The Isobel Cup Playoffs start on Thursday in the first of two semifinal games, with the second coming on Friday. The winners of the two semis will face-off on Sunday in Lowell, Massachusetts where the NWHL will crown its second champion.
Unlike last season’s format which was best-of-3 series, this season will be single elimination games (ala the NCAA’s Frozen Four) which truly means that anyone can win and all four teams will have a great chance to win two consecutive games and become 2017 Isobel Cup champions.
Thursday, March 16:
(1) Boston Pride vs. (4) Connecticut Whale
Why the Pride will win:
Boston has more USWNT players than any of the other squads and has dominated the NWHL in its two seasons of existence. Try to shut down Hilary Knight and MVP Brianna Decker will burn you. Think you have super rookie Alex Carpenter figured out and Meghan Duggan takes over a game. If goalie Brittany Ott falters, they can call on Lauren Slebodnick who gave up only seven goals in seven appearances (6-0-0); should she start? The Pride went 6-0 against the Whale this season outscoring them 30-12. After losing their first game in eons, will Boston start the semifinal game super charged up?
— Boston Pride (@TheBostonPride) March 12, 2017
Why the Whale will win:
Despite finishing fourth in the standings Connecticut has many players on its roster than can take over a game. Kelli Stack has been on fire since the All-Star Game, Haley Skarupa scores in balance (11g-11a) and bunches, Kelly Babstock has been a point machine all season, and Zoe Hickel has three goals in four games since being traded from Boston. The Whale came close to upending Boston in their final regular season game which should give them some confidence heading into the semifinal game and all of the pressure is on the defending champion Pride.
— Connecticut Whale (@CTWhale_NWHL) February 19, 2017
I always love a good underdog story, and a flair for the dramatics, so I’ll take the Whale 4-3 in overtime with Hickel netting the GWG against her former employers.
Friday, March 17:
(2) New York Riveters vs. (3) Buffalo Beauts
Why the Riveters will win:
Coming off of an epic win over the previously undefeated Pride the Rivs are probably the best team suited to win the NWHL championship. Their team is the deepest of the four teams from their best players to their practice players. They also have Amanda Kessel who has a point (17 total) in every game she’s played this season (8), which is a 2.25 points per game average and Janine Weber, who has ten points (6g-4a) over her final five games. Some might argue they don’t have as much top-end talent as the other three teams, but they have the best ‘team’ in every sense of the word.
— Metropolitan Riveters (@Riveters) March 14, 2017
Why the Beauts will win:
Buffalo has been here before, the underdog as the three-seed in the opening round of the playoffs and last year they knocked off the Whale in the same scenario. During the regular season, the Beauts went 3-3 against the Rivs, winning in regulation, overtime, and a shootout. Goaltender Amanda Leveille won all three of her games against New York and should get the nod in the semifinal. She is a recent three-time NCAA champion with the Golden Gophers and has ice water in her veins in big games. Also, keep eyes on blueliner Megan Bozek and forward Shiann Darkangelo who can take a game over quickly.
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) March 13, 2017
This seems like a game where an unlikely hero will step up to power their team to victory. It’ll be a close one and I’ll take Lauren Wash scoring a third-period goal to snap a 1-1 tie.
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.