The Boston Pride announced a very key signing on May 29 when word was released that veteran defender Lexi Bender will be returning to the team for a fourth straight season. She will be receiving a salary of $13,000 for the upcoming 2019-20 campaign. Bender was named an NWHL All-Star for both 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota and 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Pride initially drafted Bender in the third round of the 2015 NWHL Draft when they chose her 11th overall. Since that time she has become one of the team’s steadiest defenders and also one of its most popular players.
“Next season I hope to play fast and loose,” Bender stated in the press release about her signing, “and want to make sure that I am ready to contribute to the best of my abilities. I expect the Pride to be a high-energy team, and I have a feeling we will be fun to watch!”
Size, Speed and a Hard Shot
The Pride have had a penchant for assembling their defense corps with sizable, rugged blueliners the past number of seasons. At 5-foot-8 and strong play in her own zone, Bender fits that mold well but she is also a sleek skater. She maneuvers well on the ice, and uses her acceleration to keep close with opposing shooters time and again.
When asked in the presser to explain what brings success to her own game Bender stated, “Focusing on a tight gap, staying involved in the play, and overall just making sure that I am excited to play every time I step on the ice.”
In addition to her smooth skating and playing a tight check, Bender also possesses a hard shot with a quick release. A right-handed shooter, there is usually no discernible hesitation on her part when she is on the receiving end of a pass.
During this past 2018-19 season, Bender fired 22 pucks on net while playing all 16 regular season games for Boston. That average of 1.375 shots per game from the back end is preceded by seasons of 23 and 22 shots in 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively. Very consistent firing output from Bender is for certain, and leads to rebound opportunities for Pride forwards down low.
“Lexi is a fabulous player who makes everyone around her better,” said Pride head coach Paul Mara.
Providing a Helping Hand
A very noticeable improvement in Bender’s game in 2018-19 was her ability to generate numbers in the assists column. Through her first two NWHL seasons, she compiled a modest five helpers in 33 games. Bender bumped that number up to eight assists in 16 games in the most recent campaign.
Compared with the rest of the Pride, those eight helpers tied her with forward Denisa Křížová for third-most on the team. Bender’s assists were not only the most for all Pride defenders, but they placed her in a four-way tie with Lee Stecklein (Minnesota), Amanda Boulier (Minnesota), and Lisa Chesson (Buffalo) for the second-most among all defenders league-wide.
Bender does not limit her “helping hands” to just feeding Boston goal scorers. She has also been setting examples in the community by helping those off of the ice. Bender was Boston’s 2018 recipient of the NWHL Foundation Award. The honor is bestowed annually to one player from each of the league’s teams, deeming the chosen player as the one most actively applying the core values of hockey to her community, as well as growing and improving hockey culture.
As if that were not enough, the Snohomish, Washington native has been a strong proponent of growing the women’s professional game out west – particularly with the notion of bringing NWHL hockey to the city of Seattle. Bender played youth hockey from the ages of 5 to 14 in the boys’ division of the Seattle Junior Hockey Association, and spoke in the press release over her excitement for the game’s growth in the “Emerald City”.
“Seeing hockey come to Seattle in a big way has been amazing,” she stated. “People are really psyched about hockey and there is no better feeling than seeing people get excited about something you love. There has recently been an #NWHLtoSeattle push in the Pacific Northwest, so it would be really great to give the fans there an event to get excited about.”
The professional women’s game needs positive, upbeat advocates to push for growth in less traditional hockey markets. Bender is a darn good advocate for that simply by how she presents herself and imbues her personality both on and off the ice.
Furthermore – and more importantly to the present – she is one of the best defenders in the NWHL, and she is back for another season. “Pack” fans can grin from ear to ear that Bender is primed for the league’s pivotal Season Five.
Here is a look at how the Pride’s roster is currently shaping out as of May 29:
Defense: Kaleigh Fratkin, Jenna Rheault, Lexi Bender.
Forward: Tori Sullivan, Christina Putigna.
Beginning May 15, NWHL teams can re-sign players from their 2018-19 roster and their draft picks. Additionally, for those players who have completed their college eligibility and want to continue their hockey careers, NWHL Free Agency provides the best opportunity to continue playing at the highest level of professional women’s hockey. The fifth season of the NWHL will begin in October as the Minnesota Whitecaps look to defend their Isobel Cup championship.
My colleague Dan Rice will keep THW readers up-to-date on Metropolitan and Connecticut’s signings throughout the summer, while I post updates on Buffalo and Boston. Together we will be keeping readers informed of all of Minnesota’s signings.