Other than their two forfeited games to the Stars in November, the Boston Blades have had strong showings against their opponents, never failing to win at least one game every weekend that they play. However, the Toronto Furies presented a serious challenge to the Blades as they played two games just before Christmas at the Mastercard Centre in Toronto. (Saturday's game was streamed, but I didn't get to watch it since I had other plans, so I'm relying on scoresheets and my own insight for this quick recap, unfortunately.)
The score was different, but Saturday's game was a grim exaggeration of the Clarkson Cup Final matchup from this past March. The netminders were the same Saturday as they were back then, with Brittany Ott cracking first while Christina Kessler was close to perfect. The Blades put 52 total shots on Kessler, who stopped 50 of them and posted a .961 save percentage. 22 of those shots came in the third period alone, but the Blades couldn't beat her. It didn't help that Ott only stopped 10 of 13, and had a rough third period. Two of Toronto's goals came in the third period--they scored twice on a total of just 4 shots, and the go-ahead goal came with just two minutes left. The Blades' lackluster defensive finish cost them the loss, but considering the offensive firepower they launched at Kessler throughout the game, it must have seemed a difficult pill to swallow with Sunday's game right around the corner.
Sunday's matchup was much more even, but it was still nothing doing. Both teams went to the same goaltenders on the second of the back-to-back, and again Kessler shone in net, making it a non-issue that her team was outshot and stopping 34 of 36. For the Furies, they got steady offensive contributions from their top six forwards, with all of their weekend goals coming from the same handful of players. Natalie Spooner combined with Furies newcomer Kelly Terry on two goals over the weekend, including on the power play. Alyssa Baldin also thrived on a line with Tanis Lamoureux and Jenelle Kohanchuk, scoring two goals of her own, one in each game. The Blades' even strength goals were more from gritty players, such as Rachel Llanes.
Boston had a late surge on Sunday in a scramble to tie it up, with their marquee players finally getting on the board. With Ott on the bench for the extra attacker, Kacey Bellamy managed to beat Kessler with just 11 seconds left on a feed from Hilary Knight via Meghan Duggan. However, the clock would expire before an equalizer could be found. Kessler ultimately proved to be the difference-maker over the weekend, giving her team a chance to win throughout stretches where the Blades carried the play.
The CWHL is taking another short break for Christmas and the New Year, but for some American national team players, the holiday break will be pretty short. USA Hockey is holding a winter training camp for women's ice hockey in Blaine, Minnesota, from December 27 until December 31. Returning to Team USA will Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Kacey Bellamy, Monique Lamoureux, and Alyssa Gagliardi, who have represented USA Hockey recently in various competitions (with all except Gagliardi having been on the silver medal winning team in Sochi). Fellow silver medalist Brianna Decker was also invited to camp; she is currently inactive on the Blades roster, as she just finished her last semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Along with the returning Blades, Jordan Smelker will be making her first appearance at a Team USA camp. There are many familiar names on the full roster from USA Hockey, including 29-year-old veteran goaltender Jessie Vetter. The youngest invited player is Boston College defenseman Megan Keller, who is just 18. Check out the full roster of invited players here.
If you live anywhere near Blaine, Minnesota, you should check out the winter training camp (and take pictures!). All practices are open to the public, and you can see what ice time is reserved for USA Hockey by checking the facility schedules at the Schwan Super Rink. All Team USA practices are currently scheduled to take place in the "SR6" rink.
The Boston Blades return to team action in 2015 with a weekend of exhibition games on January 3 and 4 at Providence College and the University of New Hampshire. I'll try to be at one of those and bring you some updates in the new year.