It’s the matchup that we’ve waited 379 days to happen and now we finally got it. The Boston Pride and the Minnesota Whitecaps will meet for the 2021 Isobel Cup, with both teams making it back to the game that was supposed to happen last season before the NWHL had to postpone and then cancel the 2020 Isobel Cup Final – which was scheduled for March 13, 2020.
That game was supposed to in Boston, and this season the game will also be in Boston. So in a roundabout way, they are all where they were supposed to be.
The Pride won the first game of the night, routing the Toronto Six by a score of 6-2 – powered by six different goal scorers. Boston advances to the Isobel Cup Final for the fourth time in six seasons and will be looking to claim their second championship on Saturday night.
“I think tonight was the culmination of all the hard work they put in for the last six months,” said Pride head coach Paul Mara after the game. “But it’s not over. Tonight was one game, and the prize is tomorrow.”
In the nightcap, it was the Whitecaps who dismantled the Connecticut Whale by a 7-0 score. Audra Richards netted a hat trick (four points) in the win, Allie Thunstrom potted two goals, and Nina Rodgers had four assists as Minnesota improved to 13-0-0 all-time against Connecticut.
“This was a big night for us. We played probably our best game of the year,” Whitecaps co-head coach and GM Jack Brodt said following the shutout. “Tomorrow’s another day, we’ll see what happens. We’re glad to be in the championship and we’re going to do the best we can to bring the Isobel Cup back to Minnesota, that’s where it’s been and that’s where we want to keep it.”
“Both teams, I think they’re evenly matched,” said Brodt of the impending clash of the NWHL titans in the championship game, “but who in the hell knows for sure until you play the game?”
After a feeling-out period, Boston jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead with two goals in a span of 38 seconds. First, it was Tereza Vanisova netting her first NWHL goal at 13:48 and then captain Jillian Dempsey batted the puck out of midair and past Six netminder Elaine Chuli at 14:26. Just like that the Pride had more goals than they did in their Jan. 26 game against Toronto.
It took the Six just 1:09 after falling behind 0-2 to get on the scoreboard when Breanne Wilson-Bennett stuffed a puck past Lovisa Selander and that would be as close as Toronto would get despite trailing just 2-1 entering the middle period.
The Six had their golden chance when the Pride took back-to-back penalties early in the second, but their inability to capitalize cost them ant chance at tying the game. Defender Mallory Souliotis increased the lead to 3-1 with a shorthanded blue line bomb.
“Mal, she’s been know to take clappers in practice a lot. Frequently,” said Mara as one of his players started giggling alongside him. “She got the puck at the red line and I was like, ‘get over the blue line and shoot’ and she actually did.” He paused, chuckled, and added, “Most times in practice she’s hitting the glass so, that was only 18 inches off the ice, an awesome shot by her.”
31 seconds after Souliotis’ goal the onslaught continued as the Golden Girls line of Dempsey-McKenna Brand-Christina Putigna found the back of the net for the second time on the night, with Brand cashing in to make it 4-1. “I feel like towards the end of Lake Placid we really came together, we were clicking as a team,” said Brand.
“Starting with our practices after Lake Placid you could still feel that momentum. It was good to get the win and to see our team play Boston Pride hockey (tonight).”
Both netminders stopped breakaways after the fourth Boston goal, and the score remained 4-1 until rookie Sammy Davis scored early in the third period, chasing Chuli from the net. Mary Parker also chipped in a goal three minutes after Davis’, beating Samantha Ridgewell and Mikyla Grant-Mentis was able to get one goal back for Toronto to alter the final score.
Lovisa Selander finished with 23 saves in the win, while Chuli and Ridgewell stopped 19 of the 25 shots they faced. Boston had goals from six different players, showing just how deep they are heading into the 2021 Isobel Cup Final. “It was a great win, but the good thing is we could be better,” Mara said, which is scary to think about.
“I think top to bottom everyone played well. All four lines contributed, all seven defenders played great, and our goalie played fantastic,” replied Mara when asked what he liked most about his team’s win. “Our depth and our consistency from one line to the next was fantastic tonight.”
Rookie defender Taylor Turnquist already had her eyes on the prize after the playoff win that got Boston back to where they were a year ago – in the Isobel Cup Final. “I won a National Championship (in college with Clarkson, twice) and I anticipate that winning the Isobel Cup will feel the same way. I hope we can carry this (momentum) into tomorrow’s game.”
The goals came fast and furious for the Whitecaps and the team was really led by the trio of Richards, Rodgers, and Haylea Schmid. The latter kicked off the scoring (with the eventual game-winning goal) when she converted a chance in front of goaltender Abbie Ives.
The Whale thought they had tied the game and there was a goal called on the ice, but after video review (something new to the NWHL this weekend) the referees ruled that Kayla Friesen’s shot did not cross the goal line entirely – thanks to the savvy stick of Schmid who pulled it off the line.
Minutes later Ives stoned Thunstrom on a breakaway, but the former speed skater had her revenge the very next shift when she converted on a second breakaway, giving the Whitecaps a 2-0 lead.
“To be perfectly honest I did not realize it until you said it,” replied Thunstrom when asked if it was an adjustment shooting against Ives, who catches with her left hand. “Now that you mention it she did glove the first one.”
“When I came down the ice (on a breakaway) the second time I thought ‘would she think I’d do it again?’ I thought to myself it can’t hurt to try. There usually is a different mentality, I just, at that moment in time didn’t look at her glove or blocker.” It seemed like that second Whitecaps goal really opened up the floodgates on Ives, who was admirable in defeat.
On their first three second period shots, Minnesota scored three goals. That’s pretty good we’re told from the math community. Richards got two of her three tallies in the second period, sandwiched around a goal by rookie Hayley Mack as Minnesota took a 5-0 lead into the final period. All three goals came in a span of 4:47. “She’s a great playmaker,” Richards said of Rodgers’ four assist night, “and I’m big and I’ll get in front of the net, and I’ll put it in the net I guess!”
Thunstrom got her second of the night at the tail end of a 2-on-1, converting a cross-crease pass from linemate Jonna Curtis. Minutes later Richards completed the hat trick when her attempted shot went in the net off of a Connecticut defender.
“I like a low-scoring game, if we’d have won 1-0 that would’ve been just as fine,” said Brodt after the game. “Tonight the puck was going in the net for us and that hasn’t been the case for the most part.”
We haven’t even mentioned goaltender Amanda Leveille yet, which is crazy considering she made 44 saves in her second consecutive playoff shutout. A win in the Final, and Leveille becomes the first NWHL player to win the Isobel Cup three times.
“I just love playing for this team. So whatever they need me to do – it doesn’t matter if I get one shot, 50 shots, whatever it is – my goal is the same,” said Leveille after extending her league record with a seventh postseason win (eight games). “But if I’m being honest I do like more shots.”
So who will become the first two-time Isobel Cup champions? Will it be the Boston Pride, who won the inaugural Cup? Or will it be the Minnesota Whitecaps, who have been defending champions since the spring of 2019?
An X-factor to keep an eye on in the ICF for Minnesota: Jonna Curtis. She struggled in Lake Placid with only one goal after 36 points in 21 games last season. With Thunstrom finding her groove and her linemate Curtis getting an assist on Thunstrom’s second goal, she could have some pep in her step in the Cup Final.
An X-factor to keep an eye on in the ICF for Boston: Tori Sullivan. After 25 points in 24 games last season, she only had two assists in seven games at Lake Placid. It just feels like she could have a breakout game in the biggest game of the season. Especially if she stays on a line with Davis.
Both teams put on powerhouse performances in the NWHL’s debut night on NBCSN, so what should we expect in the Cup Final? Probably a 1-0 or 2-1 game that will be decided in the third period. It’s really hard to bet against Leveille with her track record in big games. But it’s also hard to bet against Boston who looks to have found a way to sprinkle the eight first-year players throughout their lineup in the most efficient way.
Whomever hoists the Cup, they will have certainly earned it; just 379 days after we all expected they would.
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.