Now in her second season in the NWHL and with the Boston Pride, life is good for defender Lauren Kelly. Her team is 22-1-0 heading into their final game of the regular season, she’s is one of 13 players (of 18 skaters) on the Pride to have reached double digits in points, and she’s playing in front of sold-out crowds in her hometown. Not too shabby for a 23-year-old from Watertown, Massachusetts.
The Pride are the favorites to win the Isobel Cup after steamrolling their way through the NWHL this season and Kelly’s presence on the blueline has been a key factor in their success. They have improved their win total from last season by eleven games with one game to go and will be well-rested once they play in their semifinal game on March 8 after having a week off.
We caught up with Kelly after the Pride’s second shutout of the season, a 3-0 road win over the Connecticut Whale in the home of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers as the first game of an NWHL/AHL doubleheader, to find out why she and the team have been so successful, why it’s a good thing they won’t be undefeated heading into the Isobel Cup Playoffs, and more.
The Hockey Writers: What were your impressions of the game today, which was a little bit of a different setting than you’re used to?
Lauren Kelly: I don’t know if the ice surface was a little bigger (then we are used to) but it felt like we had a lot more room out there to get our feet moving, which is something that we try to focus on with the speed of our forwards. It was good to see and refreshing to see that we were able to get our feet moving and get our speed going.
Home Sweet Home
THW: You were drafted by Boston, was that surprise? Was the NWHL on your radar?
LK: Definitely once the league began I started looking towards achieving that goal. Before the league began it wasn’t even a consideration (for me) to play pro hockey. Being drafted during my senior year at Northeastern was special and the fact that Boston drafted me, being from Massachusetts, that just made it ten times more special.
THW: Your team is an amazing 22-1-0, what has the season been like?
LK: It’s been great and I think a lot of it has to do with our camaraderie off the ice. That team environment is something that we strive to have and I think focusing on that off the ice has allowed us to do what we are doing on the ice.
THW: Everyone has scored a lot this year on this team obviously, but your point total has jumped from three to 11 points this season. Any rhyme or reason for that?
LK: I think for the most part all of us have been playing with a chip on our shoulders, and with more confidence this season. For myself, I’ve been playing with confidence for sure, and feeling like I have a team behind me is a huge aspect of that. The team atmosphere this year has allowed all of us to be a little more confident with the puck.
Defending the Pride
THW: Your head coach Paul Mara was an NHL defenseman, has he helped your game as a defender, and if so how?
LK: Yup, absolutely. One of the greatest things about this team is that our coaches give so much feedback. Our coaches and players have such a great dynamic where we can joke around and laugh with them, but there is also a serious side. Which is another reason why I think we have been so successful this season – that relationship with our coaches and team staff.
THW: Not sure if you were aware but coming into today’s game you were tied for third in penalties drawn with 14 (and added one today to that total), which means your feet are moving a lot usually, but that isn’t a conscious part of your game right?
LK: No, no, not at all. I had no idea. Maybe people just don’t like me, (laughs) I don’t know!
Isobel or Bust
THW: Last season your team fell short in the playoffs in Buffalo, but this season you have home-ice for the playoffs. What do you have to do to not overlook teams?
LK: I think focusing on ourselves and our game will be a huge aspect of that. If we play our game no team can stay with us, and that was evident today. Once our forwards get their feet moving they are really fast; that’s something I notice a lot in practice. It will help to have the home-ice advantage (this season) because the Boston fans are the best fans in the league and hopefully we have a loud, sold-out crowd behind us.
THW: With one game left and your position obviously locked up, does it mean anything?
LK: Absolutely it means something. We want to go into the playoffs with confidence so we’re going to give 110% tomorrow.
THW: Do you think it’s better that you lost during the season so the undefeated season isn’t hanging over your head in the playoffs?
LK: I think that loss gave us the fire that we needed to go get the Cup. Having that unbeaten streak would have added a lot of pressure to the playoffs. It happening when it did just gave us the motivation to work even harder, and it ended up being a good thing.