NWHL's Isobel Cup Final Wraps Up Inaugural Season
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NWHL's Isobel Cup Final Wraps Up Inaugural Season

NWHL's Isobel Cup Final Wraps Up Inaugural Season by Melissa Burgess

(Photo: Melissa Burgess)

“All who pursue this Cup, pursue a dream; a dream born with Isobel, that shall never die.”

That's part of a quote engraved on the Isobel Cup, the trophy delivered to the Boston Pride on March 12 as they became the first-ever champions of the NWHL.

That dream, born with Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, daughter of Lord Stanley of Preston, came true for members of the NWHL’s Boston Pride as they captured the first-ever Isobel Cup on March 12 after sweeping the Buffalo Beauts in a pair of games.

Player gloves, helmets, and sticks lay scattered across half of the rink at the Hockey House at Prudential Center after Saturday’s game, quickly-forgotten pieces of equipment tossed aside as Pride players joyously cheered once the final moments of the game had ticked off the clock.

With that moment -- the final victory -- came the end of the inaugural NWHL season, a year filled with historic moments that began with the first regular-season puck drop on October 11.

Both Boston and Buffalo earned their spot in the Isobel Cup with playoff victories in best-of-three series against the New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale, respectively.

Boston, the top team in the NWHL during the regular season, easily took care of the Riveters in just two games. Buffalo, the underdog against Connecticut, lost the first game of the series, but rallied back to win the last two and knock out the Whale.

In the end, both teams entered the Isobel Cup weekend on the same footing: a whole new game, a whole new weekend, and all it would take for either to capture the championship would be a pair of wins.

Game one started with lots of slow movement and bad timing for both teams. Buffalo played an aggressive first period backed by netminder Brianne McLaughlin, who was on point, stopping one dangerous shot after the other. The Beauts didn’t look outplayed by the Pride at all and were outshot only 9-7.

Boston got on the board first as Blake Bolden picked up a rebound off a shot by Brianna Decker and shoved it in behind McLaughlin to put the Pride up 1-0.

The Pride seemed to have a much stronger second period, holding the momentum for much of the frame. Just as the Beauts were awarded a power play, they lost it with their own penalty.

Boston eventually went up on a Gigi Marvin shot from just inside the blue line, a blast that went right behind McLaughlin to put the Pride up 2-0.

The Beauts got themselves on the board after an excellent sequence that started as Kelley Steadman led the team off with several chances. Shelby Bram eventually got the shot that hit the back of the net to cut Boston’s lead to one.

Buffalo tied the game at two in the third period on a great shot by Emily Pfalzer with 12 minutes remaining in regulation, then went up later on a power-play thanks to a goal by -- who else? -- Steadman.

Just like that, the Beauts held their first lead of the night.

"You just take it. It’s like, okay, great, next goal. It’s on," said Gigi Marvin of the Beauts' go-ahead goal.

Buffalo's lead would last only until Hilary Knight tied the game for the Pride late in the third. Knight shoveled the puck into the net in a scramble to even things up.

As overtime began, the Pride seemed to hold all the momentum, and just a few minutes in, Boston was awarded a penalty shot.

The refs said that a Beauts player had covered the puck in the crease with her hand, and Knight was able to take the penalty shot, which she easily buried behind McLaughlin to seal the win for the Pride.

Why Knight? Well...why not?

"I told the team there’s no one else in the world I’d rather have take that shot," said Pride head coach Bobby Jay.

Gigi Marvin called Friday night's performance a "battle," but also a "great team effort, all around," noting that the Pride needed to be quicker and sharper on Saturday night's game two.

Less than 24 hours after Friday's game wrapped up, the teams returned to the ice for the second of the best-of-three series.

Prior to Saturday’s Game Two, the media was invited to a press conference where the Isobel Cup itself was revealed.

A few details about the Cup: it weighs 15 pounds and currently has enough space to accommodate 15 years; once a 16th year is needed, a new base level will be added. It’s engraved with all of the Founding Four teams’ names on it, as well as Lady Isobel’s name and the following quote, part of which I wrote above:

“This Cup shall be awarded annually to the greatest professional woman’s hockey team in North America. All who pursue this Cup, pursue a dream; a dream born with Isobel, that shall never die.”

The Cup also features a photo of Isobel playing hockey on a lake in Canada, wearing a white dress. It’s expected that the Cup will travel this summer with Pride players, then live in the Hockey Hall of Fame otherwise. Both NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan and NWHLPA representative Erika Lawler were in attendance at the press conference.

Boston entered Saturday’s game looking calm yet energetic, limiting Buffalo’s chances and taking a first-period lead thanks to Brianna Decker. Decker scored on a beautiful breakaway that she easily tucked in behind McLaughlin.

At the end of the first, Boston was outshooting Buffalo by a margin of 12-2, though it’s important to note that doesn’t include the various solid chances Buffalo had that were either blocked or that missed the net entirely.

Another period came and went with no scoring, so Boston entered the third still up by one.

The Beauts seemed to have a step in their game about halfway through the third, but that was stifled a little when Decker picked up a Knight rebound to put the Pride up 2-0 on a shorthanded tally. Knight later had her own goal on a backhand to help Boston go up by three.

Buffalo got on the board with just 37 seconds to go thanks to Erin Zach; but at that point, it was too little, too late.

As the final buzzer sounded, Pride players jumped on the ice to celebrate with their teammates. Eventually, both teams did the traditional handshake, with the Beauts players wrapping things up with a salute to the numerous fans who traveled from Buffalo to cheer them on.

NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan then entered the ice and spoke, with Lawler following her out, white gloves and all, to help present the Isobel Cup.

Prior to this, Brianna Decker was awarded the Most Valuable Player honor.

After both Knight and Decker raised the Isobel Cup and skated with it, so did their teammates. On-ice celebrations included Facetiming Denna Laing in an incredibly heartwarming moment, plus the traditional hugs and celebratory moments with family and friends.

"We went hard all season, and we deserve this win," said Brittany Ott.

With the win, so ended the NWHL's inaugural season. The league will hold its first-ever awards ceremony on March 20 during the NCAA Frozen Four Women's Hockey Championships, handing out honors that will include awards for perseverance, scoring, and community involvement.