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Toni Ross Brings Revered Talents to Calgary Inferno

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Part of one of the most admirable goaltending duos in professional hockey, the opportunity for Toni Ross to compete with the Calgary Inferno is also extending her amazing Prairie sporting legacy. Raised in Verwood, Saskatchewan, where she would later star for the University of Regina Cougars, she has definitely forged an amazing legacy as one of the province’s greatest home-grown goaltending talents.

Such a legacy found its roots in the Saskatchewan Female Midget Hockey League as a member of the Weyburn Gold Wings. During her time with the green and gold, Ross was the 2011 recipient of the Brittony Chartier Top Goalie Award. Coincidentally, two other future members of the Inferno would garner major awards in the league. Sophie Shirley, a member of the Inferno’s 2017 Draft Class captured the league’s Most Valuable Player Award back in 2015, while Emily Clark, a member of Canada’s entry at the 2018 Winter Games won the honor in 2012.

Originally selected by the Inferno in the 2016 edition of the CWHL Draft with their 12th pick, Ross patiently waited for the opportunity to play. This was attributed to the fact that the club already featured a very crowded goaltending scenario.

One which included Delayne Brian, the previous season’s Clarkson Cup MVP, the prodigious Emerance Maschmeyer, whose sister once played for the Edmonton Chimos, along with Genevieve Lacasse, acquired from the Boston Blades. During 2017, Ross would remain close to the game, serving as the Goaltending Coach for Saskatchewan’s U18 Provincial Girls Team.

Fast forward one year, and the Inferno’s goaltending situation has radically changed. With Lacasse named to Canada’s entry for women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, along with Maschmeyer shipped off to Les Canadiennes de Montreal, replacing the recently retired Charline Labonte, an opportunity presented itself. Gaining a well-earned spot on the Inferno’s roster, Ross has assembled a series of strong performances in her first season.

Adding luster to such a memorable season is the fact that Ross is joined by a pair of distinguished players. Fellow first year player Samantha Shirley, an alum of Canada’s U18 national team, is another proud native of the province suiting up for the Inferno in an exciting 2017-18 campaign.

In addition, a longtime goaltending rival joins Ross in Inferno red, providing the club with a unique duo between the pipes. Among the finest goaltenders of the last decade in Canada West hockey, Ross and Lindsay Post represented the gold standard among such a highly talented and competitive conference.

While Post helped the Alberta Pandas capture a USPORTS national championship, Ross established herself as the greatest goaltender to don the Regina Cougars jersey, becoming the centerpiece for the program. As a side note, Ross also competed at the postsecondary level in Alberta, spending one season with Red Deer College before transferring to Regina.

During her first season for the Cougars, Ross played in the longest game in program history, logging an astonishing 94 minutes (94:39) against the nationally ranked UBC Thunderbirds. Such a performance was the springboard for a lasting legacy.

Graduating with an incredible impact on the Cougar’s goaltending records, highlighted by the benchmark of 36 wins, Ross was also a four-time Academic All-Canadian. Worth noting, Ross was also bestowed the honor of the prestigious Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award in 2016, an award once won by CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux.

Ross’ greatest season with the Cougars was definitely in 2015-16, as she paced all backstops in Canada West with a superlative 17 wins. Coincidentally, Ross’ most inspiring victory holds unique connections to Calgary. In the 2016 Canada West playoffs, she logged 29 saves in a 1-0 shutout which saw the Cougars sweep the Calgary Dinos in the opening round. Taking into account that the Dinos has captured a national championship just a few years ealier, it may have been the biggest win in Cougars program history.

While Ross and Post are enjoying the opportunity to call each other teammates, there is perhaps a unique tinge of irony in the fact that both are rookie goaltenders for the Inferno. As a side note, the expansion Vanke Rays goaltending picture is also defined by a pair of rookies, as Elaine Chuli and Tianyi Zhang have emerged as key contributors to their early success. Coincidentally, a professional women’s team in Connecticut also features a pair of first-year players anchoring goaltending duties.

“It has been very cool getting to know Lindsay as a teammate, in comparison to knowing her just as the tall goalie from U of A. We have a lot of fun together, she has a great sense of humour. We encourage each other by congratulating each other out when we make great saves, and helping each other shake off the goals that we felt we should have had.

Posty is such a composed goalie, I am always learning from her ability to be in the right position, standing tall, and making controlled easy saves. Between all three goalies I think we all do our best to compete hard for a spot, but also cheer each other on, because at the end of the day its about winning games, not who is in the net.”

Making her CWHL debut on October 22, 2017 in a road game at Larsen Skating Rink in Eruzione Center, Ross delivered on all accounts as the Inferno defeated the Boston Blades in a 4-1 final. The milestone of her first CWHL victory was enhanced by the feat of teammate Kennedy Brown recording the first goal in her Inferno career. With Erica Kromm recording the game-winning tally, Ross performed admirably against Boston, nullifying three power play opportunities in the third period.

While the contest featured a mix of emotions, from understandable feelings of nervousness to the elation that comes with the excitement of transitioning into the professional ranks, Ross’ hockey dream was enhanced by the fact that she gained a win in her debut.  As it was a weekend that saw numerous players on both teams grace CWHL ice for the first time in their careers, there was definitely a shared feeling of achievement among these distinguished competitors. Although Ross remains humble about her performance, facing 10 shots from the Blades, she displayed the poise and perseverance that have established her as a dependable member of the club’s goaltending unit.

“Heading into my first CWHL game I was nervous but also really excited. Coming into this season I wasn’t sure if I would even get a start, so I was very excited to get to play. I remember that game being very hard to stay engaged and focused in, having only 10 shots, obviously letting two in, I was disappointed in the stat, but getting the win was much more important, and that was a great feeling.”

At the holiday break, Ross ranked fifth in Goals Against Average among the league’s backstops. Of note, she was among four rookie goaltenders that placed in the top five, testament to the level of strong talent that has arrived this season. Statistically, Ross has also posted an .875 save percentage, allowing a miniscule nine goals.

During the first half, Ross continued to provide steady performances when called upon. Showing tremendous poise on the road, Ross assembled a solid effort during a Remembrance Day match against the Toronto Furies at MasterCard Centre. With the match having changed leads three times, overtime did not result in a winner.

Going to a shootout, Ross was valiant, denying Brittany Zuback, Shannon Stewart and Jenna Dingeldein. With each side needing a fifth shooter, Julie Allen, an alum of the 2015 CBHA champion Toronto Shamrocks, spoiled Ross’ opportunity for a win.

A November 26 match would provide a better result for Ross. Making her debut on home ice, she faced the Blades once again. Allowing only one goal, a second period score by Michelle Ng, Ross was sharp when needed. Erica Kromm, a member of the Inferno’s Clarkson Cup winning team of 2016, recorded the game-winning goal, allowing Ross the rare double of winning in her home and road debuts.

Before the first half of the season would wind down, a December 16 match against the Toronto Furies allowed redemption for Ross. With the Inferno hosting the blue and white at the legendary Stampede Corral, Ross provided a superlative performance, denying a pair of power play opportunities, along with facing 33 shots, including a game-high 16 in the third period.

Complemented by the effort of rookie sensation Kayla Gardner, notching the first multi-goal game in her promising CWHL career, Ross displayed tenacity between the pipes as a see-saw battle between both clubs resulted in overtime being required to determine the winner. As a side note, Ross was on the opposite end of a unique milestone, as Brooke Beazer, in the middle of her CWHL comeback after more than three seasons away from the league, recorded her first goal of the season.

“Playing at the Corral was really cool, the ice surface and the unpredictable boards reminded me a lot of some of the rinks back home that I grew up playing in, so that was a lot of fun. I had quite a bit of family out cheering me on that night so that is always fun!”

The feeling of fun enhanced a highly enjoyable first half of the season for Ross. While Ross definitely supplied some terrific highlights, her commendable loyalty to the team rises to the surface. Reflecting on such achievements, the reality is that none qualify as her favorite moment. With great consideration, Ross generously acknowledges the efforts of a fellow colleague, while displaying a tremendous sense of pride in being part of such a dedicated organization.  

“My favourite moment so far during the first half of the season was the Series against Kunlun at home. Although I was not in the net that weekend, it was so cool to watch the girls battle back from a deficit the first night. Then on Sunday, I got to watch Delayne Brian play an amazing game, and see our team really come together to get the win. It was just such a cool experience to be apart of. It showed just how good we are and how good we can be this year, and you could feel the excitement.”

Ross’ first start in the second half of the season was one filled with tremendous emotion as the January 6 match versus Les Canadiennes de Montreal represented Emerance Maschmeyer’s return to Calgary. As the first goaltender from Alberta to have competed in all three levels of Canada’s national women’s program, Maschmeyer gained the start for the Inferno in the 2016 Clarkson Cup Finals. Considering that her sister once played for the now-defunct Edmonton Chimos, the transfer of Maschmeyer to Montreal was devastating for its fan base, one that expected the native Albertan to spend her career in Western Canada.

With a scoreless game in the first period, Elana Lovell logged her third goal of the season at the 9:51 mark of the second period. Unfortunately, Montreal would spoil Ross’ bid for a shutout just 50 seconds into the third as Sarah Lefort would tie the game. As Montreal continued to pepper Ross with a series of shots, she would not allow another goal in the period, one that saw neither team sent to the penalty box.

Recording 18 saves in regulation, along with another three in overtime, Ross stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her goaltending counterpart across the ice, with both providing one of the season’s best goaltending performances. With a dramatic shootout that saw Lovell and Brittany Esposito each score for the Inferno, Marion Allemoz, a member of France’s national team, and the fifth skater for Montreal would slip the puck past Ross in a visceral home ice loss.

Providing a laudable effort against Montreal, it embodied what it means for Ross to wear the Inferno jersey. Working towards giving her team a chance to win, while displaying a venerable respect for teammates and organization alike, motivating her to be a better athlete, Ross’ sweat and sacrifice is helping add to the Inferno’s growing mythology,

“Being a member of the Inferno has been such a cool experience this far. This is such great hockey, and everyone is so skilled, practices are a lot of fun, and so are the girls. I think what I have enjoyed most is getting to compete again, at practice, and in games, as well as during off ice conditioning with such a fun group of women. So far it has been a lot of fun, and I am really looking forward to seeing what we can do during the second half.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Dave Holland and Bryan Schlosser

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