, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays

Brittany Howard

  • First point: Assist, Oct. 17, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
  • First goal: PPG, Nov. 17, 2018 vs Calgary Inferno
  • First GWG: Even strength, Dec. 12, 2018 vs Worcester Blades

Courtney Kessel (Head coach)

  • First win: 3-1 (W), Oct. 17, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
  • First playoff win: 3-1 (W), March 8, 2019 vs Calgary Inferno

Mackenzie MacNeil

  • First point: Assist, Oct. 13, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
  • First goal: PPG, Nov. 25, 2018 vs Markham Thunder

Sarah Nurse

  • First point: Assist, Oct. 13, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
  • First goal: PPG, Oct. 17, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Ray
  • First GWG: PPG, Oct. 17, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Ray
  • First playoff goal: PPG, March 8, 2019 vs Calgary Inferno

Megan Quinn

  • First point: Assist, Nov. 17, 2018 vs Calgary Inferno
  • First goal: Even strength, Dec. 9, 2018 vs Worcester Blades

Shea Tiley (Goalie)

  • First win: 3-1 (W), Oct. 17, 2018 vs Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays
  • First point: Assist, Jan. 12, 2019 vs Calgary Inferno

The Second Half

After a handful of victories to close out their first half of the season, the Furies failed to pick up a single point in their first four games of the second half. Facing powerhouses in Montreal and Calgary, Toronto was outscored 19-4 in four straight losses on the road.

The Furies won their next game on the road against Calgary, 3-0, thanks to a brilliant performance in net by Elaine Chuli, before crossing the Pacific Ocean for three games against the Vanke Rays in Shenzhen, China. The Furies picked up two of a possible six points in China, and after a loss on the road to Les Canadiennes de Montreal found themselves in the difficult position of having to win their remaining five games to make the playoffs.

Toronto’s uphill journey to the playoffs began with a home-and-home against the Markham Thunder, with both teams missing several of their star players who were in action with the Canadian and American teams as part of the February Rivalry Series. Shiann Darkangelo’s shootout winner in the first game kept Toronto’s slim playoff hopes alive, and Carolyne Prevost’s three-point effort proved too much for Markham, as the Furies took the second game 3-1.

After a pair of victories at home against the winless Worcester Blades, one win stood between the Furies and a spot in the CWHL playoffs. Their opponent? Their crosstown rivals, the Markham Thunder. Sarah Nurse opened the scoring early in the second period and was followed by a brilliant marker by Brittany Howard, which held up as the game-winner as Shea Tiley made 21 saves as the game’s first star. The win clinched the fourth and final playoff spot and set up a best of three matchup against the Chairman’s Trophy winners, the Calgary Inferno in Alberta.

Clarkson Cup Semifinal vs Calgary

The Furies were in for a tough battle vs the Inferno, the league’s number one seed. Toronto, however, entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the CWHL having gone 7-3-0 in their previous ten games. While the Inferno took the season series 4-2 against the Furies, Toronto could take solace in the fact that they were able to win two games on the road against Calgary, including a 3-0 victory in their last regular season matchup.

Game 1 of the best of three semifinal proved once again that Shea Tiley is one of the best “big game” goaltenders in the world. Coming off of back-to-back National Championships with the Clarkson Golden Knights, Tiley turned away 33 of 34 shots fired her way by the likes of Bellamy, Decker, Jenner, Johnston, and Turnbull. The Furies went 2 for 8 on the power play and took the first game 3-1 on goals from Spooner (x2) and Nurse.

Game 2 saw more of the same from Furies netminder Tiley, as she turned away all 22 Inferno shots in the first two periods. Unfortunately, the rookie goaltender was unable to shut the door in the third as Calgary scored twice (Johnston & Turnbull) and added an empty netter to tie up the series with a 3-0 victory.

Playing their third game in three days, Toronto turned to goaltender Elaine Chuli for game 3. Chuli was solid in net and made several ten-bell saves for the Furies but was unable to keep the Inferno’s star players off the scoresheet in the second and third as Olympians Brianne Jenner and Brianna Decker scored to open up a two-goal Calgary lead. Kacey Bellamy added a shorthanded, empty netter to cap off a 4-1 victory and a Clarkson Cup final birth vs Les Canadiennes for the Inferno.

Clarkson Cup Final

The Calgary Inferno would go on to defeat Les Canadiennes 5-2 to capture their second Clarkson Cup championship. Zoe Hickel scored two goals in the final and Brianna Decker was named Clarkson Cup playoff MVP.

Toronto Furies captain Natalie Spooner made her broadcast debut with Sportsnet as part of a historic all-female broadcast team made up of Jennifer Botterill, Caroline Cameron, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall, and Nikki Reyes. Furies forward Sarah Nurse was also involved in Sportsnet’s coverage of the event as she took over their Instagram Story during the game.

Representation at Major Tournaments/Events

Four Nations Cup (November)

Four Furies were named to Team Canada for the 2018 Four Nations Cup (Canada, Finland, USA, and Sweden) in Saskatoon, SK in November: Renata Fast, Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, and Shea Tiley. Canada finished runner-up for the fourth straight year after the United States defeated Canada 5-2 in the tournament final.

All-Star Game (January)

The Toronto Furies were well represented at the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on January 20th. Furies captain Natalie Spooner (Team Gold) faced off against teammates Mellissa Channell, Renata Fast and Sarah Nurse (Team Purple). Spooner’s Team Gold won the game 8-4 in front of a large hometown crowd.

Rivalry Series (February)

Renata Fast, Brittany Howard, Sarah Nurse, and Natalie Spooner were named to Team Canada for their three-game Rivalry Series vs the United States in February. Canada emerged victorious in the best-of-three friendly series after a 2-0 victory in the third and deciding game in Detroit on February 17th. Renata Fast contributed the primary assist on the series-winning goal by Brianne Jenner.

IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship (April)

The Toronto Furies will be well represented at the 2019 Women's World Hockey Championship in Espoo, Finland (Thurs. Apr. 4 - Sun. Apr. 14). Renata Fast, Sarah Nurse and Natalie Spooner will be representing Team Canada, while Furies defender Sena Suzuki will be playing for Team Japan.

CWHL Award Nominees

Natalie Spooner (Most Valuable Player)

Spooner, captain of the Toronto Furies, tied for the team led with 26 pts (15G, 11A) in 26 games. Her 15 markers accounted for 24% of the Furies’ total goals (Marie-Philip Poulin’s league-leading 23 goals = 19% of Les Canadiennes’ goal total). Also nominated for the award are Les Canadiennes de Montreal forward Marie-Philip Poulin (23G, 27A in 26 games) and Calgary Inferno forward Rebecca Johnston (15G, 24A in 27 games).

Winner: Marie-Philip Poulin

Sarah Nurse (Rookie of the Year)

Nurse put up 26 points (14G, 12A) in 26 games with the Furies this season. Also nominated for the award are Markham Thunder forward Victoria Bach (19G, 13A in 26 games) and Calgary Inferno forward Rebecca Leslie (11G, 15A in 27 games).

Winner: Victoria Bach

Courtney Kessel (Coach of the Year)

In her first season with the Furies, Kessel led the team to their best record in club history (14-14-0-0, 28pts). Also nominated for the award are Calgary Inferno's Ryan Hilderman and Markham Thunder's Jim Jackson.

Winner: Jim Jackson

RELATED: 2019 CWHL Award Winners (The Ice Garden)