The 2019-20 edition of the Boston Pride continues to look better and better. Word was released on the morning of Jun. 20 that “The Pack” had re-signed their top rookie from last season, forward McKenna Brand. In an NWHL arms race, Boston suddenly increases their artillery exponentially with this particular reacquisition.
“McKenna Brand is a player that every coach would want on their team,” said Boston head coach Paul Mara in the press release for Brand’s signing. “She works hard at every practice and every game and does everything with 100 percent effort. With her talent and dedication, she will only get better and I’m really looking forward to seeing her play continue to soar.”
Brand turned in a phenomenal rookie campaign during the 2018-19 NWHL season. Playing in all 16 regular season games for Boston, she was better than a point-per-game player with her six goals and 11 assists. There is every reason to believe that she can again reach – and likely exceed – those same numbers in the season ahead.
Brand becomes the 10th player that the Pride have signed since the start of NWHL Free Agency on May 15.
Brand Can Score in Droves
Brand’s scoring placed her second overall for the Pride behind Haley Skarupa, and ranked her at number-5 in the entire league. Though the NWHL’s Newcomer of the Year Award ultimately went to Minnesota’s Jonna Curtis, Brand also received serious consideration for the trophy.
And she certainly earned the nods too.
Brand averaged 1.06 points per game. Her regular season plus-11 (NOTE: the NWHL’s stats totals list her as a plus-13 on the season) was the best number among all Pride skaters. Brand’s 50 shots on net were within the top-10 for all shooters in the league.
The number of Olympians playing in the league at the time, and the array of talented rosters on all five teams last season, only further accentuate how solid of a performance Brand generated as a rookie. It would stand to reason that her sophomore numbers will be even better. Among the players that Boston has signed thus far, Brand is easily their most potent scorer.
“My focus is on continuing to develop my shot, my speed, my play in the defensive zone, and on bringing the Isobel Cup back to Boston,” Brand said about her return to the team. “I am super excited to sign with the Pride again and continue to play for the great city of Boston! I absolutely loved my time in the NWHL during my rookie season and I’m really looking forward to continuing to build our fan base and promoting girls’ and women’s hockey in our community.”
A Penchant for Offense
It was not as if Brand’s offensive totals came out of nowhere either. The Metropolitan Riveters had coveted her enough to draft her with the 11th overall pick of the 2017 NWHL Draft. Though she would end up playing for Boston instead, it was easy to see why more than one professional team would seek her services.
In her four seasons of NCAA hockey, Brand reached double digits in points each time for the Northeastern Huskies. She reached the esteemed 100-point plateau for college hockey by tallying 111 points (56 goals, 55 assists) within 150 career games.
Brand’s finest season for the Huskies came during her junior 2016-17 campaign. She averaged 1.03 points per game across 37 games, and set career highs for goals (23) and points (38). Her highest assist total came during her senior season when she compiled 19 helpers in 39 games.
Brand’s collegiate offense was dependable no matter what the situation may have been on the ice. In fact, she excelled in scoring during the most critical stages of the game. 12 of her 56 career goals came on the power play, while four were shorthanded markers. More importantly to the Huskies’ performance as a team was the fact that 11 of Brand’s tallies held up to be game-winners.
While it is ultimately Mara’s decision on how to utilize his weapons, this writer would like to see an ongoing usage of Brand, Mary Parker and team captain Jillian Dempsey as a forward unit. The trio would be quite formidable, and at this stage in the game would likely be the NWHL’s most powerful line.
Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure – Brand is indeed the type of player “every coach would want on their team”
Here is a look at how the Pride’s roster is currently shaping out as of Jun. 20:
Defense: Kaleigh Fratkin, Jenna Rheault, Lexi Bender, Mallory Souliotis.
Forward: Tori Sullivan, Christina Putigna, Lexie Laing, Mary Parker, Jillian Dempsey, McKenna Brand.
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.