She was a draft pick of the Metropolitan Riveters (Round 3, 11th overall in 2017), but there was no doubt in McKenna Brand’s mind that she would be signing with the Boston Pride once her collegiate career was finished at Northeastern University. Not even the addition of a fifth NWHL team in her home state was going to change her mind, or was it?
“I definitely did think about it. But ultimately all of my closest friends are out here, a lot of my connections are out here (on the east coast). It wasn’t an easy decision; I might’ve broken my parent’s hearts,” said Brand while chuckling, “but I’m happy with my decision so far. I was pretty much set on staying in Boston. I love the area and all of my teammates are still there, all of my close friends. That is where I want to set up for a while.”
In early December the 22-year-old Brand made her return to the State of Hockey and she did alright for herself in front of a large contingent of family and friends. She had five points (1g-4a), and more importantly, her team had two wins in two games as the Pride routed the Minnesota Whitecaps in their first-ever matchup.
“That was awesome. I probably had 30 or 40 family and friends come to those games,” Brand told The Hockey Writers. “I never got to play a college game in Minnesota. So it was pretty special to play professionally in front of so many people that supported me since I was like five-years-old.”
Pride-Full of Howling Huskies
You can bet that the Pride is happy she chose Boston over Minnesota. Currently, she’s tied for fifth in the league in points (14) with two of her teammates – Jillian Dempsey and Haley Skarupa, and her point total is second among all NWHL rookies. “I think just using my teammates and linemates. Playing with Denisa (Krizova) at Northeastern, being on a line with her for two years at Northeastern; coming in and being able to play with her, that has definitely contributed to my success,” Brand told THW of her transition playing pro hockey. “I think using my speed and using my shot is something that I have focused on a lot this year.”
Krizova isn’t far behind with 11 points (fifth on Boston) and the two have continued their college chemistry at the pro level, giving the Pride a new dynamic duo. While at Northeastern University Brand’s game was terribly well balanced – 55 goals and 56 assists. So what’s been the secret to her success? “Denisa and I kind of have a joke that she’s the passer and I’m the shooter,” she said with a smile. “But I would rather have a rounded out game than just being one way.”
smelker pokes the puck to brand who wraps around for the pride's second goal
(what this gif doesn't show is the work brand did before this to keep possession) pic.twitter.com/6gkHwTFnmC
— Michelle Jay (@michelle_jay3) February 18, 2019
Once the NWHL was formed in 2015, she was pretty sure it was something that she wanted to be a part of. For multiple reasons. “Oh yeah, absolutely,” she replied when asked if the league was on her radar. “Right away, you think – okay, that’s something I don’t have to go overseas and play or go to Canada and play. You can play in the States and it’s something that’s really cool to be a part of right now because it’s in its early stages, this is only the fourth year. To be a part of the early years is something that’s pretty cool.”
This season’s Pride squad resembles the Pride teams we remember from the NWHL’s first two seasons when they were in the Isobel Cup Final. Last year was a bit of a down year, but this season they have been scoring goals in bunches and another rookie, goaltender Katie Burt, has become one of the elite netminders in the league. At 10-4-0 they have the inside track to the league’s top seed, and they’ve scored the most goals among the five teams and look like one of the deepest teams in the league.
How do they keep things rolling with the playoffs fast approaching? Keep it simple and continue doing what they’ve been doing. “I think we need to bring more of what we brought today in our 8-1 triumph over the Riveters. Just keep things simple, I think sometimes when we start to do too much that’s when we get ourselves in trouble. I think cleaning up our D zone a little bit, but if we can score like we scored today I think we’ll be in good shape,” said Brand after the game where she put up a goal and an assist.
“Our main goal is to come in, have fun, and play fast,” she added. “It’s nice to put up that many goals, but our main focus was to start fast and score first. Typically when we score first we’re winning games so that was the most important thing for us (today).”
If they keep starting fast and scoring goals Brand and the Boston Pride will become the first two-time champions in the NWHL. With her scoring prowess and the team’s newfound scoring depth, they are a safe bet to at least be in the title game.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.