CALGARY - A whirlwind trip to Japan for the Calgary Inferno ended with a pair of hockey games against the Japanese women's national team.
At the Hakucho Oji Ice Arena in Tomakomai, the Inferno squad was looking to test its iron against a very talented Japanese squad that is gearing up for their Olympic qualifiers.
Prior to the first game, there was a special ceremony during which the teams exchanged gifts, signed jerseys, and the Inferno presented the hosts with a "lucky loonie." Unfortunately, Calgary couldn't keep any of that luck for the game.
The visitors fell behind the Japanese 2-0 after 40 minutes of play and would try to claw their way back into the game, but would only get one goal in their comeback effort. Louise Warren was Calgary's lone goalscorer in the Inferno's 3-1 defeat to the home squad.
"We had a slow start but as the game kept going, we developed more and got our legs moving and picked it up in the second and third, but had trouble executing," remarked Warren, Calgary's player of the game. "Bailey (Bram) had a good forecheck and passed it through everyone from her backhand and right onto my stick. We need to start off really strong tomorrow; start out getting pucks to the net and hard forechecks."
A refreshed Inferno team returned to the arena the next night in search of redemption.
And they came out with a blazing start.
Iya Gavrilova had the hot stick, scoring twice in the first period. The first was a quick writer over the goalie's shoulder and the second was a close slap shot in front of the net after a strong forecheck.
Looking for more in the second frame, it was Sarah Davis who went five-hole to extend Calgary's lead to 3-0.
The Japanese National team wasn't pleased with its efforts and came to play in the third period. Battling hard in front of the net, Ami Nakamura found the back of the net to get the home team on the board.
But the comeback fell short. Davis once again found twine to make it 4-1 and that's how the game ended.
As a member of Team Canada, Meaghan Mikkelson has had the opportunity to compete against Japan during International tournaments. After this experience, she walked away excited for the future of Women's hockey halfway around the world.
"I was so impressed by their team, their systems, their work ethic. I've seen them play in the past, in Sochi, and I think they've improved a ton," commented the Inferno's veteran leader. "We are very thankful to the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation for having us here and we were really impressed with the Japanese team."
The Inferno return to the ice in Calgary this weekend, playing the Boston Blades in a pair of games.
On Saturday, the Inferno are hosting a very special event, a game in support of You Can Play - an organization co-founded by Patrick Burke, the son of Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke. This will be the first such game in Inferno history.
"With our Inferno You Can Play game," says blue liner Erica Kromm, "I wanted to start a movement across Calgary so that kids going through something like that feel safe and accepted, especially while playing the sport(s) they love. We've got SAIT, U of C, and Mount Royal student athletes involved and I think it's had a powerful impact before the puck has even dropped for our YCP game. The Inferno YCP game is an opportunity for LGBTQ athletes/fans and allies to get together, spread the message and gain a better understanding."