The Boston Pride gave locals one more reason to claim that their city is “Titletown” on Saturday night as they knocked off the Minnesota Whitecaps 4-3 to become the first NWHL franchise to win two Isobel Cups. The game came down to the bitter end, but rookie Taylor Wenczkowski’s third-period goal was enough to give Boston the victory on their home ice.
As we noted in the Semifinal recap, the Pride were the favorites to win the Isobel Cup, coming off a 23-1 campaign last season before the pandemic. But the team looked a lot different this year, having eight rookies, and struggling as they lost three of four regular-season games back in Lake Placid. Boston left that team behind in New York and came into the playoffs as the team everyone was expecting to see, but the Minnesota Whitecaps were not a team to overlook. Minnesota was the second seed heading to the playoffs, having won three of their four games in Lake Placid, including one against Boston. Defeating the reigning champions was no easy task, but the Pride was up to the challenge. Here are five factors that played into Boston’s victory.
1. The Pride’s Rookies Were Ready To Play
Being a rookie in this chaotic season made it hard to adjust, but all eight of the Pride’s played like veterans against the Whitecaps. Taylor Wenczkowski’s game-winner on the power play was the biggest impact on the night, but Tereza Vanisova and Taylor Turnquist ended up with points in the final as well. The impact went beyond the score sheet. Sammy Davis and Taylor Wenczkowski had four shots each and Vanisova dominated the faceoff dot, winning 15 of her 21 draws.
2. Special Teams
Yesterday’s semifinal games only had four penalties between the two, giving each team little to no chance to show off their special teams skills. Tonight, the Pride went two for four on the power play and scored the cup-winning goal on the player advantage. The referees were lenient in their calls, letting both teams play a physical game, but a hooking call followed by a penalty for too many players on the ice by Minnesota gave the Pride a 5 on 3 that Lexie Laing converted on. Later in the period, one of the Whitecaps’ top penalty killers, Lisa Martinson, went to the box for tripping and allowed Wenczkowski to bury her goal.
Boston didn’t just dominate when they had the personnel advantage. A penalty kill in the second period proved crucial to Boston’s Isobel Cup victory, which brings us to our next point.
3. Boston Stayed Calm Under Pressure
The Pride came into the third with a 3-1 lead but felt momentum slipping after failing to convert on a penalty shot by Tori Sullivan caused by Whitecaps’ defender Amanda Boulier closing her hand on the puck in the crease. Amanda Leveille came up big with the save, and Allie Thunstrom said “thank you” to her goaltender by scoring on the very next play. For a moment, it looked like things were going south for the Pride when McKenna Brand continued their bad luck by taking a body checking penalty. Boston wasn’t frazzled, however, and killed off the penalty before getting a power play of their own that would lead to the Wenczkowski goal.
Boston wasn’t out of the woods yet. With under three minutes left to play, Tereza Vanisova took a major penalty for boarding that would put the Whitecaps on the power play for the rest of the game. Minnesota pulled their goalie and Meaghan Pezon brought the Whitecaps within one with only twenty seconds left to play. Paul Mara played it smart and challenged the goal in order to give his players an extended time out to rest, and defender Lauren Kelly would ice the puck and run the clock out on the next faceoff. It would be enough to allow the Pride to raise their second Isobel Cup.
4. Slowing down Richards & Rodgers
Audra Richard and Nina Rodgers were coming off a dominant regular season and a semifinal where they had four and three points, respectively. Boston was able to hold them off the board, save for one primary assist by Richards on Pezon’s late goal. The defensive pair of Lauren Kelly and Paige Capistran kept the middle of the ice clear and broke up passes all night to stop a Whitecaps duo that had looked unstoppable only the night before. Goaltender Lovisa Selander did her part to come up with big saves, seemingly never out of position the entire sixty minutes of play.
The Pride were less successful at preventing Allie Thunstrom from scoring, who got two goals and a secondary assist, but they’re only human after all.
5. Jillian Dempsey Being Jillian Dempsey
Boston’s captain Jillian Dempsey earned the Isobel Cup final MVP, and for good reason. The NWHL’s all-time point leader and top-line center scored to give the Pride the lead in the second after a two point performance in the semifinal. She also had five takeaways and went 12 for 16 on faceoffs.
Dempsey’s impact goes beyond her on-ice impact. Per Marisa Ingemi for Sportsnet and NBCSN, the assistant captain called Dempsey the “best leader I’ve ever had as a player” after the game. For four seasons, Dempsey has captained the Pride and received high praises from coach Paul Mara as well as fellow teammates for her character.
Jillian Dempsey embodies what it means to be a member of the Boston Pride, and it’s about time she has a cup to her captaincy.
Image courtesy of NWHL.