Among the CWHL’s 2017 Draft Class, Nicole Kosta, selected third overall by the Markham Thunder, has not only emerged as one of the most influential picks of said draft, her mark in Clarkson Cup lore is destined to add to the draft’s legacy. Part of a league-wide draft class that included its most-ever diverse group of players, hailing from numerous countries and competitive backgrounds, Kosta ended up being the rookie claiming the biggest prize: the Clarkson Cup.
Finishing the season as the Thunder’s leading scorer among its first-year players, along with pacing the group in numerous other statistical metrics, this feat was made more impressive by the fact that Kosta only skated in 12 regular season games. With experience collegiately and professionally in the state of Connecticut, her acumen resulted in a solid season, one that saw her place ninth overall in team scoring. In addition, she would would post an impressive +12 plus/minus rating, while logging only two penalty minutes, displaying very disciplined play.
Considering that a championship is difficult to attain, even for the most accomplished of veterans, the chance for a first-year CWHL player to reach such a plateau is one that represents a very fortunate group, a privilege that Kosta is most proud to have reached. Poised to build on her strong rookie campaign and develop into one of the club’s offensive cornerstones for many seasons to come, the triumph of the Clarkson Cup only helps to serve as a significant motivational factor to attain greater glories.
“It’s amazing. This is what every team works for all season and for our team to have this success in my first year in the league excites me for my future in Markham.”
Making her CWHL debut on October 14, 2017, which was also the franchise's first game as the Markham Thunder, she would be inactive during the months of November and December. Returning on January 6, 2018 for a three-game home stand against the Vanke Rays, one of two expansion teams from China, she would record her first career point in the CWHL, logging an assist on a goal scored by Devon Skeats. Coincidentally, it marked Skeats’ first goal as a member of the Green and White.
Although Kosta would have to wait until March 10, 2018 for her first career goal, her overall performance was one that provided an epic foretelling. Taking on the Boston Blades in a two-game road series, Kosta started the game by recording an assist on Laura Stacey’s first goal of the season, which also proved to be the game-winning tally, previewing the postseason heroics that would proceed.
With the Thunder enjoying a 3-0 lead after two periods of play, Kosta recorded the first goal of the third period. Stacey would reciprocate with her first assist of the season, subsequently resulting in her first multi-point effort of said season, while Jenna McParland recorded the other assist. With Stacey logging a total of four points in an eventual 8-0 win, she would gain First Star of the Game honors.
The following day, the regular season would culminate on an encouraging note for Kosta, as she scored her second of the season, recording goals in back-to-back games. In addition, Kosta’s inaugural season with the Thunder ended with a four-game scoring streak, certainly finding her offensive stride at the right time, she prominently displayed the promise destined to transform her into a building block for the future.
Such promise continued to be fulfilled in the 2018 Clarkson Cup playoffs. Logging at least one point in each playoff game, Kosta would take on a heroic role, paying positive dividends for an ambitious team that continued to believe that winning was possible.
Certainly, the postseason would certainly start on a strong note for Kosta, as she scored the Thunder’s first postseason goal, which also stood as the first goal of the game in a 2-1 road win versus last year’s Clarkson Cup champions, Les Canadiennes de Montreal. The following day, the series shifted homewards, as Kosta made her mark once again. Logging an assist on Jenna McParland’s second goal of the game (part of a thrilling hat trick) what proved to be the series-winning goal, capitalizing on a power play opportunity, Kosta quickly established herself as the catalyst on offense.
Heading into the Cup finals, the Thunder’s first since 2012, Kosta and her teammates certainly made a significant statement in the semifinals. Sweeping the defending Cup champions, knocking the proud club off their perch, it was akin to the Eagles humbling the New England Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl.
With the 10th Clarkson Cup taking place at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, it certainly brought Kosta’s season full circle, as her CWHL debut took place nearby at Mastercard Centre, home ice of the Furies.
As the expansion Kunlun Red Star from Shenzhen, China, took on the role of opposition, emotions certainly ran high in this contest. Reminiscent of the 1994 Grey Cup, when the BC Lions challenged the Baltimore Stallions, the first American team to qualify for Canada's most legendary football championship game, there was definitely a similar feeling of national pride among the fans on-hand witnessing this historic hockey game.
Considering that the Red Star boasted Noora Raty, a bronze medal winning goaltender at the 2018 Winter Games, along with the iconic Kelli Stack, the first American-born player to capture the Angela James Bowl (coincidentally, Angela James was a coach for the Thunder in the 2011-12 season), the Thunder faced a very powerful and potent squad.
Grabbing the game’s first lead at the 8:24 mark of the first period, Laura Fortino and Kosta each contributed assists on Nicole Brown’s goal. As a side note, Kosta called Brown a teammate with the Quinnipiac Bobcats of ECAC Conference play for four seasons in Hamden, Connecticut.
Taking advantage of a power play opportunity with less than a minute remaining in the second period, Stack spoiled goaltender Erica Howe’s bid for a shutout, tying the score at 1-apiece. As the third period could not break the deadlock, as the Thunder outshot Red Star by an 11-5 count, overtime was required to determine the winner.
Rising to the occasion, Kosta took full advantage of an opportunity in Red Star’s own end. Charging towards the goal mouth, with a Red Star skater on her trail, she centred the puck to a lunging Laura Stacey. Burying it top shelf past Raty, the crowd at Ricoh Coliseum erupted in excitement, jubilant over the final score.
Emerging as the only player in the Final to have a multi-point game, it was the most memorable performance of Kosta’s professional career. Despite such an impactful performance, she displayed great sportsmanship, quick to acknowledge the team effort that encompassed such an emotional win,
“Everyone on our team stepped up and made big contributions in the final game. I go into every game prepared to play my best hockey and this game was no different.”
Although Kosta entered the final as one of the Thunder’s lesser-known players, she quickly reached the pantheon of championship game heroes. Similar to the heroics of Dusty Rhodes in the 1954 World Series, an unknown who became a household name as he recorded key pinch hits in three consecutive games, including a game winning home run, Kosta has attained a level of fame and popularity. Undoubtedly, her Clarkson Cup heroics are destined to be celebrated in perpetuity by the game’s aficionados.
Along with Nicole Brown, the two became the first alumnae from the proud Quinnipiac Bobcats program to win the Clarkson Cup. As a side note, Thunder teammates Jessica Hartwick and Melissa Wronzberg would also display strong school pride with their win, becoming the first skaters from the Ryerson Rams to win a championship in professional women’s ice hockey.
While the magnitude of the Clarkson Cup final is one that shall propel Laura Stacey into both Toronto and Canadian hockey immortality, Kosta is equally worthy of the same level of praise and acclaim. Providing a performance that shall launch her into a revered place in Thunder lore, her efforts proved most essential towards such a historic victory.
“I am beyond excited and proud to be part of the first championship for the Markham Thunder. It’s an exciting time for the organization and the city of Markham and we’re happy to bring back a championship for everyone who has supported through our transition to Markham.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Clarkson Cup image by Jess Bazal
Other images obtained from CWHL website