In a season when less than ten games were played, voting for the NWHL awards may have seemed like a daunting task. With a player like Mikyla Grant-Mentis in the mix, choosing a winner became a little easier.
The Toronto Six rookie walked away from the NWHL awards with Most Valuable Player, Newcomer of the Year, one of the NWHL’s fan-voted three stars, and an NWHL Foundation award under her belt. Her on-ice success was indisputable. No one created offense like Mikyla Grant-Mentis this year. Leading the league in overall points with a balanced six goals and five assists, Grant-Mentis made an impact for the Toronto Six in every game she played, only being kept off the scoresheet once and averaging 4.4 shots per game. She recorded at least three shots in all but one of her seven appearances this season.
But in a season this short, it can be easy to miss the smaller aspects of the game that led to her having such success. Here are a few aspects of Grant-Mentis’ game that led to her sweeping the NWHL awards.
Score (Or Assist) From Anywhere
Teams did everything to keep Grant-Mentis out of the slot. It didn’t matter.
Even when she didn’t find her way in front of the net, and she did do that frequently, her ability to use speed to cut to the inside and get a shot away or find an angle to shoot from the perimeter of the rink made her dangerous everywhere on the ice. Take her assist in the semifinals versus Boston, going against Jenna Rheault, one of the best stay-at-home defenders in the league. Both Boston defenders kept her to the outside, but strong puck protection and an effective backhand helped her get a shot away that would become a Breanne Wilson-Bennett goal. Wilson-Bennett was ready in front of the net because of her own net driving abilities but it didn’t hurt that Grant-Mentis was drawing defenders away from her.
Minnesota is one of the best teams at keeping players out of the middle of the ice, terrorizing the Connecticut Whale with this tactic in their semi-final win. That was no problem for Grant-Mentis, who scored from outside the faceoff dots and a tough angle twice in their game against the Whitecaps.
Neutral Zone Play
It’s hard to think of a single time Grant-Mentis has given up on a play. In particular, her ability to battle for pucks in the neutral zone led to two game-winning goals this year versus Boston and Minnesota. In both examples, she effectively lifts her opponent’s stick to force a turnover, which would be followed by a clean carry-in and a goal. Speaking of carry-in’s…
Using an app created by Dan Morse and his data in partnership with Meghan Chayka and Stathlete’s Big Data Cup, we can see that Mikyla Grant-Mentis made more carry-ins than all but one player in the league (Tereza Vanisova), and that they made up 78.9% of all her zone entries. Something important to note as carry-ins result in a generated shot twice as often as dump-ins. Although they aren’t necessarily the only way for a player to effectively enter the zone and the alternative dump-ins have their place, it definitely helps us understand how Grant-Mentis uses them to generate the 4.4 averaged shots per game this season.
Grant-Mentis didn’t just play a huge role on the ice, but out in her community as well. Alongside her aunt at Kidnetix Kid Association, Grant-Mentis helped provide meals and medication to those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. A post from the Kidnetix Kid Association described Grant-Mentis’ efforts: “Mikyla starts her day before the sunrises and heads straight over to the food warehouse to pick up thousands of pounds of food for families each week. This is REAL DEAL… She ain’t doing it for the gram. Her commitment and passion for the community is remarkable and we appreciate her and commend her for her dedication to making Kidnetix who we are today.”
Other winners of the NWHL Awards
Kaleigh Fratkin of the Boston Pride won back-to-back defender of the year awards, and it’s easy to see why. No one passed as much or as well as Kaleigh Fratkin this season.
(Image courtesy of Meghan Chayka and Stathletes)
Metropolitan Riveters’ defender Saroya Tinker won the Denna Laing Award for exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to her sport. Alongside her hockey career, Saroya Tinker is an activist fighting to empower Black and Indigenous women of color in the fight against racism. Tinker runs a mentorship program and helps fundraise for Black Girl Hockey Club’s scholarship program to help Black women with the cost of playing hockey.
Alongside Grant-Mentis, the NWHL Foundation Awards went to Saroya Tinker, Amanda Leveille, Grace Klienbach, Carly Jackson, and Mallory Souliotis. The other winners for the NWHL fan’s three stars were Carly Jackson and Mallory Souliotis.
Image Courtesy of the Toronto Star