Five-game winning streak has PWHL Toronto hungrier for more

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PWHL Toronto reached the official halfway point of their inaugural season on a five-game winning streak thanks to Friday’s 2-1 win in a shootout over New York.

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Five consecutive wins after a 1-4 start to the season has Toronto solidly in third place as the league turns the corner towards the playoffs where just four of the six teams will qualify.

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But Toronto is far from satisfied with their run of late. The bar gets set very high in Toronto with National team GM Gina Kingsbury, national team head coach Troy Ryan and National team stalwart and Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull setting the narrative.

Earlier this week as Toronto prepared for that eventual shootout win over New York, Ryan was asked about the mindset of his team that had put those early struggles behind them and were riding a winning streak.

“I kind of like it because we don’t believe we have played as well as we can or even as well as we should,” Ryan said. “I think we’ve just played well enough to win so that’s kind of nice. You’re winning games and you still have an attitude as a team that we got to get way better. So that’s good.”

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Turnbull, whose saucer pass over two defenders’ sticks helped set up Toronto’s only regulation goal on Friday scored by Emma Maltais, remains the same laser-focused player as Toronto starts to gain some momentum as she was in those early days when every bounce seemed to be going against Toronto.

Typical of Turnbull’s attitude was this description of her team’s mindset after giving up the tying goal with just 8.6 seconds left in Friday’s game.

“Our mentality was we were so close to the win that we can’t let that change the momentum, letting them score there at the end like we did,” Turnbull said. “So, I think we went into overtime with the mindset that we needed to find a way to win the game and obviously killing for two minutes in a five-minute overtime wasn’t ideal but we got the kill and we were happy to get the shootout win.”

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It’s never too high or too low with Turnbull, just as it should be with the player that sets the tone for your entire team.

Another study in that same calm, even-keeled approach can be found in Toronto’s net where starter Kristen Campbell shook off some early rust and finds herself on a personal six-game winning streak.

“In college I started for three years and played over 120 games so obviously you get a lot of work in,” Campbell said.

What she didn’t say, and what very likely explains her slow start to the year is that in the three years after that heavy workload in college, COVID-19 and her role as third-string goalie on Canada’s national team limited her starts to an even dozen.

“Here we are now, what is it 12 games in, so I’m starting to really settle in and feel really confident with my play and with our teams play. You kind of figure things out, even as a group like when we’re going to show up before the games, what we’re going to do before the games and just settle into that routine. Obviously that has been good the last handful of games for our team.”

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Maltais said even after the slow start collectively for Toronto, there was never any question of the confidence the team had in Campbell and the confidence they got knowing they had her back there as the last line of defence.

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“Tons,” Maltais said. “Just the way she is so calm, cool and collected. You can see it in the shootout. She is really feeling it. She takes so much care of her body and we really see that on a daily basis. So yeah, she has that confidence in herself now, but we’ve always had that confidence in her.”

So with Campbell locked in between the pipes, Natalie Spooner scoring goals at a mid-career Ovechkin pace and a penalty kill unit that is stingier than a certain sibling when the bill arrives at the restaurant table after dinner, one would think complacency might be an issue.

Not so, says Ryan.

“What did we have today for shots? 30?” he asked. “We got to get more quality chances on net to be successful moving forward.”

And then there’s the power play that Ryan admits neither he nor the team are happy with at the moment.

So even with all the recent success, there’s still a push to get better and that should only serve the team well as they tackle this final half of the regular season schedule.

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