As the inaugural season for the Thunder in Markham continues to grow with momentum, one of its unsung heroes is a persistent and resolute forward whose unselfish play has proven essential. The pride of Morden, Manitoba, Taylor Woods is part of an unprecedented era that has seen the province produce a fascinating (and growing) number of elite talents.
Possessing an adaptability that has made her an asset for any team that she competes for, Woods also boasts an impressive hockey resume. Highlighted by participation for her native Manitoba in the 2011 Canada Winter Games, such a monumental event featured future CWHL stars such as Erin Ambrose, Emerance Maschmeyer and Laura Stacey, among others.
Adding to Woods’ Prairie legacy is the fact that she also skated for the prestigious Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan. Capturing the coveted Esso Cup with the Hounds, setting a tournament records with 12 assists, it was part of an extraordinary yet formative time that also included a gold medal at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds.
Woods’ versatility would truly shine at the next stage of her career. Competing with the Cornell Big Red, she was part of the program’s halcyon days, playing with a list of tremendous women that read like a who’s who of hockey. One of the program’s most productive at winning faceoffs, Woods was also effective on special teams.
Perhaps Woods’ biggest legacy was the devotion to her team. Temporarily abandoning the forward position in order to play defense, it was another example of what made her such a reliable player. With a collection of hockey hardware accumulated at Cornell that includes the 2013 ECAC conference championship, the 2015-16 Windjammer Classic, plus Second Team All-Ivy honors, Woods left behind an admirable body of work.
Considering that Cornell has produced an amazing number of talents that have participated in both the professional ranks and the Winter Games, Woods joins this growing list. From a CWHL perspective, the last three Clarkson Cup champions have included at least one alum from Cornell.
Alyssa Gagliardi hoisted the Cup in 2015 with the Boston Blades, while Brianne Jenner was the captain of the Calgary Inferno, the 2016 champions. Jenner was joined on the club by the likes of Hayleigh Cudmore and Jessica Campbell, the first rookie to serve as the CWHL All-Star Game captain. Most recently, Lauriane Rougeau and Cassandra Poudrier were part of Montreal’s victory in 2017, the franchise’s first since 2012.
This season, the Vanke Rays, one of two expansion teams from China, features Hanna Bunton, who served as the Big Red captain in her senior season. With almost every club in CWHL play featuring a Cornell alum, it is a unique experience for Woods, who calls such cherished friends as on-ice rivals,
“Of course I am proud. All of them are outstanding hockey players, and even better people. It is always fun getting the opportunity to play against them, and the chance to catch up with them after the game. I think the representation of former Big Red alumni in the CWHL speaks highly of the Women’s Hockey Program at Cornell.”
In addition, Woods is part of another special sorority in her hockey journey. Of note, she is part of a rare group of women that have played for the Thunder in both Brampton (its first home) and Markham, where it relocated in the summer of 2017. Although the Thunder are the longest-running women’s club team in Canada, the organization itself recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, Woods is very humble about her place in history.
While Woods’ career is certainly a bridge between two unique eras , she shows a tremendous respect for the game and team alike, paying homage to the players who helped contribute to its legacy. Although she is helping to shape a new legacy in Markham, the host city for three consecutive Clarkson Cup finals (2013-15), the growing support in the community has made such a transition a most pleasant one.
“I was only on the team for one season while the team was in Brampton, and didn’t experience a lot of the history. I know that the Brampton Thunder was the longest standing team in the league, way back when it was called the (original) NWHL, and many former players did a lot for the teams and league. Markham has been nothing but great to our team.
The move has given us the opportunity to increase our community engagement in Markham and surrounding areas, and opportunities to grow the awareness of our team and league. It has not been a full season yet, and we have seen many teams and fans come to support us.”
During her first season, played in Brampton, Woods registered all assists. Of note, her final point with Brampton came in a 5-1 loss to the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Canadiennes de Montreal. Along with Stacey, they would contribute the assists on the Thunder’s lone goal of the game, scored by Laura Fortino.
Recording her first career goal for Markham, donning the very sharp green jersey, brought with it a tremendous sense of attainment. With the Thunder serving as host to the Kunlun Red Star for their first series in franchise history, there was a feeling of celebration, and the realization that history was being made.
Such a monumental time saw Woods make her presence felt. Scoring on home ice in an October 22 contest, a 3-0 final which saw Erica Howe record her second shutout of the month, it certainly represented an early season highlight.
Scoring against All-World goaltender Noora Raty, a bronze medalist for Finland in both the IIHF Women’s Worlds and the Winter Games, the thrill of scoring against such a notable player, an Olympian no less, it was an exhilarating achievement filled with rapture as the goal also stood as the game-winning tally. Reflecting on this achievement, Woods loyalty rises to the surface, quickly acknowledging the efforts of her linemates, testament to her team-first approach.
“Well, I did not expect my first goals to be against an Olympian, that’s for sure. I have to give a lot of credit to my line mates for making that one happen, because they did all the hard work. I was just glad to score and put us up so early in the game.”
Gaining the assists on this monumental goal were Devon Skeats, who captured an American championship in the spring of 2017 with a club based in Buffalo, recording her first assist in Thunder green, along with Karolina Urban, a veteran of CWHL teams in both Calgary and Toronto.
Before the holiday break, Woods would record another inspiring performance, notching her second game-winning goal of this highly memorable campaign. Logging a superlative two-goal effort, another career first, against goaltender Lauren Dahm, in a 4-2 home triumph on December 10 versus the Boston Blades, it marked a cherished high point for the wondrous Woods.
Scoring the Thunder’s second goal in the first period, as Kristen Richards earned the assist, she would score again in the third, breaking a 2-2 deadlock attributed to Jordan Hampton’s second period goal for Boston. With Richards earning her second assist of the game on the goal, the two were a tremendous tandem in a crucial win. Adding luster to this feat was the fact that Woods gained well-deserved First Star of the Game honors, while Richards was recognized as the Third Star.
Taking into consideration that Woods’ efforts represent contributions to a 2017-18 CWHL season that has so far has been one defined league-wide by unprecedented yet historic realizations, enhanced by the expansion presence, it has allowed many players an opportunity to add a new dimension to their international experiences. Having donned the Maple Leaf on her jersey as a member of Canada’s U18 program, calling titanic talents, and current professionals, such as Ambrose, Stacey, Nicole Connery and Cydney Roesler as teammates, the chance to compete internationally once again rekindled great memories.
Simultaneously creating new memories, Woods and her fellow teammates from the Thunder made the sojourn across the Pacific to China. Along with the Toronto Furies, who were also on-hand during the same week, both teams participated in contests against both the Red Star and the Rays.
As the complexion of professional women’s hockey takes on a bigger impact globally with this new epoch in the game’s lore, it also allowed Woods to call Hanna Bunton a rival for the first time since graduation, providing an element of Cornell pride to the series.
For Woods, who has graced the ice in both Europe and the United States, the chance to bring her skills to Asia represented a novel, yet innovative episode to her hockey endeavors.
Understandably, it was a concept that would not have been so easily conceived not too long ago. As this new Chinese presence indicates how the game has grown by a quantum leap, along with the fact that the 2018 and 2022 Winter Games shall both be contested in Asia, it is an element that Woods is ecstatic to be part of, emblematic of her dedication to the game, optimistic it will yield tremendous results.
“Playing in China was definitely an experience, and one that I never would have dreamed of being a part of. Women’s hockey has changed and improved so much over the last five, 10, and 20 years, and we should be proud on how far it has come. Having two teams from China in our league for the next five seasons warrants the growth of the game.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Markham Thunder images by Jess Bazal, Cornell image obtained from Facebook