The benefits of earning early success in a professional career might not get stressed enough. Minnesota Whitecaps defender Amy Schlagel is playing in her first NWHL season after a successful college career, and she is part of a bona fide contender for the Isobel Cup. She has played in 12 of Minnesota’s 14 games thus far this season, and has helped vault them to the top of the NWHL standings. The Whitecaps boast a league-leading record of 10-4-0 through said 14 games, for a total of 20 points.
Now on the eve of the 2019 NWHL All-Star weekend in Nashville, Schlagel and company are primed for the NWHL postseason to get underway.
“I think our team is getting pretty dialed in for playoffs,” Schlagel explained to THW, “You can see our practices getting more intense. We know we need to win our last two regular season games to put us in a good spot going into playoffs so I know that’s mainly what we’re focused on right now, and we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves or look too far ahead.”
We do not think that Schlagel and the Whitecaps are getting too ahead of themselves at all. Rather, they are finding the right successes in their inaugural NWHL season at just the right time. We spoke further with the Minnesota blueliner about her rookie campaign and how it has blended together. Schlagel has been a key contributor toward the Whitecaps’ recipe for success.
Schlagel Signs With the Whitecaps
A Blaine, Minnesota native, Schlagel played her college hockey as a standout defender-forward for the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. From the 2014-15 season through 2017-18, she suited up for 138 games for UNH. Schlagel scored 36 goals and 33 assists for 69 points within that time. At 5-foot-7, she is a robust defender and generated 142 penalty minutes in her collegiate career as well.
In the summer prior to her senior season with the Wildcats, Schlagel was drafted by the Buffalo Beauts in the 2017 NWHL Draft. The Beauts made her the 18th overall selection with their fifth pick.
Amy Schlagel scores her second of the year!!
5-3 Boston leads Minnesota pic.twitter.com/8AAtooQVhT
— Minnesota Whitecaps (@WhitecapsHockey) January 13, 2019
When considering that she was born and raised in Minnesota, played her college hockey in the New England area, and was selected by the Beauts, Schlagel could have conceivably played for any of the five NWHL teams. So how did she decide that the Whitecaps were the right fit for her?
“I was drafted by Buffalo and had every intention to play there after my senior season at UNH,” Schlagel explained. “But after coming off a pretty serious injury that happened towards the end of the season I didn’t know if I was going to be able to rehab and play the upcoming season. I decided to go back home to Minnesota and continue rehabbing there. Once I found out that the Whitecaps would be joining the league I decided ultimately that’s where I wanted to play. There’s nothing like hockey in Minnesota and playing in front of your family and friends, and I really wanted to be a part of the first professional team here at home.”
A Look at Her First Season With Minnesota
As pretty much any NWHL newcomer will admit, there is definitely an adjustment period when making the jump from college hockey to the professional game. This league has arguably assembled the finest collection of talent there is for women’s professional hockey. While Canada’s CWHL and Sweden’s SDHL are certainly front runners in this category as well, the NWHL is in possession of what might be the deepest pool of elite players in a women’s league. Playing with and against high-caliber players on a regular basis, Schlagel has indeed noted the difference between the pro and college levels.
“The biggest challenge this year has been adjusting to the pace of the game,” she told THW. “For the most part, it’s all of the best players from college in this league, and the pace and physicality of the game obviously have increased a bit. It makes it a little bit more challenging when we’re not actually practicing every day and playing every weekend like we were in college.”
Although she is capable of playing either forward or defense, the Whitecaps have primarily utilize Schlagel as a blueliner this season. She has generated a pair of goals and a pair of assists through the 12 games that she has played. Additionally, her 14 penalty minutes are the most for any Whitecaps player. Though she is willing to play either up front or on the back end, Schlagel will play wherever she is needed and wherever best suits Minnesota.
“I think it depends on the team and the situation, and what my role ultimately is,” Schlagel explained about playing either position. “I think most of the time my play is more valuable as a defender, and that I’ve fit well with the Whitecaps this season in that position. That being said, I’d never pass up an opportunity to play a little forward as well.”
Gelling With Her Teammates
The Whitecaps have been a dominating team all season long. Not only do they sit at the top of the standings in points, but they lead the league in goals scored with 47. Granted, they have a game in hand on the other four teams, but that is still 21 more goals than the defending Isobel Cup champs – the Metropolitan Riveters – and 29 more than the Connecticut Whale. The Whitecaps have eight players who have been elected to the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game – that ties them with Buffalo for the team with the most attendees.
Though Schlagel was not one of the eight Whitecaps chosen for Nashville, she has been a “Miss Steadfast” on the blue line for her team. Minnesota possesses one of the more diverse rosters in the league in terms of experience. Their inaugural roster is comprised of a captain in her 40s, multiple Team USA Olympic gold medalists, previously proven NWHL talents who signed with Minnesota, and fresh-faced rookies. Among them all, Schlagel finds that she indeed gelling with teammates, both new and former.
“While we haven’t played too much together this year,” Schlagel stated, “I think Tanja Eisenschmid and I have clicked really well together as a D pair. Our styles of play just work very well together on the ice. I’ve also always had a good time playing with Jonna Curtis. From being teammates for three years at UNH, and now being able to play on the same professional team together is something pretty cool.”
Preparing for the Postseason
Schlagel and the Whitecaps are currently sitting in first place. That is where they are vying to remain when the 2018-19 regular season comes to a close. The playoff format is rather simple. All five teams will make the playoffs. All playoff rounds are single games with no series. The first place team in the league has a bye for the opening round. The fifth place team will play the fourth place team. The winner of that match-up then faces the first place team, where the winner of which goes on to the final. The second and third place teams face one another, and that winner goes to the final.
By remaining in first, Schlagel and company would not only secure a bye for the opening round, but they would have the benefit of home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. Geographically speaking, Minnesota having home-ice advantage puts the other four squads at a distinct disadvantage. Buffalo, Boston, Connecticut and Metropolitan are each able to travel rather simply between one another’s rinks, and have done so through the first three NWHL seasons. Making the journey to Minnesota is a bit of a trek for each of them.
🎟Get your tickets here: https://t.co/FFBhR4FqCF
— Minnesota Whitecaps (@WhitecapsHockey) January 15, 2019
From Schlagel’s and the Whitecaps’ perspective, having home-ice advantage goes well beyond just geography though. They would love nothing more than to play two playoff games – including a championship game – in front of the continuously packed house at TRIA Rink. The Whitecaps fans are some of the most passionate in all of women’s hockey – not just the NWHL. Schlagel is well aware of the benefits that two home playoff games could bring – among them, the potential to win the Isobel Cup on Minnesota ice. That in and of itself is something she would want to give to the hometown faithful in return for the support that she and her teammates have received from them all season.
“My message to Whitecaps fans would be thank you for all the support you’ve given us this year,” Schlagel said to THW about the Whitecaps fan base. “It’s really been such a great experience to play for the best fans in hockey and the best fans by far in the league. We’re going to need just as much support in the playoffs and hopefully, we can bring Minnesota a championship!”
As has become Minnesota’s mantra: “Roll Caps!”
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.