This season in the NWHL was filled with memorable performances by many new faces to the league, but perhaps no one had a bigger impact in announcing their presence with authority than Jonna Curtis with the Minnesota Whitecaps. The native of Elk River, Minnesota, finished second in the league in scoring with 19 points, helped guide her team to first place and eventually the 2019 Isobel Cup.
A few days after hoisting the NWHL championship Curtis was voted as Newcomer of the Year by a panel of media members. “Jonna is a great choice for this award,” said Whitecaps co-head coach Ronda Engelhardt. “Jonna was one of our most consistent forwards (this season). She is a very tenacious player who plays with a lot of heart. She is also very shifty, making it difficult to defend her.”
Prior to the start of the NWHL playoffs we spoke with the 25-year-old Curtis to find out why she has been so successful, her collegiate career, which players were a thorn in her side this season and more.
The Hockey Writers: You had a remarkable season – second in the NWHL in points (19), fourth in assists (11), fifth in goals (8), second in game-winning goals (3). But perhaps what was most impressive was that you only had two power play points, meaning you’re doing a lot of your work at even strength. Individually do you think the season went as you expected or better?
Jonna Curtis: I would say it definitely exceeded. From back to when we had tryouts, I hadn’t really skated and yeah it is kind of like riding a bike (you never forget). But I wasn’t expecting too much, and I have so many great players that I’m playing with – especially my linemates. They deserve so much of the credit as well. They make things a lot easier (for me) and they work hard; I know that I’ve been in the spotlight a bit but it’s definitely my linemates as well as our whole team (that feeds that success). It’s all about teamwork.
THW: You capped off a fantastic collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire (106 points in 122 games) and you were named team captain as a senior. How special was that experience for you?
JC: I had such a good experience at UNH. The coaches and the girls on the team made it so much fun, and being captain my final year…that just showed me so much about leadership. When you come in as a freshman, a sophomore, you’re thinking more about ‘oh I need to be on the first line, the second line.’ But really it’s you work hard, you have fun, and whatever, the points will come. Don’t worry about that, just have fun with your teammates. I think that’s a really important thing and I think that’s why our team this year has been doing so well because we have a great team, we all get along. We’re playing for fun but we’re all competitive.
THW: Did you choose to go to UNH instead of a school in Minnesota because you were recruited by them or was it a better opportunity? What led to that decision?
JC: It was kind of between those schools and UNH, but ultimately Winny (Brodt Brown) she told me to check out UNH because she had some there. I honestly hadn’t even heard of this school (laughs), but I went out there and checked it out. I just instantly fell in love with the campus, the people, the coaches. They tell you to try to take hockey out of it, even though hockey is a big part, try to get a scholarship because (what you do) after school is something to think about. I was hurt my first two years and I couldn’t even really play anyway. It’s a school that even if I wasn’t playing hockey I would’ve gone there anyway. It’s a school with a great atmosphere and I’m really glad I went there, it was a lot of fun.
Curtis and Caps a Perfect Match
THW: In college you play a lot of/if not all of your games during a weekend series, so do you think that helped your transition to the pro level with all of the Whitecaps games this season being parts of weekend series?
JC: Yeah it was very similar and I do think it was helpful. It really wasn’t any different, it felt like college all over again but fewer weekends. I personally like playing two games per weekend, especially when you play the same team. You lose to them and you get another chance to beat them instead of waiting a couple of weeks or a month or two to play them again.
THW: Would the NWHL have been on your radar if there wasn’t a team in Minnesota?
JC: Honestly it wasn’t really but I was told to check it out during my senior year because all of the teams were out east then. I really wanted to go back to Minnesota to gain some work experience and then I heard about them coming to Minnesota. I couldn’t really pass up that opportunity, but I don’t think I would have played if they didn’t add the Minnesota Whitecaps.
THW: So what do you do when you aren’t playing hockey?
JC: I’m a quality engineer at a company called 3M. During the season it’s just work, workout, eat, and sleep.
THW: Was there any player this season that frustrated you more than any other?
JC: I would say just in general Buffalo. To me, they are a very strong team and their goalies (Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley) stand out the most to me. They are two very, very strong goalies and it’s hard to get the puck past them.
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.