Melissa Burgess

NWHL: Boston Pride Season Review

After two consecutive seasons of reaching the Isobel Cup Final, including one championship win, the NWHL's Boston Pride this season were knocked out in the playoffs following a season that saw them finish third in the league.

A Pride roster that was depleted of its Olympic team members came into the season with some great talent and players ready to take on bigger roles. Despite losing players like Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, and Brianna Decker, the Pride still had plenty of skilled skaters: Lexi Bender, Jordan Smelker, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno were among those on its roster.

Janine Weber was also a huge addition to the squad, as was Kaleigh Fratkin. Fratkin announced her return to the NWHL in December; she would end up contributing five assists in 11 games.

And of course, the Pride still had mainstay Brittany Ott in net.

That being said, Boston really struggled to find its legs at the beginning of the season.

They dropped four straight before securing their first win on December 2. In those first four games, they were outscored 15-7 despite outshooting their opponent in three of the four matchups. As Boston fell, the Riveters found their way to the top. It was as if the entire NWHL had been turned upside down from last season.

Their first win saw them pot three second-period goals en route to a 3-2 victory over the Beauts. Alyssa Gagliardi registered three points (2-1) in the win.

Two wins were then followed by a seven-game losing streak that lasted from December 16 until February 24. They managed to win two of their last three games, but it was too late to make much difference in the standings.

Of the Pride's 16 games, they had their best record against the Connecticut Whale, going 3-3. They won just one of five meetings with the Buffalo Beauts, and dropped all five games to the Metropolitan Riveters.

Captain Jillian Dempsey led her team with 15 points, seven goals and eight assists, while Gagliardi had a team-high 25 blocked shots. The Pride were unable to score even one shorthanded goal this season.

When the NWHL hit the road to Minnesota for the league's annual All-Star Game, eight members of the Pride were in tow, including netminder Brittany Ott, who captained one of the All-Star Teams. Join her on Team Ott: Gagliardi, Dempsey, Emily Field, and Jordan Smelker.

Lexi Bender, Meagan Mangene and Janine Weber also made it to the All-Star Game, playing as part of Team Leveille.

Following the regular season, Boston faced Buffalo in an Isobel Cup semifinal. Already, we knew only one of those teams would be a repeat visitor to the Isobel Cup Final.

This time, for perhaps the first time, the Pride weren't the favorites to win. They were facing a Buffalo team that had reached double their point total in the regular season, and who had won all but one of the regular-season matchups. It wasn't going to be easy for Boston.

A close game resulted in an overtime loss for the Pride on Sarah Casorso's heroic game-winning goal for the Beauts. With that, Boston's season was over. Instead of vying for the Isobel Cup for the third straight season, they packed their bags to head home.

At the season's end, Dempsey was honored by the NWHL with the Denna Laing Award, presented to the player who "most exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to her sport, as chosen by the NWHLPA."

Dempsey and Laing have been teammates for 15 years, and Laing noted her dedication to the game and her teammates as key points in her persona.

"I am incredibly humbled to be the recipient of the Denna Laing Award," Dempsey said. "Denna is one of the best and most committed teammates I have ever had. Her perseverance and resilience inspire me to work hard every single day. I am so grateful to play the sport I love alongside her and so many other amazing athletes who share my fierce dedication to the game. Receiving this award is truly an honor," she added.

Aside from Dempsey, Lexi Bender was the other Pride player to be honored by the league, as she was Boston's recipient of the NWHL Foundation Award. Bender was honored for "actively applying the core values of hockey to her community as well as growing the game and improving hockey culture."

One more point to mention regarding this season's Pride team: their coaching staff. With Bobby Jay gone, Thomas Poeck took the helm behind the bench. Poeck was named head coach back in May 2017.

It's weird to think of a season where the Pride notched 12 points in 16 games as a "disappointment," but it certainly wasn't on par with their first two seasons in the still-young NWHL.

Losing all of those Olympic players certainly played a role; it'd be hard to deny that, even with others stepping up. It also didn't help that the Riveters became such a contender over the offseason, which really helped set Boston out of place.

So what happens next season? Obviously with free agency, and the potential for Olympic players to return, plus players potentially jumping from (and to) the CWHL, it's anyone's guess what the NWHL looks like in the fall.

Could any of the Pride 2017 draft picks join the team? Potentially. They've got some solid pieces in their pipeline including Boston College's Katie Burt and Kenzie Kent, Northeastern's Lauren Kelly and Harvard's Lexie Laing.

NWHL free agency opens on June 1 -- that's where the fun will begin, as the Pride organization looks to rebound from a forgettable season and vie for the Isobel Cup once more.

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