One year after last year’s Isobel Cup Final between the Minnesota Whitecaps and Boston Pride was canceled due to the pandemic, NWHL fans are finally going to see the game that never was.
Friday afternoon, The Boston Pride defeated the Toronto Six by a score of 6-2, followed by the Minnesota Whitecaps’ 7-0 victory over the Connecticut Whale. The two teams advance to tonight’s finals at 7:00 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Network. The rosters will look a little different than last year, and the road to the finals was as unconventional as ever, but both put on a dominant semifinals performance that showed why they’ve been the top two teams in the league for two seasons now.
Isobel Cup Semifinal 1: Boston Pride vs. Toronto Six
In Friday’s first semifinal matchup, a young Toronto Six team couldn’t regroup against the Pride’s early onslaught of offense. Boston’s first two goals came 38 seconds apart in the first period, and their fourth goal came 31 seconds after their third goal just a period later.
Momentum favored the Pride after the Six failed to capitalize on a penalty early in the second period to one of the Pride’s best defenders, Jenna Rheault, that would have tied the game at two. Instead, the Pride held off a Toronto power play that was lethal in Lake Placid and immediately scored twice to extend the lead to 4-1.
Boston scored six goals, with all but one goal coming at even strength. Ten different Pride players got on the score sheet, including Tereza Vanisova, who got her first NWHL goal. Fellow rookie Samantha Davis joined the scoring to lead the Pride in scoring with her fifth of the season.
The Six were without Taytum Clairmont and Mackenzie MacNeil, limited by the quarantine required when crossing the border. Emerging star Mikyla Grant-Mentis had a two-point night between a goal late in the third and an assist on Breanne Wilson-Bennett’s tap in, but the Six failed to sustain the momentum throughout the game needed to keep pace with the Pride.
Isobel Cup Semifinal 2: Connecticut Whale vs. Minnesota Whitecaps
In the second matchup, Minnesota played their quality over quantity style to beat Connecticut 7-0, with goaltender Amanda Leveille coming up big for a 44 save shutout.
The game got off to a controversial start after a Connecticut Whale goal by Kayla Friesen was called back for not crossing the line completely. Referees signaled a good goal on the ice, but a lack of multiple angles upon review to verify caused the goal to be called back, despite the typical procedure being to stick with the call on the ice unless conclusive evidence says otherwise. Considering how close the call was, it’ll likely be debated by Connecticut fans for a long while.
Amanda Leveille didn’t let the almost-goal throw her off her game, coming up with big saves as Connecticut peppered her with shots including eight from Katelynn Russ. Leveille, a two-time cup winner, allowed her team to maintain momentum and attack the Connecticut net in waves.
The Whitecaps’ two stars in the bubble, Audra Richards and Nina Rodgers, each had a four-point night, including a hat trick for Richards. Allie Thunstrom finally broke her scoring drought and put up two tonight, including one on her signature breakaway. All of Minnesota’s goals were at even strength, as the Whale did not take a penalty.
Connecticut was without their coach, Colton Orr, because of Covid-19 protocol, as well as players MacKenzie Lancaster and Lauren Hill. Additionally, forward Janine Weber was not able to dress but did serve as a coach. The Whitecaps didn’t have Brooke White-Lancette, Rose Alleva, or Emma Stauber, but did see the return of defenders Lisa Martinson and Amanda Boulier who were missing in the bubble.
The Isobel Cup Final
The Pride struggled against the Whitecaps in Lake Placid, but as we saw on Friday night, this Pride team is very different from the one we saw a few weeks ago.
Boston will look to shut down the nearly invincible duo of Richards and Rodgers while not letting the Whitecaps’ speed trick them into odd-man rushes. Minnesota will lean on goalkeeper Leveille to suppress a Pride team that proved it could get goals from anywhere in its lineup and hope to get names like Boulier and Curtis on the board.
After two long years of waiting, the NWHL will crown its fifth champion in league history.