With the January portion of the NWHL schedule behind us, we have a good feel of where most teams stand with just three weekends remaining in the regular season. During the 15-game slate, we saw one team lose for the first time this season, one team win for the first time this season, and one player put up a thunderous performance with nine goals and 12 points in just eight games. After everyone takes a breather for a week the NWHL’s stars will converge in Boston (Feb. 8-9) for the league’s fifth All-Star Game.
“Tonight the Riveters had maybe one odd skater rush against us and that really speaks to us working on things in practice. That’s how we are going to win hockey games in the NWHL,” said Amanda Leveille after her second shutout of the season. “There are too many talented players in this league to let them walk into the slot and shoot where anything can happen.”
Leading the Pack
For the first time this season the Boston Pride finally lost a game, but the very next day they rebounded to win in Minnesota and clinch home-ice advantage through the Isobel Cup playoffs. The Pride has played the most games this season and Boston has only three games left before the playoffs start.
Captain Jillian Dempsey continues to pace the best offense in the league and leads the NWHL in points (36), assists (21), points per game (1.7), SoG (134), face-offs won (303), and face-off % (.618). All the front runner for MVP did in January was put up ten points (4g-6a) in eight games. Tori Sullivan was one of five different players who had game-winning goals last month and led the team with 11 points (4g-7a).
“We know what we need to do on the ice,” said Pride forward Carlee Toews. “We’re a fast team, so we get a lot of pucks on net. We get them in deep, trust our linemates, and we usually get a few goals past the goalie.”
The Pride will be represented at the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game in Boston (Feb. 8-9) by Jillian Dempsey, Christina Putigna, Kaleigh Fratkin, Mary Parker, Lovisa Selander, McKenna Brand, Lexi Bender, and Lexie Laing.
The Minnesota Whitecaps got their offense up to full speed in January and became the first team to defeat the Pride this season. Led by Amanda Leveille’s two shutouts and six wins and an offense that produced 34 goals, the Whitecaps clinched the second seed, guaranteeing themselves at least one home playoff game in TRIA Rink.
Allie Thunstrom threw her hat into the ring for the NWHL MVP, and she did it how she does everything – quickly. After going pointless in the first two games of the month in New Jersey, Thunstrom responded with six-straight two-point games and finished the month with nine goals and three assists. Her 19 goals this season not only leads the league but is also the NWHL record for goals in one season; she still has four games remaining. Her 27 points this season is good enough for fourth in the league.
“We have a great team, we just have to make sure we bring it every game,” said Whitecaps forward Jonna Curtis who also had 12 points (5g-7a) in January. “We work hard in our defensive zone which is something we have been practicing a lot. I’m excited for the second half of the year with this group.”
The Whitecaps will be represented at the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game in Boston (Feb. 8-9) by Jonna Curtis, Nicole Schammel, Amanda Leveille, Audra Richards, Allie Thunstrom, Amanda Boulier, and Meghan Lorence (replacing Sydney Baldwin).
The Riveters had an up and down month, splitting series with Minnesota and Connecticut sandwiched around an overtime loss to the Whale and a Monday afternoon loss to the Pride. But they increased their lead in the standings on Buffalo who has been mired in a seven-game losing streak.
Captain Madison Packer led the way with eight points (2g-6a) on offense, Leila Kilduff and Colleen Murphy netted their first goals as professionals on defense, and in goal Sam Walther stood on her head every night, keeping her team in every game. Unfortunately, Walther suffered a lower-body injury on Jan. 26 and her status going forward is to be determined.
“Sam has really been the heart of our team, playing great for us in every single game,” said Riveters forward Cailey Hutchison after a 4-2 win over the Whale. “To see her get hurt, we knew we had to play hard for her. “And for Dana (Demartino) too; that’s a really tough situation barely playing more than a game (this season) and she has to come into the game cold. She helped us get that win.”
The Riveters will be represented at the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game in Boston (Feb. 8-9) by Madison Packer, Rebecca Morse, Kiira Dosdall-Arena, Sam Walther, Kate Leary, and Kendall Cornine.
The Beauts finished January winless at 0-4-0 after getting swept by both Boston and Minnesota and by the time they step on the ice again for a game they will have been off for a month. They’ll also be looking to snap an eight-game losing streak. Unlike the beginning of the season their offense has either dried up or they ran into stiffer goaltending. Either way over the past four games they weren’t able to score more than two goals in any of them.
Of the nine players who recorded a point in January four of them had three points, highlighted by Erin Gehen and All-Star Marie-Jo Pelletier who had two goals apiece. Taylor Accursi ended 2019 as the NWHL leader in goals with 15 but only picked up three assists over the four games. Buffalo’s leading scorer is ranked 10th in the points race and tied for third in goals as we hit the All-Star Break.
“It comes down to competing for every save. Giving the team energy to gain some momentum,” said goaltender Mariah Fujimagari who is stuck in a five-game personal winless skid despite making multiple jaw-dropping saves. She also picked up her first NWHL assist. “We need to stick to our game plan. We need to continue to believe in ourselves, and play as a tight unit.”
The Beauts will be represented at the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game in Boston (Feb. 8-9) by Taylor Accursi, Marie-Jo Pelletier, Mariah Fujimagari, Corinne Buie, Brooke Stacey, and Lenka Curmova.
After going a year without a victory the Connecticut Whale picked up not one, but two wins in January, each of them coming in New Jersey at the expense of the Riveters. Not only did they pick up wins last month but they also added depth to their roster with the signings of Janine Weber, Brinna Dochniak, Alexa Aramburu, and Allie LaCombe and Laurel Hill who played on PTOs but are expected to sign for the remainder of the season.
In the Whale’s first win Kendra Broad netted her first two career goals, including the game-winner in overtime and in their second win Sarah Schwenzfeier scored the lone goal in an eight-round shootout. Brooke Wolejko established herself as the team’s starting goaltender and in her first two career wins she stopped 71 of the 75 shots she faced. Emma Vlasic leads Connecticut in points and goals with nine and had four goals in January.
“We had a big team meeting to start the new year, and we said ‘it’s a new year, let’s find out who we really want to be.’ It didn’t matter if we were ahead or if we were behind in a game,” said defender Shannon Doyle. “We just keep saying: we’re winning this game. That’s a mindset we haven’t had yet this season.”
The Whale will be represented at the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game in Boston (Feb. 8-9) by Shannon Doyle, Elena Orlando, Hanna Beattie (replacing Jordan Brickner), Grace Klienbach, and Emma Vlasic.
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.