With the tenth Clarkson Cup going to overtime, it was an event assured to create new legends. In a year that already resulted in Laura Stacey, the recipient of the 2017 CWHL Rookie of the Year Award, attaining her dream of competing in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, the promise of her prospect as one of the game’s young superstars reached a fascinating pinnacle.
Making her Markham debut on the road, only 96 fans were on-hand at the Larsen Skating Rink at the Eruzione Center, to witness a dazzling display. Scoring the first goal of the game, with assists by Nicole Kosta and Dania Simmonds, said goal actually proved to be the game-winner, as Erica Howe posted a shutout in an 8-0 triumph. As a side note, Kosta would prove to play a significant role in the Thunder’s championship game performance, also assisting on Stacey’s Cup-clinching tally.
Such heroics in the first period would actually prove to be just prologue for Stacey. At the 4:00 minute mark of the third period, she collaborated with Jenna McParland on a goal by Nicole Kosta, her first of the season. Less than five minutes later, Stacey scored once again, with McParland recording her second assist of the game. The 11:53 mark saw Stacey and Kristen Barbara gain the assists on Dania Simmonds’ second goal of the season.
With a fantastic four-point outburst, Stacey not only logged a sizzling multi-point in her Markham debut, it also resulted in acclaim as the First Star of the Game. Jamie Lee Rattray, who recorded two goals and an assists gained Second Star honors. Fittingly, Howe earned recognition as the Third Star.
Although Stacey went without a point during the semi-final series against the defending Clarkson Cup champion Canadiennes de Montreal, Stacey scored when it counted. Recording the overtime winner in the finals versus All-World goaltender Noora Raty of the Kunlun Red Star, it provided the Thunder with their first Clarkson Cup in franchise history, indubitably, the greatest goal ever scored in franchise history. Coincidentally, the Cup-clinching goal was the first postseason goal of Stacey’s CWHL career. As a side note, Raty also earned a podium finish at the 2018 Winter Games with her native Finland.
Heading into this exciting final, there had already been a remarkable amount of history achieved. Certainly, there was a tremendous amount of momentum in the favor of the Kunlun Red Star. From the outset, the Red Star became the first expansion team, and the first Asian-based team, to reach the Clarkson Cup finals. With Alexandra Carpenter scoring a triple overtime goal in the semi-finals against the Calgary Inferno, her name quickly etched in franchise lore. Coincidentally, said goal actually took place in Markham, the home of the opposing team in the Cup finals.
Digit Murphy would become the first head coach to lead two different teams to the Clarkson Cup finals. A member of multiple championship teams with the Boston Blades, Kelli Stack would become the first American-born player to capture the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the CWHL’s scoring leader. In addition, Noora Raty became the first European player to win the league’s Goaltender of the Year Award.
While so many remarkable achievements on the part of Red Star certainly placed the momentum in their favor, the Thunder were not without their own motivation. Becoming the first player in the history of the Thunder to capture the Jayna Hefford Trophy, awarded to the league’s Most Valuable Player, voted on by the players themselves, it was an affirmation of Rattray’s superstar status. Named in honor of the all-time leading scorer in Thunder history, it added to a feeling of destiny, as Hefford was part of the Thunder squad that won the first-ever CWHL championship back in 2008.
Returning to the Thunder following the 2018 Winter Games, Stacey was part of a group that included fellow Team Canada competitors Jocelyne Larocque, who is also the Thunder’s team captain, plus blueliner Laura Fortino. This titanic trio added to their podium finish at the Winter Games, emerging victorious from an epic Clarkson Cup destined to be a celebrated exhibition.
Considering that the Thunder won the first-ever CWHL championship, one year before the Clarkson Cup was contested in 2009, such an integral part of league history is forgotten in time. With the 2017-18 season signifying the first in Markham, it was an opportunity for the Thunder, the longest running club team in modern Canadian history, to attain its long-awaited destiny, while reaching its status as a signature team.
Destiny certainly emerged as a theme for Stacey over the last two months. Her great uncle Terry Clancy not only played for Toronto’s St. Michael’s Majors in his youth, he competed for Canada in the 1964 Winter Games, emulating his achievement. Simultaneously, it added to a proud family legacy that also includes King Clancy, a former legend with the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Stacey would now carve her own unique place in Toronto sports history. With Ricoh Coliseum, home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, as the backdrop for this championship game, she shined in front of a national TV audience on Sportsnet. With an intense overtime that continued the theme of dominant goaltending throughout the game, fans grew eager with anticipation over who would score the Cup winner.
With Nicole Kosta to the right of Raty, she centred the puck to Stacey. With tremendous precision, Stacey maintained her composure as she glided across the ice, channeling the spirit of Bobby Orr, as she buried the puck top shelf past Raty, scoring the most beautiful goal in Clarkson Cup history.
As the Thunder bench erupted, a sea of animated white and green jerseys, hugging delightedly, caught up in the rapture of a historic win, Stacey ascended into iconic status, scoring a goal that has placed her in Canadian hockey immortality. Fittingly recognized as the First Star of the Game, her achievement was part of a much richer narrative, involving an important sub-plot. Goaltender Erica Howe emerged as the feel-good story, playing the game of her life as she earned MVP recognition.
Certainly, these two star players embody how far the game has come in this decade. Not only have both experienced the prestige of competing on the ice of Air Canada Centre for the CWHL All-Star Game, both have played at all three levels of the Canadian national women’s team. Of note, Howe captured the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, while Stacey obtained her U18 gold in 2012. In spite of their remarkable runs donning the Maple Leaf, the distinguished careers of Stacey and Howe had hardly intersected. With the euphoria of the 2018 Clarkson Cup, it served as the ideal venue in which their careers intertwined in both franchise and league lore.
With a goal that shall transcend generations as an integral part of the Thunder’s heritage, it is conceivable that Stacey will build on this monumental milestone and become one of the offensive superstars for her generation, building on the legacy of past stars that have worn the Maple Leaf. Equally holding the potential to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Marie Philip-Poulin and Natalie Spooner as franchise players for their respective club teams, Stacey may end up being the most notable number 7 in the game’s modern history.
Photo credits: Chris Donovan, Veronica Henri and Jess Bazal-Ritchotte