PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
Many of the top players in the National Women's Hockey League came together in Boston, MA this past weekend for the league's fifth All-Star Weekend.
(Photo: Kelly Shea)
Many of the top players in the National Women's Hockey League came together in Boston, Massachusetts this past weekend for the league's fifth All-Star Weekend. The results of the weekend's events were split, with Team Packer (captained by Madison Packer) winning the Skills Challenge and Team Dempsey (captained by Jillian Dempsey) taking a 5-2 win from the All-Star Game itself.
The Skills Challenge opened with the fastest skater event. Reported results are listed below, however, the accuracy of these times is unverified and in question. Several Victory Press reporters (yours truly included) independently timed the skaters based on the video and got very different results, which indicated that Allie Thunstrom should have won the event. Instead, Grace Klienbach was reported as the winner.
Here are the times reported by the league:
The second event of the evening was fastest goalie. Only two of the four netminders participated. It was a race between Amanda Leveille and Mariah Fujimagari. Fujimagari came off as the winner, at 18.84 seconds.
Next up was the accuracy shooting portion. Unfortunately, results were difficult to transcribe, as the broadcast often failed to report which players were shooting, the final times, and even missed most of one set of the shooting competition. Jillian Dempsey was reported as the winner, taking out four targets in 9.69 seconds.
The fourth event was the hardest shot competition. Each player was given two chances to shoot the puck, and the better of the two chances was recorded as their final marker. Boston's Kaleigh Fratkin, with a 76mph shot, was named the winner. Here are the rest of the results:
A relay race was the next event, in which players had to maneuver through a complex course on the ice that includes ducking under and jumping over hurdles, zig-zagging around pylons, etc. Team Dempsey won that event, sending both teams into the full-team shootout.
Finally, Team Packer scored more goals in the shootout and captured the win in the Skills Challenge. The points/scoring from the skills event did not transfer to the All-Star Game the following day (this has been the case in some years past.)
Team Dempsey redeemed themselves in Sunday's All-Star Game, capturing a 5-2 win thanks in large part to some stellar goaltending from Boston's Lovisa Selander.
Kiira Dosdall-Arena scored twice, while Jonna Curtis, Jillian Dempsey and Lexie Laing also added goals for the winning team. Kate Leary and Amanda Boulier scored for Team Packer.
Selander and Fujimagari each made 17 saves in their respective halves. On the other side, Leveille played all 50 minutes and made 25 saves. Her partner, Sam Walther, did not play as she is still recovering from injury.
Selander was named MVP of the All-Star Game, as chosen by Marisa Ingemi of the Boston Herald. As a result, Selander received a prize from Normatec, a league sponsor.
NWHL fans showed up for their All-Stars this weekend; the Skills Challenge was played in front of a standing-room crowd, while the game itself was sold out. The league will likely report a final number for Twitch viewership, but it's unclear how reliable that number will be – at one point, the stream reported 9,000+ viewers. It then cut out, and when it came back, reported that 22,000+ viewers were watching. After it cut out again, the number reported dropped to 2,700.
As evidenced by the numerous cutouts mentioned above, there were some broadcast issues, which seems to be the case quite often this season. In the first half, when the broadcast switched camera angles, it then lost all audio for several minutes. The scorebug – which largely featured a clock that didn't match up with the in-arena clock – also disappeared at that time.
Eventually, the audio did come back on, and the stream stopped cutting out, going to black or even saying it had ended. But as I've mentioned before, it's little things like that which are off-putting to new fans or first-time viewers who may not care to stick around through the technical difficulties.
Stepping back to Saturday's Skills Challenge, the broadcast had even more difficulties. One of the cameras used was with a skater on the ice – which could've been cool, but turned out to be shaky, unstable, and at times unwatchable (especially if you happen to get motion sickness).
In addition, many of the on-screen graphics were inaccurate, featuring the wrong player's name in front of an interview, misspelled words, and other mistakes. At times, they had lengthy player interviews and then missed some of the action, including a whole round of the accuracy shooting. And then, of course, there's the discrepancies between the fastest skater times.
For a league that claims to offer a professional product, these are inexcusable mistakes.
With just a handful of games remaining in the regular season, it's time for teams to get back to business. Although the Pride have already clinched a first-place finish, the rest of the playoff seedings remain up for grabs.
This coming weekend, four of the league's five teams are in action, with Minnesota on a bye. The Pride host the Whale on Saturday at 6:30 PM Eastern. Connecticut is guaranteed to finish in either fourth or fifth place in the regular season standings.
The Beauts – who have lost eight straight – visit the Riveters for a pair of games (7:30 PM Eastern Saturday, 4:30 PM Eastern Sunday). The Riveters are holding onto third place with a five-point lead over the Beauts.