The star-studded Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) are looking to win their first Clarkson Cup title since 2016 after finishing in first place.
The team clinched first after winning all three games in Shenzhen, China against the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays from February 20-23.
According to veteran forward Brianne Jenner, the lengthy road trip to finish the regular season was not an inconvenience, but an opportunity.
“We’re excited for the trip. It’s a good opportunity for us to spend more time together and do a lot of video and team meetings and things like that we don’t always get a chance to do when we’re at home, and there’s a lot of girls working full-time,” said Jenner.
The Inferno have had a remarkably smooth season considering they switched head coaches halfway through it. On Dec. 6, 2018, head coach Shannon Miller abruptly resigned.
First-year forward Rebecca Leslie credited the team’s veterans with helping lead the team by committee.
“We’re so lucky we have great leaders on this team that it was kind of a smooth transition, because we could just look to them,” said Leslie.
Leslie is third on the team in points with 26, and is one of the CWHL’s top rookies. She relished the opportunity to play with elite players towards the top trophy in women’s hockey.
“I’ve been really lucky to play with some amazing players. Coming into this team, there’s tons of Olympians who I look up to, and getting a chance to learn from them every day has really helped me be successful this year.”
One of those Olympians, Brianne Jenner, praised her linemate.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing with Rebecca for a couple months, just developing that chemistry,” said Jenner, herself second on the team in points with 29.
Heading towards the playoffs, the Inferno seem to have few weaknesses. They sent nine players to the CHWL All-Star Game, held in Toronto on Jan. 20. Forwards Rebecca Johnston and Brianna Decker also competed in the NHL All-Star skills competition, with Decker unofficially winning the premier passing drill competition.
The Inferno jumped into first place after their final regular-season home game on Feb. 10, a 10-0 romp over the last-place Worchester Blades. The game counted for four points because the first game against the Blades was cancelled and not rescheduled, after the Worchester team’s flight was delayed.
The Inferno won their first and only Clarkson Cup in 2015-16. Since then, they have lost in the playoffs two consecutive seasons.
Jenner, who started playing for Calgary in 2015-16, was confident this season’s team could get it done.
Last season, the Inferno lost a three-game semi-final series against the Kunlun Red Star, with the deciding third game being a triple-overtime heartbreaker.
“We came real close last year, going to triple-overtime. Certainly the players that were on that team remember how that felt to be so close and not make it,” Jenner said.
She added that the Inferno need to do “what any team needs to do” to reach the next level in the playoffs – backchecking, blocking shots, and other small details.
“This team, we have a lot of offense, which is tough to play against, but we certainly have to bring those small details if we want to be successful.”
“We are so talented that we just need to stick together and stick to our game plan,” said Leslie.
The Inferno’s three-game semi-final will take place from March 8-10 against the Toronto Furies, who finished fourth in the league. All games will take place at Winsport’s Markin MacPhail Arena.
The Clarkson Cup final will take place in Toronto on March 24, and will be broadcast on Sportsnet.
This story was originally written for SAIT Journalism’s official publication, The Press.