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 Nathaniel Oliver will keep THW readers up-to-date on Buffalo and Boston’s signings throughout the summer, while I post updates on Connecticut and the Riveters. Together we will be keeping readers informed of all of Minnesota’s signings.
On May 24 the defending Isobel Cup champion Minnesota Whitecaps made their first move of the offseason when they re-signed forward Allie Thunstrom. Last season the former speed skater played in all 16 regular season games, putting up nine points (5g-4a) and then added one more point in two playoff games. In her rookie NWHL season, Thunstrom was named to the All-Star Game where she put up an assist and competed in the Fastest Skater competition.
Add the Isobel Cup as the cherry on top and it definitely was not a bad way to return to competitive hockey after a successful foray into speed skating for the 31-year-old from Maplewood, Minnesota. “I am super excited to join the Minnesota Whitecaps for my seventh season and our second in the NWHL,” Thunstrom said in a statement. “Jack Brodt has done an absolutely incredible job keeping this team going for the past 15 years and providing opportunities for us to continue playing the game we love at a high level.”
Brodt, who is the co-founder and co-head coach of the team, knew it was important to bring back a crucial aspect of the Whitecaps’ success last season – speed. “Allie has been a great player in high school, college and now the pros with the Whitecaps,” he said.
Over the final four games of the regular season – when the Whitecaps needed every point to clinch the top seed, Thunstrom responded with five points (3g-2a) in the four wins. “With her blinding speed, outstanding work ethic, and respected leadership, Allie will play an important role in our defense of the Isobel Cup.”
Believing in the NWHL
In what can best be described as a tumultuous time in women’s hockey, Thunstrom let it be known why she decided to return to the league for its fifth season and her second. “We have spent the better part of the last decade trying to join a professional league, which we were finally able to do with the NWHL,” said Thunstrom.
“This past year, representing the State of Hockey and winning the Isobel Cup, was a dream come true. I trust that the NWHL leadership and investment team have the best interests of women’s hockey at heart and more importantly, I believe in the Whitecaps organization and cannot thank Jack enough for what he has provided for myself and countless others. I am honored to play for him and his organization for another year.”
Growing the Game
The love of playing hockey was only part of the equation that lured Thunstrom back to the Whitecaps. It was also setting an example for the next generation of players that they can actually see. “I am also excited to be back for our incredible fans that have supported us not only in the NWHL but also when we played independently. We have a lot of fans that have already renewed their season tickets and I cannot wait to play in front of them and feel their energy again.”
“When I was growing up the idea of women’s professional hockey didn’t really exist, so being able to connect with youth players and little girls and give them something to believe in and strive for is an incredibly powerful gift and is something I do not take for granted. Every smile that is created by fans, young and old, makes every sacrifice over the last decade worth it.”
With uncertainty over which players won’t or will return to the Whitecaps’ title defense, getting Thunstrom under contract gives Minnesota an asset that most of the other NWHL teams were unable to defend against last season. It also will be interesting to see if any of the other players from last season will return now that one of them have taken that first step.