It was a slow month as far as games go for the NWHL in November, as they went on a two-week hiatus for the Four Nations Cup which was canceled after the schedule was already announced. Oops. Due to that, there were only a total of seven games, but there was still a ton of drama, two hat tricks, our first shutout of the season, and lots of highlight-reel goals.
“We don’t just play for the scoreboard, we don’t play for the time – we just continue to play our game, and we stick to our fundamentals,” said Buffalo Beauts goaltender Mariah Fujimagari. “When we do, we have success. It’s all about the process and just enjoying the journey.”
Still Leading the Pack
Boston finished November a perfect 3-0-0 and head into next month with a 10-0-0 record. They have shown themselves to be the deepest team in the league with six of their players in the top-10 in the NWHL scoring race and nine (9!) of their players have reached double-digits in points already.
McKenna Brand leads the league in points (18), goals (11), and game-winning goals (3), while her linemate, captain Jillian Dempsey is the league leader in assists (12) and tied with Brand with 18 points. “McKenna doesn’t let up,” said Pride head coach Paul Mara after a recent game. “Every time she’s at the rink, she is committed to making herself a better player. I believe people around hockey are beginning to take notice of McKenna Brand, and if they haven’t yet, they should. She’s an exceptional player in every area of the ice.”
Their netminder Lovisa Selander leads the league in wins with nine and her partner Victoria Hanson has the league’s lone shutout thus far this season. During November Mary Parker had six goals/seven points, including a hat trick, and Emily Fluke (1g-4a), Lexie Laing (3g-2a) and Alyssa Wohlfeiler (1g-4a) had five points each.
Fluke has 11 points this season in nine games, which ties her career-high from each of the past two seasons (16 games each) with Connecticut. After nine straight home games, the Pride will hit the road for their next seven games, five of which will be in December. After playing at Metropolitan on Dec. 7 they will play two in Buffalo (Dec. 21-22) and two in Connecticut (Dec. 28-29) to close out 2019.
Buffalo finds itself in second place to start December after finishing November with a 3-2-0 record that included two wins over Connecticut and one against Minnesota. Like Boston, they have balanced scoring throughout their lineup and have three players tied for fourth in NWHL scoring with 13 points apiece.
Taylor Accursi has been on fire since the break ended and netted six of her nine goals in November, including a hat trick. Accursi is tied with rookies Brooke Stacey (6g-7a) and Marie-Jo Pelletier (2g-11a) for the team lead in scoring. MJP had seven assists last month and Erin Gehen chipped in four goals as they completed a five-game season sweep of the Whale.
“I’d say my style is to just work hard, and work for everything that you get out there,” said Gehen after a two-goal performance in Danbury. “Make plays and plays will come to you.” Not only have the Beauts been getting scoring, but also good goaltending as well. Kelsey Neumann picked up two wins in November, allowing only three goals, and Fujimagari made a bazillion saves in the weekend split against the Whitecaps.
Accursi’s 13 points (9g-4a) this season is two more than her previous career-best of 11 in her rookie season. The Beauts are off until Dec. 21-22 when they host the Pride for two games and then the following weekend they host the Riveters for two games, including an outdoor game on Dec. 28.
The Whale finished November winless (0-3-0), dropping two games to the Beauts that sandwiched a shutout loss in Boston. With their next six games coming at home Connecticut will be looking to finally secure that elusive first win before the calendar flips to 2020.
Second-year forward Kayla Meneghin netted two of the Whale’s three goals in November and is now third on the team in points (4g-1a). Captain Shannon Doyle continues to lead the league in blocked shots and now has 28 in eight games. Sonjia Shelly has faced a lot of shots and is going to need some more scoring help in front of her if she is to help the franchise win their first game in almost a calendar year.
Despite their offensive struggles of late, ten different players have at least one goal for Connecticut and they could easily have had at least two wins if not for some bad puck-luck. “We feel better knowing that when we give our forwards opportunities by putting pucks in good places and by getting shots through from the point, they’re going to finish for us,” said Doyle.
Meneghin has a goal in each of her last four games played and five points in that span. In December the Whale will host the Riveters (Dec. 1, 8), Whitecaps (Dec. 21-22) and Pride (Dec.28-29) two times each before hitting the road for seven straight games in 2020.
The Riveters played a grand total of one game in November, on the month’s final day. They played in Boston (again) and lost 5-2, their fourth loss to the Pride in four tries. In the loss, they scored first which is something that no other team has been able to do against the league-leaders. In fact, they’re the only team to hold a lead against Boston thus far.
Rookie Kate Leary was the scoring star in the loss, netting both goals, and recently-signed defender Anna Keys picked up her first pro assist in the game. Leary has at least one point in all five of her games this season and is tied with Madison Packer for the team lead with seven points. Sam Walther finished with 38 saves, many of the highlight-reel variety, in the loss.
“During our layoff, Coach Ivo kept us on our toes with lots of battling drills, good skating, and system work,” said forward Brooke Baker. We are eager to get back out on the ice and play some hockey!”
The Riveters start their December schedule with a game in Connecticut on the first and then return home to host the Pride the following weekend (Dec. 7) before finishing the month with games in Connecticut (Dec. 8), Minnesota (Dec.14-15) and Buffalo (Dec. 28-29).
The Whitecaps played only two games in November and it was a trip to Buffalo for the first rematch of the season between last season’s Isobel Cup Finalists. In both games, the defending champions jumped out to early leads, but it was in the second of the two games that the Beauts were able to rally late to split the weekend series.
Minnesota has scored the second-most goals in the league and despite only two games in the month, seven different players recorded at least two points, led by Jonna Curtis (1g-3a), Allie Thunstrom (2g-1a), and Nicole Schammel (2g-1a). Defender Amanda Boulier had two assists and is second in the league with 11 total.
As a team, they have struggled in the second game of back-to-backs, which is something they will have to clean up as the season wears on. “When we do those little things right, everything else will fall into place,” said defender Sydney Baldwin who is third on her team in points (9), and fourth in the league among all blueliners in points.
Since joining the NWHL last season Curtis has been a force to be reckoned with and already has 13 points (6g-7a) in just eight games; she is currently tied for fourth in the league in scoring. In December the Whitecaps will play four games – they host the Riveters for two (Dec. 14-15) and they play in Connecticut the following weekend (Dec. 21-22).
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.