After a disastrous 2013-14 season that saw the Brampton Thunder miss the Canadian Women’s Hockey League playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the beleaguered franchise made a solid investment towards a prosperous future by selecting Laura Fortino first overall. Having earned a gold medal with Canada’s squad at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, she is also a multiple All-America selection from Cornell University.
While Brampton’s blueline has featured solid contributions from the likes of Courtney Birchard, Tara French and Sasha Nanji anchoring the blueline, the club never truly recovered from the departures of Allyson Fox (a CWHL co-founder) and two-time Winter Games medalist Molly Engstrom.
The last two seasons has seen Brampton plagued by penalty problems. After the 2012-13 campaign, the club logged 352 penalty minutes, 60 more than the second closest team. In 2013-14, Brampton led the league in penalty minutes again with 368, which was 52 more than second place.
Compounded by the loss of Fox and Engstrom, a pair of defenders that provided strong leadership on and off the ice, along with strong play on special teams, Fortino’s arrival should help inspire a more disciplined style of play. In four seasons with Cornell, the most penalty minutes she logged in one season was 28.
Of note, she will be joined on the blueline by Jocelyne Larocque, who played with her at Sochi. Having been traded from Calgary to Brampton in exchange for Bailey Bram (ironically, the two both grew up in Ste. Anne, Manitoba), Larocque will be counted upon to help anchor the defensive unit with Fortino.
Larocque’s last CWHL season (2012-13) saw her accumulate 44 penalty minutes, which led all players on her team. Should she manage to stay out of the penalty box, her play will certainly help inject hope into a fan base that endured a difficult season.
There is no question that Fortino and Larocque have the potential to anchor Brampton’s defensive unit for the next decade. More importantly, the two have injected hope into a franchise that now has a viable opportunity to qualify for the postseason.
While there will be the growing pains that accompany any rookie season; Fortino was the right choice for Brampton. Back in the first CWHL Draft (in 2010), the Toronto Furies selected another defender coming off a gold medal at the Winter Games. Their acquisition of Tessa Bonhomme gave them a franchise player and a leader who was part of their Clarkson Cup roster in 2014.
Fortino holds the same potential as Bonhomme to be a key building block towards a championship. Although Brampton management and fans alike would love to see Fortino help propel the club towards a postseason berth, the first pick overall in 2015 may not be such a bad thing. Considering that Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin, Amanda Kessel and Alex Carpenter are eligible for the 2015 CWHL Draft, the next piece of the championship puzzle awaits.
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