Calgary, AB (Feb.2, 2018)— The Calgary Inferno will find themselves on the other side of the globe for the first 10 days of February as they begin preparations for a pair of two-game series against the Vanke Rays and Kunlun Red Star in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China.
This stretch of games will be pivotal for all three teams as they jockey for playoff positioning with the second half of the season in full swing.
The Kunlun Red Star (KRS) sit comfortably in second place in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) standings with 16 wins (32 points). However, they are looking to unseat the top seed, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, just two points ahead. The Red Star are the hottest team in the league at the moment as they are riding a 14 game winning streak, which gives them an impressive 0.800 win percentage. Their success can be attributed to their defensive efforts as they have only given up 34 goals on the year, the least amount in the CWHL. The Red Star are led offensively by talented forward Kelli Stack and breakout rookie Zoe Hickel. Stack leads the league in goals (23), Game Winning Goals (5), Points (38), and Points per Game (1.90). Between the pipes, Finnish International Noora Raty has 13 wins on the year and boasts a league-best 1.52 goals against average and a 0.947 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Inferno occupy third spot in the standings with 12 wins (27 points). They have a chance to gain some ground on other teams as they have played just 18 games so far this season, the least amount of any team in the league. The Inferno will look to get back into the win column after dropping two tough contests against the Toronto Furies and are now 6-3-0-1 in their last 10 games. Calgary will look to veteran forwards Brittany Esposito and Louise Warren to carry the load offensively. Esposito leads the team with 10 goals and 17 points, while Warren has tallied 6 goals and 15 points. Calgary will also have ample scoring support from a future CWHL superstar in Sophie Shirley and sophomore Iya Gavrilova. Shirley, the Inferno’s 2017 first round selection, is averaging just under one point per game, while forward Gavrilova has chipped in with 13 points this season. In net, rookie Lindsey Post has played well in her first season with the Inferno, collecting 6 wins and a GAA just under two.
As for the Vanke Rays, they currently hold the fourth and final playoff spot. The Rays have mustered up 11 wins (23 points) and sit two games above .500. The Rays are 3-6-0-1 in their last 10 games and are hoping to snap their five-game winless skid. They will lean heavily on potential rookie of the year candidate Cayley Mercer, as well as newcomers Brooke Webster, Hanna Bunton and defenceman Ashleigh Brykaliuk for their offensive output. Mercer leads all rookies with 32 points and averages 1.52 points per game. Bunton leads the league in rookie goal-scoring with 13, including three game-winning goals. Netminder Elaine Chuli will be the last line of defence for the Rays. She has recorded 11 wins and a .920 save percentage through 21 games this season.
The Inferno are well aware of the significance of these next four games as they trail KRS by five points for second place. In the team’s previous meeting at the start of the season Kunlun won the first game in overtime and Calgary won the second game 4-1.
“All games are important, and every single team in the league is competing for a spot and its really tight in the top five,” stated Inferno captain Erica Kromm. “These are very important games for us. We’re excited to come back from where we were last weekend and the girls are ready. Kunlun has a knack for scoring and some good forwards who know what to do with the puck and that’s something we have to shut down.”
Equally as important will be the first two games of the road trip against the Vanke Rays. Calgary defeated Vanke twice at home earlier this season, but still needs to focus on the outcome this week. “We need to not take Vanke lightly and come out ready,” added Kromm.
For fans who want to get up early to watch the games (4:30 am MST for the 7:30 pm CST start time), they will be streamed live on the CWHL website at http://www.thecwhl.com/watch and a replay will be available after the games.
Inferno Schedule in China:
Vs Vanke Rays
Saturday February 3 at 7:30 pm China Standard Time (CST)
Sunday February 4 at 2:30 pm CST
Vs Kunlun Red Star
Wednesday February 7 at 7:30 pm CST
Friday February 9 at 7:30 pm CST
All games will take place at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center