Off-season CWHL trade a win-win for Brampton and Calgary

As the Brampton Thunder and Calgary Inferno look to brighter futures ahead, a significant trade defined their mutual ambitions. In need of scoring help, the Inferno acquired Bailey Bram (one of the final players released from Canada’s Centralization Camp for Sochi) from the Thunder. Coming the other way is blueliner Jocelyn Larocque. Ironically, Bram and Larocque both grew up in the community of Ste. Anne, Manitoba.

Taking into account that Calgary features a solid defensive unit featuring Meaghan Mikkelson, Tara Watchorn and Kelsey Webster, Larocque was sent eastbound. There is further irony in the fact that Watchorn grew up in Newcastle, Ontario, east of Toronto. Therefore, Watchorn would have seemed as the most logical choice to be traded as Larocque is of Western Canadian heritage.

For both clubs, the trade is a win-win situation as it addresses key needs, while possibly bringing more parity to CWHL play. Defensively, Brampton has endured its struggles since the departures of Allyson Fox (CWHL co-founder) and Molly Engstrom (a two-time Winter Games participant). While Courtney Birchard and Tara French have supplied great leadership on the blueline, Larocque’s presence burdens their load.

Complemented by Brampton selecting Laura Fortino with the first pick overall in the 2014 CWHL Draft, the blueline situation has emerged as one of significant improvement. Of note, Fortino and Larocque played together for Canada’s gold medal winning squad at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. The two should be able to establish some strong chemistry on defense.

Strong defense will certainly be important for Brampton. In the autumn of 2013, the club lost goaltenders Liz Knox and Florence Schelling. While the club has selected backstop Erica Howe in the 2014 CWHL Draft, there will definitely be a rookie adjustment.

Larocque will be counted upon to improve a Brampton club that missed its first CWHL playoffs in franchise history in March 2014. For the last two seasons, Brampton’s goals against and their penalty minutes have increased. During the 2012-13 campaign, the club allowed 83 goals while compiling a league-worst 352 penalty minutes. In the aftermath of 2013-14, those numbers inflated to a dismal 99 goals allowed and 368 penalty minutes, both worst in the league. Disciplined play shall be the only way Brampton can expect a return to the postseason next spring.

After a 2013-14 season that saw the new-look Calgary Inferno experience several franchise firsts (first winning season, first third-place finish, first postseason berth, first award winner), the rapidly improving franchise is hoping for its first Clarkson Cup in 2015. Of all the significant accomplishments over the previous season, the strengthening of its offensive game may have been the greatest.

Rookie sensations Danielle (Danny) Stone and Julie Paetsch registered seasons of 25 and 22 points, ranking sixth and ninth in the CWHL scoring race, respectively. The result was a club that scored 62 goals, a 32-goal improvement on the 2012-13 campaign. In addition, Stone rewrote the club’s scoring records, establishing herself as a franchise player. Despite such a solid performance, Calgary did not have much depth past their first line and it showed in the Clarkson Cup playoffs.

With only one solid scoring line, the acquisition of Bailey Bram adds the potential to provide much needed scoring depth. Reputed as a loyal teammate and friendly with fans, Bram is a proven scorer that earned a gold medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds. In her rookie campaign with the Brampton Thunder (2012-13), she registered 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) to finish among the league’s Top 20 scorers, while finishing fourth in scoring for Brampton.

Accompanied by the selection of Boston University scoring star Louise Warren (who was recently invited to Canada’s Under-22 talent evaluation camp), Brittany Esposito and Frozen Four champion Sarah Davis in this year’s draft, all three may also pay positive dividends for the Inferno offense. The concept of Bram anchoring a line with a combination of the aforementioned players is possible. As the club looks to reach the 70-goal plateau as a team for the first time, Bram has the potential to provide that extra element to the club’s offensive attack.

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