The fifth season of the National Women's Hockey League kicks off this weekend, with four of five teams in action. Despite a tumultuous offseason in women's hockey that saw many NWHL players join the PWHPA, the NWHL is charging forward, with a mix of returning players and newcomers.
The next team preview focuses on the Boston Pride.
What Happened Last Season
The Pride had a solid run over the course of the regular season, with an 11-5-0 record. They finished just two points out of first place in the league, and had the highest goals-for of all five teams. The regular-season success didn't translate to the postseason, however, as the Beauts toppled the Pride 4-0 in the semifinal game.
This Season's Roster
Like other NWHL teams, the Pride have lost a sizable portion of last season's roster - including both goaltenders Brittany Ott and Katie Burt. Their top three scorers – Haley Skarupa, McKenna Brand and Gigi Marvin – are all not returning this season. But they also have a solid core of returning players, including captain Jillian Dempsey, who recorded 14 points last season. Kaleigh Fratkin and Lexi Bender, two of their top defenders, are also back.
Returning Players: Jillian Dempsey, Kaleigh Fratkin, Lexi Bender, Mallory Souliotis, Mary Parker, McKenna Brand, Lauren Kelly
New Players: Tori Sullivan, Christina Putigna, Jenna Rheault, Lexie Laing, Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Marisa Raspa, Victoria Hanson, Brianna Mastel, Whitney Renn, Lovisa Selander, Carlee Toews
Not Returning: Haley Skarupa, Gigi Marvin, Denisa Křížová, Amanda Pelkey, Dana Trivigno, Alyssa Gagliardi, Toni-Ann Miano, Emily Field, Jordan Smelker, Adelle Murphy, Kaliya Johnson, Brittany Ott, Katie Burt
Sat., October 5 @ MET
Sat., October 12 vs. BUF
Sun., October 13 vs. BUF
Sat., October 19 vs. MIN
Sun., October 20 vs. MIN
Sat., October 26 vs. MET
Sun., October 27 vs. MET
Sat., November 16 vs. BUF
Sat., November 23 vs. CT
Sat., November 30 vs. MET
Sat., December 7 @ MET
Sat., December 21 @ BUF
Sun., December 22 @ BUF
Sat., December 28 @ CT
Sun., December 29 @ CT
Sat., January 4 @ BUF
Sun., January 5 @ BUF
Sun., January 12 vs. CT
Mon., January 20 vs. MET
Sat., January 25 @ MIN
Sun., January 26 @ MIN
Sat., Feburary 15 vs. CT
Sat., February 22 vs. CT (Location TBD)
Sun., February 23 @ MET
What to Expect
The Pride did well last season, but losing so many of their top scorers will undoubtedly hurt them. Jillian Dempsey will almost certainly become the top scorer in NWHL history – she's just two points shy of tying Brianna Decker's mark – due in large part to the fact that she's been around since year one.
One of the biggest factors that could really determine how the Pride's season goes: goaltending. Katie Burt and Brittany Ott have historically been stellar in net for Boston and huge keys to their success, but both are playing with the PWHPA. Victoria Hanson and Lovisa Selander have some big shoes to fill, and how they step up to the challenge will prove a key factor in Boston's season.
The Pride will have a little consistency behind the bench, as Paul Mara returns as the team's head coach. Karilyn Pilch has been named the team's GM. In a significant move, Boston will be the lone team in the NWHL this season with an independent owner; Miles Arnone of Cannon Capital purchased the team last month.
It's hard to predict exactly what this new ownership could mean for the Pride; according to the league's initial release, immediate plans include "investments to enhance player and team development, increased marketing and promotion, the creation of more youth hockey initiatives, and the hiring of a team president."
The Pride still have a maximum of seven open roster spots, and with only two goaltenders signed, it wouldn't be surprising to see them add another netminder in the coming weeks. They could also add a few additional forwards, but seem to be pretty well set on defense.
Boston has continually seen a good fanbase, and they'll be able to build off that energy over the course of their nine-game homestand between October 12 and November 30. On the flip side, that also means that the majority of the second half of their season is on the road, which could result in some critical games in tough barns.
Historically, the Pride have always been a pretty good team. They, of course, won the first-ever Isobel Cup and finished the first two NWHL seasons atop the league standings. Last season, Boston finished just barely out of the top of the league. They were a strong offensive team with a lot of scoring power, but they have lost many of their marquee names in the offseason. Still, their roster turnover has been less than the other teams in the league
Two other key statistics to keep an eye on for the Pride this coming season: power play scoring, and shooting percentage. These were two areas in which Boston was incredibly successful last season, best in the league in both categories (11 power-play goals, 22.9% on the PP, and 12.6% success on shooting percentage).
The Pride will remain at Warrior Ice Arena in Allston, with the same head coach, some of the same leadership (Dempsey) and, on a lesser note, the same jerseys as last season. Will they be able to find their way back to the top of the NWHL standings, given all the changeover from last season, or will they find themselves on the outside looking in when the Isobel Cup Final comes around?
(Photo: Michelle Jay/The Boston Pride)