Disco lights! Zamboni fancams! Unlikely heroes! The NWHL season has started off with strong goaltending, beautiful goals, and milestones. If you weren’t able to catch any or all the games this weekend, recaps can be found on the NWHL youtube page, but what can we make of it? Are the Six in trouble, and is Leila Kilduff the possible MVP? Is this the strongest Whale team we’ve seen since season one?
Leila Kilduff opened the scoring for the NWHL season and ended up having a two-goal game for the Metropolitan Riveters. The sophomore defender led the Riveters to a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Six in their first-ever franchise game. In goal for Metropolitan was Sonja Shelly, who got her first-ever NWHL shut out in a 40 save performance.
The Minnesota Whitecaps defeated the Boston Pride in a highly anticipated game of what would have been the 2020 Isobel Cup Final. Captain Winny Brodt-Brown scored her first-ever NWHL goal to get the game-winner over Boston, and the Whitecaps held off a dangerous Boston power play six separate times.
Carly Jackson of the Buffalo Beauts and Abbie Ives of the Connecticut Whale made their goaltending debuts to close out Saturday night in a shootout victory for the Whale. Despite the loss, Jackson stole the show, saving 42 of 43 shots. Only rookies Katelynn Russ and Kayla Friesen were able to beat Jackson and earn the win for Connecticut. Buffalo Beauts coach Pete Perram was quick to let media know that despite the loss, they still had more points than the Boston Pride, who’d they face the next night.
The Toronto Six got their first goal in franchise history thanks to defender Lindsay Eastwood but were unable to earn a win as the Minnesota Whitecaps rallied back from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Six in a shootout. Breanne Wilson-Bennett’s two-goal performance was not enough to lift the Six over the Minnesota Whitecaps and rookie defender Haley Mack, who cut the lead in half and would later score the shootout winner. Seventeen penalties were assessed between the two teams, giving NWHL fans a taste of both Toronto and Minnesota’s dangerous special teams. Both scored two goals on the power play, and Audra Richards would get a shorthanded goal for the Whitecaps.
Following the matinee, the Metropolitan Riveters got off to a quick start against the Connecticut Whale as Mallory Rushton and Cailey Hutchison would score two goals in eight seconds. Rookies Amanda Conway and Katelynn Russ answered back for Connecticut, and both teams would exchange another pair of goals before Theresa Knutson would score the game-winner. All three even-strength goals for the Riveters came from the third and fourth lines, something significant for a team that struggled with depth scoring last year. The Whale, who also had scoring struggles the previous season, saw nine different players on the score sheet.
Boston came out hungry against a Buffalo Beauts team and scored five goals, looking reminiscent of the team we saw last season. Pride captain Jillian Dempsey earned her 100th regular-season point and scored twice on Carly Jackson, who once again had a stellar performance with 77 saves throughout the weekend on 83 shots, or a .928 save percentage. The Beauts got frustrated as the game went on, taking irresponsible penalties, including a game misconduct for Whitney Dove that might earn her a suspension. While that hit did not result in injury, Pride defender Jenna Rheault had to leave the game at a different point due to a fractured wrist that will sideline her for the season. Later, Mara had no problem answer Pete Perram that the Pride now overtook the Beauts in the standings.
Each Team At A Glance
Buffalo Beauts: Carly Jackson was hands down the best goaltender this weekend, and they still have Caty Flagg and Kelsey Neumann they can use to give Jackson a rest. Jordan Juron also showed great leadership and chemistry with Kristin Lewicki on the top line, earning two goals, and the Stacey-Macpherson-Macdougal line combined for 15 shots. The Beauts need to stay out of the box and stop taking frustration penalties, a nasty habit from last year, and communicate better to prevent mistakes like power play offsides and failed breakouts. With Taylor Wasylk, a last-minute signing, likely entering the lineup after two days off to gel with the team at practice, the Beauts have a chance to get their offense going again and get back in the tournament.
Boston Pride: Boston has two starter caliber goaltenders and a deep roster with ten players making the score sheet this weekend. Despite losing Rheault, the defense didn’t look shaken, and will likely have a more than capable Briana Mastel take her place. The only struggle the Pride face was looking flustered when down a goal and facing a more evenly matched opponent of the Whitecaps. Last season, the Pride didn’t experience even match up or goal deficits often, but it’s something they need to become accustomed with in a year where there’s more parity amongst teams. Another place the Pride remains dominant is the faceoff circle, Jillian Dempsey went 25-9 at the dot, or 74%. Vansiova went 16-6.
Connecticut Whale: Goal scoring was a huge problem for a defensively sound Whale last year, but with natural goal scorers Katelynn Russ and Amanda Conway, those woes are no longer. Tori Howran, who was expected to bring an offensive touch to Connecticut’ss defense, had two assists this weekend. The Whale’s biggest problem, leftover from last year, is special teams. They’re the only team with no power play goals despite five opportunities and allowed two goals against on six short-handed situations. If the Whale cleans up their special teams, they could go a long way this tournament.
Metropolitan Riveters: Both Hofmann and Shelly put on dominant goaltending performances and the Riveters defense core that would often leave their goaltender out to dry last year has made significant improvements this offseason. Sammy Kolowrat, the rookie from the Czech republic, averaged 21:57 of ice time through the first two games on a pair with Dosdall-Arena, and Leila Kilduff has three points through two games on top of six blocked shots. The Riveters are also one of two teams, alongside the Boston Pride, who haven’t allowed a shorthanded goal against. The power play is a different story. While the Riveters did score once, the story for most of their seven power plays was struggling to maintain zone pressure. We’ve yet to see one of the NCAA’s top goal-scoring defenders, Bridgette Prentiss, suit up for the Riveters, and she may be the missing piece to the power play.
Minnesota Whitecaps: What was the most disciplined team last season has now taken 14 penalties thus far, the most penalties taken in the league thus far and it’s not particularly close. A bit uncharacteristic of Jack Brodt’s team, it could just be adjusting to the tournament refereeing after a long time off and the Olympic ice that’s larger than their practice rink. Despite the penalties, the Whitecaps have remained offensively dominant despite lousing Boulier and Buie. Last-minute signing Sydney Baldwin earned herself a goal, as well as Audra Richards and Nina Rodgers earning three points each this weekend.
Toronto Six: Digit Murphy said it best; “We’ve got a great team, they’re just young and dumb.” Between Grant-Mentis’ goal, 13 shots, three blocks, and 12 faceoff wins out of 17 draws, she’s been the stand out player for the team, but Wilson-Bennett’s two-goal weekend is up there as well. The power play for Toronto has looked extremely dangerous and culminated in striking twice against a strong Whitecaps’ penalty kill. Learning to play together as a team, in a pandemic, in an entirely new franchise, is no easy job, but the Six have looked up to the task. They haven’t earned their first win yet, but if Darkangelo can get on the scoreboard and Sarah Steele continues to dominate on defense, two points aren’t far away.
Tomorrow, the Riveters will face the Whitecaps in a battle for first place in the standings in the shortened season. Emily Janiga, who was part of the Buffalo Beauts team that lost the cup to the Whitecaps in 2019, has already expressed her excitement at finally getting to face the team that kept her from earning another ring. Later, The Six will look to redeem themselves after a tough loss against a Boston Pride team that’s found it’s scoring footing. Both games can be viewed at twitch.tv/nwhl.
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Photo Credit: Kate Frese