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Strong net presence has Inferno set for title defence

With three capable netminders in their ranks, the Calgary Inferno are ready to defend the Clarkson Cup

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

For starters, there's the Union Oyster House on Freedom Trail, est. 1826.

"One of the girls on the team worked there, so we brought the Clarkson Cup over to celebrate on Lobster Night," recalls Geneviève Lacasse. "That was pretty cool."

Oh, and Red Sox games at quirky, iconic Fenway Park. Tailgating in Foxborough before the Patriots play. The Common, naturally.

"Just the charm of Boston,'' says the richly decorated goaltender beginning her first season with the Calgary Inferno. "That's what I miss. It is, as everyone knows, a very charming city. I spent the last couple of years there and loved it.

"Living on the east coast. The water, being near the ocean.

"But then you come here, look up and see those mountains so close and that's pretty awesome, too.

"I'm happy to get settled here. It was a little hectic last year in Boston, living with a billet family. And factoring in the U.S. dollar it's pretty hard to make it work on how much money we make.

"The billets were great but it is nice to have my own place."

The Inferno open defence of their lone Canadian Women's Hockey League Clarkson Cup title Saturday, 7:45 PM at Markin MacPhail Arena against the Brampton Thunder.

Beginning that night, they find themselves the hunted, not the hunters.

"That's the nature of the beast,'' says Inferno coach Scott Reid. "Every team in this league has gotten better, just like we've added some players to improve ourselves."

Most notably at the core position, All of a sudden the Inferno net area has gotten more crowded than a Pokemon Go location known to yield the occasional Mewtwo or Moltres.

Start with incumbent Delayne Brian, beginning a fourth season here, who as recently as March 13th at Ottawa's Canadian Tire Centre found herself planting a flag at the summit of the CWHL mountain, celebrating Clarkson Cup and MVP honours after repelling 38 of 41 Montreal Les Canadiennes' shots in a shockingly one-sided 8-3 final.

Enter on Aug. 21st via the league draft Emerance Maschmeyer of Bruderheim, AB (pop: 1,200, located 47 clicks northeast of Edmonton), like Geneviève Lacasse a part of the Canadian women's national team set-up.

As a capper, less than a week later, the Montreal-born Lacasse, added via trade with the Boston Blades. On her resume, Olympic and World Championship gold medals, two Clarkson Cups (2012-13 and 2014-15), a CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award once and a league Regular Season Goaltending Champion for 2014-15.

That's quite the creme de la creme de la crease. Usually in such situations, quality and surplus, there can be complications -- even if they're desirable complications.

"Is it a good problem to have?'' asks Reid. "Absolutely.

"Is it going to be a challenge? Absolutely.

"But I've talked to them all. Everybody knows where we stand. But it's indicative, I think, of how much better the league is getting.

"With Delaney winning the championship last year, she stepped up at the right time. That's what good players do.

"We're happy to have her back. We've added a couple of high-quality players so we're pretty deep in goal."

For Brian, that title-topping moment in Ottawa remains keepsake, indelible. But this is a new year presenting fresh challenges.

"I actually don't think I had a great season last year,'' she acknowledges. "I just had a great final.

"I can't lie to you and say I'm the world's best back-up goalie. I hate being on the bench. But you want to be the world's best teammate and part of that is being a back-up when you have to be, being there to support everyone.

"Masch is from Alberta so I kind of figured she'd been heading out this way after college. And Geneviève has a great track record.

"Just having Hockey Canada here is a big plus for all those girls."

History indicates this particular math, particularly when quality is married to surplus, rarely works at the position.

"Where I come from, the professional side of the men's game, you almost always only carry two goalies,'' agrees Reid. "With national team programs, though, you see them always carrying three. So these girls are used to that number.

"Am I used to it? No. But they are. And that helps."

Lacasse doesn't seem worried in the slightest.

"What's exciting about being here is just that - the competition,'' she insists. "Look at Tom Brady when he was at Michigan, a back-up for a couple of years. Competition made him better. The best.

"We're working together, me and Masch and D.B. Not that I wasn't pushing myself in Boston but here it's taking that to a whole other level.

"When I was in Boston, there was a year (U.S. Olympian) Molly Schaus and I were playing together, one game each per weekend the whole way. And, in retrospect, I think that year was good for me.

"Brittany Ott, same thing another season. So there's something about that system.''

Saturday, on World Girls Hockey Weekend, the 2016 Clarkson Cup championship banner will be raised at Markin MacPhail, officially signalling the always-difficult task of repeating the ultimate.

A quick scan of the Inferno roster shows the necessary pieces are in place.

Particularly, abundantly, inside the blue paint.

"In Boston,'' reasons Lacasse, "I had to defend the Clarkson Cup in two different seasons. It's a different sort of challenge. But something I'm really looking forward to doing here.

"In the end, of course we all want to play. But we're also all here for one thing, and the takes precedence over everything else:

"To bring the championship back to Calgary."

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