Markham 2, Kunlun 1 (OT): Thunder Edge Out Red Star in Clarkson Cup Final

Laura Stacey Pots Home Overtime Winner to Lead Markham to Victory

The Markham Thunder pulled off a remarkable overtime win to best the Kunlun Red Star, sealing their fate as Clarkson Cup champions. Courtesy Chris Tanouye/CWHL

TORONTO—They may have been the fourth seed and the final team to qualify for the postseason. They may have had to knock off the regular season champion Canadiennes in Montreal in order to reach the finals. However, when all was said and done, the Markham Thunder left Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum as Clarkson Cup champions.

Laura Stacey scored the game-winner 2:49 into overtime to lead the Thunder to a 2-1 win over the Kunlun Red Star on Sunday afternoon.

“Honestly, there’s not really any words,” said Stacey. “It was an unbelievable game for our team, an unbelievable moment. I’m so glad I got to share it with such a great team.”

“I had no doubt in my mind today waking up that this was going to happen,” said Thunder forward Jamie Lee Rattray. “I just felt it in the air. What a fun game.”

Stacey accepted a feed from forward Nicole Kosta, one-timing the puck past Red Star starter Noora Raty.

“I haven’t really processed it yet,” said Stacey. “It was an unbelievable pass. I was kind of in the right spot at the right time. I got lucky and I’m just so glad our team is going home with the Clarkson Cup.”

“I was thinking how fast I could get over the boards,” said Rattray when thinking back to the deciding goal. “I hope I didn’t hit anybody with my gloves and stick. I was just so excited. I remember seeing Stacey on the ground along the boards and I’m just trying to make sure that no one squishes her. I still want her to be alive after that goal.”

For Thunder starting goaltender Erica Howe, named Clarkson Cup playoff MVP after making 17 saves in the final, her immediate focus was on reaching her goaltending partner Liz Knox.

“Overtime is so nerve-wracking,” said Howe. “When it goes in the net, it’s just relief and celebration and happiness. It’s indescribable.”

After an initial feeling out period for both sides, Markham pulled ahead thanks to Nicole Brown’s first goal of the postseason. She took a pass behind the net from defender Laura Fortino and found herself wide open in the slot. She buried the puck past Raty at the 8:24 mark of the opening period. Thunder captain Jocelyne Larocque also collected a helper on the play.

The Thunder were boosted by the tally, spending much time in the offensive zone. A short-handed scoring chance by Kunlun’s Shiann Darkangelo threatened to derail their momentum, but Howe stood tall on the play.

The Red Star tried to answer back early in the second, but their opportunities were few and far between. The Thunder, meanwhile, came very close on a number of occasions to add to their lead, but the puck would simply not cooperate.

Stacey stripped the puck from Kunlun’s Jessica Wong. The puck floated across the goal line, but never fully crossed it. Stacey raised her hands in the air in celebration, but the action continued.

“That was a little bit embarrassing,” said Stacey. “I thought it crossed the line, but it didn’t. We were celebrating in the corner. That’s the game of hockey, I guess.”

Shortly thereafter, Thunder defender Megan Bozek’s point shot beat Raty, but the puck hit the crossbar before springing back out. Great chances by forwards Jenna McParland and Rattray also ensued, but to no avail. A late period penalty to Rattray did little to slow down the Thunder. Markham had a couple of great opportunities to score while down a player.

However, it was Kunlun that had the last laugh before the period expired. With Markham forward Devon Skeats in the penalty box for tripping, league MVP Kelli Stack deflected a puck past Howe with just 48.6 seconds left in the period. Howe and the Thunder protested on the grounds of goaltender interference, but the marker stood with both teams retreating to their dressing rooms tied at one goal apiece.

The teams exchanged opportunities in the third period, but neither could find the back of the net, forcing the pivotal overtime period.

Due to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League being scheduled to play a regular season game at 4:30 PM, the CWHL was forced to alter its overtime rules. Instead of continuous 20-minute 5-on-5 overtime periods until a goal was scored, the league opted for the traditional regular season rules of a 4-on-4 overtime period for 5 minutes, followed by a shootout if necessary.

This rule change brought back some bad memories for Markham’s trio of returning Olympians, who had suffered a shootout loss to the Americans in the gold medal game at the Pyeongchang Winter Games last month. Stacey, who had experienced the crushing defeat with Team Canada, was happy to settle the score before the shootout and therefore avoid another potential heart-breaker.

“I definitely had that [overtime and shootout] picture in my head and I really really didn’t want to go back to what happened a couple of weeks ago,” said Stacey.

“Because of where it was, it was tough,” said Rattray. “We knew, no matter what, we were going to have to deal with it and play our game. That’s what happened. We did a good job of finishing it off, for sure.”

Devastation for Kunlun

The Red Star put up a valiant effort, but were unable to come away with the win in their inaugural season.

“Unfortunately, it was not the outcome that we wanted,” said Kunlun defender Jessica Wong. “It still hurts and I’m still trying to soak in right now what just happened.”

Raty points to the repeated stoppages in play associated with a nationally-televised game as a factor in her team’s struggles.

“First period was kind of not the best hockey,” said Raty, who made 37 saves in defeat. “I feel like the commercial breaks ruined the flow of the game. They were way too long.”

Despite the loss, Kunlun did look at the positives of their run towards the Cup.

“I’m really proud of my team,” said Raty. “Probably not a lot of people would have thought we would have played in the final. Battling through the last week and still putting on a show today and taking them to the overtime, I’m really proud of how we battled. I’m disappointed that we lost, but I feel like in our hearts, we are the champs.”

As for the Thunder, they intend to celebrate their first ever Clarkson Cup championship hard and as a group.

“The room was amazing,” said Stacey. “The cup was getting passed around. The champagne was out, so I’m excited to get back there and hang out with the girls.”

“We’re going to be together, no matter where we go,” said Rattray. “It’s going to be a good time.”