On the heels of the 2012 CWHL draft, the balance of power in the league has shifted. With the change comes new heroes and renewed optimism for fans. Every team in the league has improved, and no one can be taken for granted.
In the nascent history of the league, there has never been a rookie crop that has made such an immediate impact on every team.
The impact of the draft is the key theme in observing the first half of the CWHL season. Many of the top performers from the first half are still rookies, but their ability to adapt to such a high level of play means that fans will be spoiled for years to come as the CWHL is poised to enter a golden age.
The league’s youngest franchises, Team Alberta and the Toronto Furies have seen the draft pay remarkable dividends. In hoping to keep up with the Blades and the Stars, the Furies' offense has been rebuilt on the strength of NCAA legends such as Rebecca Johnston, Natalie Spooner, Jenn Wakefield and Catherine White. Team Alberta has bolstered their blue line with key picks Jocelyne Larocque and Tara Watchorn.
A remarkable youth movement has taken place in Brampton. Whereas the team once relied heavily upon Lori Dupuis, Jayna Hefford and Gillian Apps, new superstars have eased the load. Second-year player Vicki Bendus leads the CWHL in scoring. Bailey Bram and Laura McIntosh have renewed the hopes of Brampton fans that one of the most storied teams in women’s hockey history can finally claim the elusive Clarkson Cup.
Even a three-time Clarkson Cup champion like the Montreal Stars have benefitted from the infusion of new blood on their team. Wisconsin Badgers legend Carolyne Prevost represents a great future for the proud franchise. The triumvirate of McGill alumnae Charline Labonte, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Cathy Chartrand are looking to bring their winning ways from McGill to the Stars.
Sitting firmly in first place, the Boston Blades have seen the impact that the 2012 draft has made on its franchise. Hilary Knight has established herself as an offensive force, while Genevieve Lacasse continues to establish herself as an elite backstop. The two NCAA legends have been key factors in bringing a dynamic and exciting brand of hockey to New England fans.
Having quietly emerged as one of the premier stars in the CWHL, Bendus is also a key part of Hockey Canada’s future.
Playing on a Brampton roster loaded with living legends like Gillian Apps, Lori Dupuis and Jayna Hefford, Bendus has emerged as the go-to player on a potent Brampton offense. In the first two months of the season, Bendus was the CWHL scoring leader.
The CWHL scoring leader among rookies with 16 points, Knight has already established herself as one of the elite skaters in the entire league.
In addition, her plus-12 is leading all skaters in the circuit. As the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Wisconsin Badgers, Knight shows no signs of slowing down. For an ambitious Boston Blades squad looking to capture their first ever Clarkson Cup, Knight will be a key factor.
A former captain with the McGill Martlets (and a former member of the Canadian national team), Chartrand has emerged as one of the key building blocks on the Stars' new-look defense.
As a veteran of the former NWHL, Chartrand brings many years of experience, which will be valuable as the Stars look to win their third consecutive Clarkson Cup. Her eight points lead all CWHL defenders in scoring.
With a 4-0 start to the season, Lacasse has established herself as one of the future superstars in the CWHL.
Playing with Molly Schaus (a US national team member), the two are a key factor in Boston sitting first overall in the CWHL standings. Heading into the holiday break, she has a sparkling 6-0-0 record and an eye-opening 1.44 goals against average.
After a dismal 2011-12 season with the now defunct Burlington Barracudas, Kessler has found new life with the Toronto Furies.
With a revamped offense, it would be easy to overlook Kessler’s contributions to the second-placed Furies. Having earned the first CWHL shutout in an NHL arena (at Air Canada Centre), Kessler may be the long-term solution to the Blue and White’s goaltending needs.
While the 2012 CWHL draft produced great goalies such as Charline Labonte, Genevieve Lacasse and Florence Schelling, one overlooked backstop is Kim Deschenes.
Having competed with the Moncton Aigles Bleues in Atlantic University Sport, Deschenes is accustomed to being surrounded by great players and a winning culture.
Despite posting a losing record, Deschenes has been a workhorse goaltender for Team Alberta. With first overall pick Hilary Pattenden opting not to compete for Team Alberta this season, Deschenes was put in a difficult situation. Her dedication and perseverance have given Team Alberta the opportunity to prevail in numerous contests.
Statistically, she boasts a mark of 1-7-0 but ranks second in the league in minutes played (457:17). Her 3.02 goals against average is better than notable goaltenders such as Florence Schelling and Liz Knox.
With the challenges of standing between the pipes for a second-year franchise, Deschenes brings a team-first attitude that must be a cornerstone for the growing club. Her hard work paid off as she was given the starting nod for Team Alberta in the historic contest against the Toronto Furies at Air Canada Centre.
A Title IX champion and the first NCAA women’s coach to reach 200 and 300 career wins, Murphy was a key acquisition for the Blades.
Pulling double duty as a coach and general manager, Murphy has brought a new culture to the Blades, as the team is poised to capture its first ever Clarkson Cup title. With her coaching style, the Blades boast a 9-1-1 mark, including a 5-0-1 record on the road.
Boston is the second-least penalized team in the league. The Blades have also logged 34 goals for and 20 goals against.
Intelligent, articulate and mature, Cahow is the ideal choice as the Boston Blades' captain. Harvard educated and a member of the United States national team, Cahow is business-like in her approach to helping the Blades win.
As Team Alberta continues to endure growing pains, the franchise has two remarkable players that bring a great attitude to the roster.
Chelsea Purcell was the first captain in Team Alberta history, while Kelsey Webster helped Canada claim the gold medal at the Winter Universiade. Both are team-first players that are helping to provide direction for a budding franchise.
With an embarrassment of riches at the goaltender position, the Montreal Stars did not have room on its roster for a fourth goaltender. For Florence Schelling, the numbers game did not prevent her from gaining very valuable CWHL playing experience.
The Stars retain her rights, but she was loaned to Brampton for the remainder of the season. One can only hope that Schelling does not have to play the Stars in the Clarkson Cup playoffs.
The retirement of veterans Nathalie Dery, Stephanie Denino and Kelly Sudia had an unforeseen impact on the franchise. The loss of the leadership the titanic trio brought to the squad had a remarkable impact.
With many new faces on the roster, the adjustment to the league is a natural learning curve. As the chemistry is progressing, the 1-3-0 start should quickly be something to look at in laughter.
Natalie Spooner is one of the players on the Furies' rebuilt offense that is helping to redefine the Battle of Toronto. The visceral rivalry with the Brampton hockey club will only continue to grow in intensity.
Spooner’s hat trick versus Brampton sent the message that the Furies can no longer be taken for granted
With the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs entering partnerships with Team Alberta and the Furies, the perfect way to commemorate the event was with a game at the Air Canada Centre.
The November 17 affair helped create new fans and bring exposure to the CWHL game. Over 5000 people were in attendance for the historic match.
Despite heading into December in fourth place, the Stars are not two-time Clarkson Cup champions for nothing. Talent, endurance and a strong coaching staff will pay dividends as the Stars build momentum heading into the Clarkson Cup playoffs.
With due deference to the Stars, the Blades have gotten off to such a remarkable start that it seems almost impossible for them to relinquish their first-place status. The goaltending tandem of Lacasse and Schaus has emerged as the finest in the league, and the only factor that can stop the Blades' tremendous run is fatigue.
The record holders for the highest single-season point totals in CWHL history, Agosta-Marciano and Ouellette are only warming up.
With so many new faces on the Stars roster, the first half was an adjustment period. Heading into the second half of the season, the two should be ready to rack up the points and the wins for a proud Stars franchise.
The all-time leading scorer in Brampton franchise history, Hefford brings over 10 years of experience with the franchise. The face of the franchise, she is also its leader. As the season progresses, so will Hefford's climb up the CWHL scoring race.
The most dominant team in the first half of the season, Hilary Knight and Genevieve Lacasse have been key additions to the team. Their biggest enemy might just be fatigue.
A rebuilt offense has paid remarkable dividends for the Furies. If the franchise can find a way to beat Boston, they shall be a dark horse to appear in the Clarkson Cup finals.
With the most remarkable rookie crop in the CWHL, the Stars have rebounded from their 1-3-0 start. Starting to gel as a cohesive unit, the Stars are primed for a great postseason run.
Despite having two world-class contenders in Liz Knox and Florence Schelling, chronic penalty problems have plagued a preseason favorite.
With a dependable goaltender and a strong defensive unit, the second-year club have built a solid foundation for the future. Lack of goal scoring must be addressed in 2013 CWHL draft.