Little more than one month after suffering a heartbreaking defeat at the Olympics, Canadian Olympian Laura Stacey scored the overtime winner as the Markham Thunder won the 2018 Clarkson Cup.
As Laura Stacey went hard to the net with her stick on the ice, more than almost anyone on the ice she had added motivation to score the goal to end the Clarkson Cup championship game. That motivation came in the form of wanting to at all costs avoid another shootout and risk suffering the pain that comes with losing one.
Clearly, the 32 days that have passed since Canada lost a 3-2 shootout to USA in the Olympics have done little to dull the pain of defeat for Stacey and her fellow Canadian Olympians. But being able to bury the winner in overtime to give the Markham Thunder a 2-1 win over Kunlun Red Star in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship game provided at least some form of consolation.
“It was a sting. It’s never great to come home with a silver when all year you’ve focused so much on that gold medal,” said Stacey, who ended the game by converting a cross-ice pass from Nicole Kosta at 2:49 of overtime. “I don’t know if it necessarily eases that pain, but it is a really special moment and I’m really happy to be a part of it. I definitely had that OT-shootout picture in my head and I really, really didn’t want to go back to what happened a couple of weeks ago.”
When Stacey first returned from the Olympics, she didn’t even intend to play for Markham, a franchise that relocated from Brampton. But the pull of playing for a championship was too much for her and fellow Canadian Olympians Jocelyn Larocque and Laura Fortino. “It actually was a really tough decision,” said the 23-year-old Stacey, who is the great granddaughter of Hockey Hall of Famer King Clancy. “At first I was kind of done. I was really upset about the Olympics, I was exhausted and it had been a really long season. I went to watch Markham play and I was surrounded by all the girls and it was really hard to say no to such an amazing group of girls. I knew we had an opportunity to chase that Clarkson Cup and to have a smile on my face with this group of girls is the reason that I really wanted to come back.”
Winning the Clarkson Cup was the furthest thing from the Thunder’s minds early in the season. After winning their first three games, the Thunder lost five in a row, including their two-game trip to China when they were beaten by both Kunlun and Vanke. That trip ended in October and, remarkably, the Thunder have not lost a game in regulation since then. Even though they lost both games on the trip, going away provided a tremendous bonding experience for the team in a place where they were entirely unfamiliar with the culture. Thunder forward Jamie Lee Rattray, who received the Jayna Hefford Trophy as the league MVP voted by the players, said “something just clicked” on that trip and the team was able to hit the reset button upon its return to Canada.
“The unique experience about China is you have everyone’s attention for the full time,” said Thunder goalie Erica Howe, who earned Clarkson Cup MVP honors after stopping 16 of 17 shots in the game. “When we’re here, you show up for practice at 8 p.m. and you’re trying to get home because you’ve got to get to work the next day. But in China, we had everyone the whole time. We could do team video, we did team yoga. It was an incredible experience and it helped us to get to know each other.”
Like the Thunder, things started rather inauspiciously for the Red Star team, a squad made up of players from four different countries, largely comprised of American stars who had to bond with Chinese national players. Red Star started out the season 2-4-0, but came on to finish second in the league standings. The Kunlun team, which is funded by the Chinese government to help enhance its national team chances in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, was able to afford to attract women’s hockey stars such as league scoring champion Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter and goalie Noora Raty, along with highly regarded coach Digit Murphy with enticing offers, as well as pay the travel costs for teams to come there to play league games during the season. Markham finished fourth in the regular season, but knocked off the powerhouse Montreal Canadiennes, who had picked up USA Olympic hero Hilary Knight for the playoffs, in two straight games.
“I think having the Chinese team Kunlun in the final, showed exactly what we had planned from the beginning, which was to provide competitive teams,” said CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress. “You could not ask for a better Clarkson Cup final.”