For the first time since the 2016-17 season, the Boston Pride find themselves in the Isobel Cup Final. Following what has been a season of NWHL dominance, it would seem only fitting that the Pride would have an opportunity to win it all. Case in point, they have already won nearly every major NWHL award by the the close of the regular season – Most Valuable Player, Goaltender of the Year, and Defender of the Year.
Time to bring home one more?
Assembling an almost unfathomable record of 23-1-0, Boston looks poised to win their first Isobel Cup since the inaugural 2015-16 season. In order to do so, they will need to beat the only team that defeated them this season – the Minnesota Whitecaps.
The two clubs faced each other only four times during the regular season – the least amount of meetings that either team had with another club. The scores of the four showdowns were all relatively close – 3-1, 5-2 and 4-2 in favor of the Pride, with a lone 4-3 victory going to the Whitecaps.
“I would say the focus is just on playing our game,” said Pride forward Jordan Juron. “Not overthinking anything, and coming out hard in the first.”
Juron scored Boston’s fifth goal in their 5-1 semi-final victory over the Connecticut Whale on Mar. 8. The victory sprung forth Boston’s trip to the championship round
A late-season addition to “The Pack”, this is Juron’s third straight trip to the Cup Final.
“We will have our crowd behind us, which is huge,” she said. “I lost the past two seasons with Buffalo on the road in the Final. Having home-ice advantage in such a big game is huge especially when you have fans like we do! If we stick to how we have played all year and really commit to playing a full 60, then I like our chances. Like Coach (Paul Mara) kept saying in the Semis – ‘No shifts off!’.”
For the third straight season, my THW colleague Dan Rice and I will preview each of the teams in the Isobel Cup Final – he the Minnesota Whitecaps, and I the Boston Pride. We will each identify three distinct reasons why “our” team will win it all. The championship game will be played this Friday evening Mar. 13 at 7:15pm EDT. No matter the victor, the contest is bound to be thrilling, as the NWHL’s top-two teams square off.
Presented by THW, here are my three reasons why the Boston Pride will win the 2019-20 Isobel Cup Championship.
To become a dominant hockey team, you need to have a dominant goaltender. The Pride certainly have one in Swedish netminder Lovisa Selander. Playing in her rookie season following four successful campaigns for R.P.I.’s NCAA Division I program, the 23-year-old Selander turned NWHL shooters on their ears all season long.
She had previously played at the professional level as a teenager in Sweden’s SDHL prior to beginning her collegiate career.
“I think every playing experience has helped develop me as a goalie,” Selander said. “I’m very fortunate to have had such great opportunities throughout my career. This season my teammates and opponents have challenged me beyond measure. Our team has been preparing for this ultimate goal the entire season, and I hope to play the best hockey of my career for them.”
She decisively owned the best numbers in all of the major goaltending stats categories for the league. Selander was tops for wins (17- an NWHL record), save percentage (.941%) and goals against average (1.71). Understandably so, she was voted the NWHL’s Goaltender of the Year.
Defeating the Whale in the semis, she turned aside 29 of the 30 shots she faced and earned the game’s Second Star.
Interesting to note that Selander will turn 24 the day after the Cup Final. Adding Lady Isobel as birthday hardware gives a little extra incentive for sure.
2. Kaleigh Fratkin
There is certainly an additional inspiration for the Pride to win the Cup this season. It comes in the embodiment of their most veteran rearguard.
Original NWHLer Kaleigh Fratkin will be playing in her first ever Isobel Cup Final. An inaugural member of the Connecticut Whale, she suited up for the Riveters in 2016-17, followed by three straight seasons for Boston. Until now though, Fratkin has never made it beyond the Isobel Cup Semis. If the Pride are going to do this, you know that a part of each Boston player is thinking “Do it for Fratty”.
“I’m beyond excited and thrilled,” Fratkin told THW. “It’s hard to put into words. I’ve watched every Final since the inception of this league, and the thought of getting that much closer is crazy. I know what it’s like to lose. I’ve been there too many times in this league, and I’m that much more motivated to lay it all out on the line Friday for my teammates.”
Taking emotions out of it for a moment, Fratkin is also the team’s premier defender to get the job done anyway. She was the second-highest scoring blueliner in the league this season after posting 23 points (3 goals, 20 assists) in 24 games.
That scoring touch combined with her natural defensive prowess saw Fratkin be named the recipient of the NWHL’s 2019-20 Defender of the Year award. Her +33 for plus/minus rating was second highest among all skaters in the league. Fratkin’s 22 blocked shots were also second most on the team behind Lauren Kelly’s and Mal Souliotis’ 22 each.
Fratkin was named First Star in Boston’s 5-1 semi-final win over the Whale, as she scored a goal and a pair of assists. Those three points currently lead the Pride in playoff scoring.
Having Fratkin as a feel-good story for the team is some icing on the cake, but it is her skill set that is paramount in making Boston’s magical season a reality.
3. 120 Goals For; 43 Goals Against
No one can argue with Boston’s dominance on the score sheet, and their ability to simply shut others down. The numbers never lie – 120 goals scored, while only allowing 43 against all season. No NWHL team generated more offense this season than the Pride, while no club was stingier either.
An almost staggering 13 different Boston skaters reached double digits in points this season. That is compared with Minnesota who had 11 of their own, which was the next most in the NWHL. Buffalo (9 players), Metropolitan (7), and Connecticut (2) were just nowhere near as prolific.
Much of the Pride’s ability to create offense during the regular season came down to puck control. Their face-off winning totals are simply uncanny. Just look at their top-3 draw takers: Jillian Dempsey (342-206), Lexie Laing (251-158) and Mary Parker (154-132). They won draws in abundance and won them often.
As if their goal totals were not enough, it was just so hard for teams to score against them all season. The Pride only allowed 43 goals all season – a differential of +77. The next lowest was Minnesota, who gave up 52 – just nine more. Buffalo was a far cry away with 116 allowed – the most in the league, and a full 73 more against than the Pride. Boston only allowed more than three goals in a game once all season.
Yes, Selander can be credited with much of that, but it goes well beyond just her. No skater for Boston finished the regular season as a minus player. Six different Pride players were at least a plus-20. Furthermore, Selander’s goaltending partner, Victoria Hanson, was pretty stingy herself. Hanson won six games for the team, suffered no losses, and finished with a 1.97 GAA and a .919 SV%.
The trouble for opposing teams when they come up against Boston is that there are too many plates to have spinning at once. Minnesota will need to find ways to get a puck or two behind Selander, while also having to stymie at least 13 different players who are legitimate scoring threats.