On the surface, glancing at Taylor Wenczkowski’s stats as a rookie in the NWHL last season it’s easy to think that there isn’t much to see. The Rochester, New Hampshire native had one goal and fired 21 shots on goal in seven games during games played at Lake Placid. This came after she racked up 82 points (42g-40a) during 149 games at the University of New Hampshire. Her performance there led to her being selected 18th overall (more on that later) in the 2020 NWHL Draft by the Boston Pride.
But it was in the playoffs, specifically in the Isobel Cup Final, where Wenczkowski will forever be remembered for her iconic goal (and celly) that ended up as the difference in the Pride’s 4-3 triumph, capturing Boston’s second NWHL championship. Fast forward to 20-25 years from now, that play, that explosion of emotion will be seen in every single highlight of the NWHL until the end of time (alongside Alexa Gruschow, Lee Stecklein, Corinne Buie, and Hilary Knight) by the next generation of players and fans with admiration and awe.
“Yeah, probably,” Wenczkowski replied when we asked if it was the biggest goal she has ever scored. Then she laughed a bit and explained why. “I mean, my mom said it before the game to my dad – she said: ‘I have a feeling Taylor’s going to score and it’s going to be the game-winner.’ But the two previous championship games I’ve ever played in – I had the game-winner, which is crazy to think about. But that was when I was much younger, playing locally. I never won a championship in college or anything. To do it my first year as a pro, yeah, it hasn’t really hit me yet of how big a goal it was.”
Her goal with 6:30 remaining in regulation gave the Pride a two-goal cushion, which they would certainly need when the Minnesota Whitecaps furiously tried to tie the game in its dying seconds. Over the course of our 30-minute chat, she used the word surreal a lot, regarding the Cup-clincher and she’s most definitely looking forward to seeing that 2021 championship banner being raised in Boston at the start of Season 7.
Wenczkowski took a break from her off-season training regimen to talk with The Hockey Writers about a myriad of topics including where her stick from that Cup-winning goal is, how the Boston Pride rebounded from a rocky start in Lake Placid, why she wears no. 18, and more.
Lake Placid Blues
The Hockey Writers: Let’s start with this, were you lucky enough to avoid getting covid while you were in Lake Placid?
Taylor Wenczkowski: Unfortunately no, I did get covid (mild symptoms) while we were there. It was bound to happen once people there started testing positive. We all did what we could (to avoid it), fortunately, we were in our own building so we were one of the last teams to get infected – us and Buffalo. A bunch of us got it and ended up staying in the hotel there for a while. We made the best of it, watched the Super Bowl there. It was tough not being in my own bed or not having the food I wanted. I really wanted a smoothie, pretty much every meal, it didn’t happen (laughs). There was a group of us there and we were able to lean on one another for support. It was hard, but it is what it is.
THW: Do you think that week ultimately turned into a bonding experience for your group?
TW: Yeah definitely. I think it was good. Before we got there it was hard to get to know some of the other girls – we would go to practice (usually 9:30 pm) and it wasn’t like a traditional season obviously. It was hard to get to know people showing up ten minutes before practice and leaving the rink right after. I knew a decent amount of girls coming into the season, but a lot of our interactions were just small talk (how was your day?) which isn’t normal. We didn’t have road trips, team activities outside of the rink, so it was tough. In a way, getting covid brought some of us closer and we’ll never forget the people we were with during those ten days we stayed there during quarantine.
Making the Jump to Pro Hockey
THW: Did the extended practice time that you had helped to prepare you for the jump from college to the pro game?
TW: Definitely. I think the extra practice for me specifically helped a lot because I had surgery in the offseason (which was delayed because of covid) so I don’t think I would’ve been ready (for a normal season) because I didn’t start shooting (pucks) until September and I had to slowly work my way back into that.
That extra practice time definitely helped me with my confidence, being on the ice four-five times a week. Being surrounded by the caliber of players we have on our team also helped, we pushed each other in every practice. It was almost like a college All-Star team, that’s how I looked at it. All of the best girls from Hockey East are on the same team and competing day in and day out together.
THW: From your perspective how did the NWHL Draft play out – were you expecting to get picked? Were you surprised? You were picked no.18 overall – is that why you chose to wear no.18?
TW: So I’ve known ever since I played high school hockey in Boston that I wanted to be back in Boston after college. Whether that was the NW or the PW. I had a lot of conversations on both sides, and McKenna (Brand) was someone I talked to quite a bit. I just wanted to put myself in a situation where I could potentially win a championship and be in Boston.
Going into the draft I talked to I think four of the six teams and was straight up with all of them – I wanted to be in Boston. I had those conversations with Coach Paul Mara and (Karilyn) Pilch from day one. I went back and forth a bit deciding on the league I picked, I wanted to be 100% sure. Fresh out of college you’re not too sure what is going on behind the scenes. Once I settled on the NWHL I called Coach Mara and told him that was where I wanted to be and he said alright, we’re going to draft you.
So I wore no. 12 pretty much my whole life and my sister has been no. 28 because one of her favorite players is Sam Faber (who wore 28 at UNH and with the Connecticut Whale). In Boston, Jenna (Rheault) has no. 12. I tried to bribe her so I could wear the number I wore in college and basically my whole career. No dice. Breezy (Briana Mastel) re-signed and she has no. 28 so I put 12 and 28 together – I took the one from 12 and the eight from 28. It’s a special number and it worked out. It’s ironic that it was my draft number as well.
Championship or Bust
THW: What do you think the biggest difference was with your team between the games in Lake Placid and the playoff games in Boston?
TW: So Lake Placid, it was really hard to tell what was off. I think maybe even the energy on the bench, once our backs were up against the wall after we lost that game to Buffalo. It’s a best-of-3, we had nothing to lose – you either win or you’re done. Going into that game we made a conscious effort to support each other, bring energy for 60 minutes. If you go back and watch our last two games in Lake Placid when anyone scored we were jumping up and down on the bench.
Sammy (Davis) scored in one of those games and her celly ended up next to our bench and everyone just piled on one another, there’s actually a picture of it that some of my teammates posted on Instagram. You can see the energy that we had and we had that every time someone scored during our final four games (two in LP, two in Boston). I truly believe that was a big difference for us. I sometimes get nervous for games, especially for playoffs, but the morning of the playoff game against Toronto I felt no nerves at all and was totally calm. Same thing the next day against Minnesota. I never felt so confident in a team.
THW: Let’s get into that game against the Whitecaps in the Cup Final. What was it like playing in that game with so many swings of emotions for both teams?
TW: That’s a great question. I remember they scored first, (Allie) Thunstrom scored an unreal goal. I remember it vividly, she went up the left side, cut to the middle, shot it, might’ve been blocker side; an unreal play by her. Going into that game we knew it wasn’t going to be a 1-0 game, we knew it was going to be a battle. Minnesota is a good team. We had the mindset that whenever anything negative came our way that day, that we would be able to bounce back from it.
You could tell that maybe our top line was getting a little frustrated. I remember our line (Mary Parker, Teresa Vanizova) just saying – okay, let’s have a really good shift and pick it up for them. If they see us changing momentum, changing the game, they’re going to get more confidence and we can turn this around. Mary scored a huge goal, early in the second period to make it 1-1.
Even after we tied it, it was still a feeling of having our backs up against the wall. We rode that to a 4-2 lead in the third period and Vanizova got a 5-minute major late in regulation, but we never got nervous. We knew we just had to kill the penalty. They got a goal, there were 19.4 seconds left in regulation – I will never forget that. We all kept saying 19.4 seconds left, just gotta win the face-off and get the puck deep. Longest 19.4 seconds of my life, but also, the most exciting.
THW: You skipped over the best part, your power-play goal, which turned out to be the difference in the final score. I rewatched the third period this morning and your positioning on the play was so on point. We didn’t get to talk to you after the game that night, unfortunately, but how big did your eyes get, and did it feel like the play unfolded in slow motion?
TW: It definitely felt like slow motion. Fratty (Kaleigh Fratkin) took the shot from the point and I’m pretty sure (Amanda) Leveille saved it, and it popped out – if you look at it, it was a weird angle. My hands were placed weird, I don’t even know, it felt like the puck was on a string. As soon as it came to me I thought to myself: this has to go in. It went so slowly into the net, and obviously, I was super-pumped afterward that it went in. It’s pretty surreal and kind of hard to explain. I’m glad I didn’t get too close to the net and sucked in. Their big defender (Maddie) Rowe was in front of the crease tied up with, one of our players so I backed away from the net a bit. I tried to position myself right because when that shot from the point comes there’s a good chance it could rebound to me. Fratty with a perfect shot, couldn’t have asked for a better rebound to land on my stick.
THW: Any chance you have the puck from that goal, or do you know where it is?
TW: I don’t have the puck, but my stick was sent to Toronto to go on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hopefully, when we go to Toronto next year to play the Six we can go there to see it. I haven’t seen any pictures of it or any updates. When I have kids and grandkids it would be cool to go there and show them, something that would be really special.
THW: Your team was honored quite a bit at various places around Boston following the championship. What was your favorite part(s) of the post-Cup celebration?
TW: Oh that’s tough. We were split up for some of them. I was one of the ones who went to the Red Sox game, and a group went to the Celtics and the Bruins. A decent amount of us went to the Revs game. But one of the coolest parts was probably when Ray Bourque had us all to Tresca in the North End just to celebrate us. To me, that was just really cool because when I was a kid he was this Boston legend. For him, with all of his success, to support us as an organization was just really awesome. They treated us like true professionals and the more our sport grows, the more visibility we get, the more this will grow.
Maybe it’s not ideal right now that we have to work full time and yeah we’re not on that NHL-pay level, but we were treated first class after that win and it was special. I just thought it was really cool that he dedicated that day for us and welcomed us the way he did. Just really cool for us.
THW: Have you had your one-on-one time with the Isobel Cup yet?
TW: I did, I had it a couple of weeks ago. I picked it up from Lexie Laing on a Sunday morning. I brought it to the church my family goes to right near UNH. Then I took it to the rink I first started playing at in Rochester, New Hampshire for about 90 minutes, had a table set up, signed autographs, and took pictures. Later that day we had some people over to my parent’s house for a barbecue. I also had it Monday and Tuesday as well. I do some private lessons on ice so I brought it to show some of the players there. I brought it to Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning, which is where I train.
THW: What were some of the things you heard from people when they got to see it?
TW: Depends on the type of people. We went out to dinner that Monday night and I brought it with us. Some people asked if it was the Stanley Cup, so I would explain that it was the NWHL’s equivalent. It was cool though, people would see it and ask what it was, then say wow I didn’t even know there was a league. People stopped me on the street and asked if they could take a picture of me with it. They didn’t want to be in the picture, they asked the name of the league, the name of the trophy, who our team was.
But seeing the little girls’ eyes light up when they saw it, they were so excited and said hopefully one day they could win it. It’s something for them to aspire to do, dream to be. I think that’s my biggest takeaway and I think that’s why a lot of us are playing still after college – to really grow the game. Hopefully, in ten years, girls can come to play pro hockey full-time and coach on the side if they want, but not have to work 9-5 full-time.
THW: Looking forward to next season, which we’re pretty certain you’ll be a part of, do you envision a bigger role on the team with not everyone coming back. Maybe even perhaps seeing some time on the penalty kill?
TW: Definitely. I’m trying to work hard this summer and whatever happens next season – if I’m on the penalty kill great, if not that’s great too. Looking forward to more 5-on-5 ice-time because we may lose some key players, so I’m trying to elevate my game for next year and do everything I can, everything in my power to get us back to that championship game again next year.