(Photo: Kate Frese/NWHL)
The National Women's Hockey League wrapped up regular season play this past weekend, with the Minnesota Whitecaps capturing a pair of wins over the last-place Connecticut Whale. The Buffalo Beauts and Metropolitan Riveters split their weekend; now, it's time for teams to prepare for the postseason.
Here are the final regular season standings:
- Boston Pride: 23-1-0, 46 points, +77 goal differential
- Minnesota Whitecaps: 17-5-2, 36 points, +54 goal differential
- Metropolitan Riveters: 10-11-3, 23 points, -21 goal differential
- Buffalo Beauts: 8-15-1, 17 points, -45 goal differential
- Connecticut Whale: 2-20-2, 6 points, -61 goal differential
Whitecaps vs. Whale
It's little surprise that the Whitecaps snagged two wins over the Whale to finish off the regular season on a high note. Perhaps the surprise is how well the Whale did at staying in the game for a long while, particularly in Sunday's narrow 3-1 loss. A team that only won two games all season long would presumably struggle more against a team who had 15 entering the weekend, but the Whale – thanks in part to strength in net – stayed in it.
In the end, however, Minnesota came out on top by scores of 6-3 and 3-1 and put 97 shots on goal over the span of the two games.
On Saturday, the Whitecaps were strong right out of the gate. Just 57 seconds in, Meaghan Pezon capitalized on a turnover right in front of the net, poking the puck just enough to get it past the netminder, Brooke Wolejko. Less than a minute later, a long pass from Jonna Curtis found a speedy Allie Thunstrom, who put the puck in top-shelf on Wolejko's left side.
It was already an uphill battle for the Whale – with just under three minutes gone in the game.
Sam Donovan put her team up by three goals later in the opening frame, deflecting a shot on net from teammate Lisa Martinson. The Whale were finally able to get on the board with about a minute left in the first period on a goal from Sarah Schwenzfeier, but it wasn't enough to build momentum in the dying minutes of the period.
Once again, the Whitecaps came out strong early on in the second period, and this time, Curtis scored off a phenomenal pass from Thunstrom as the dangerous Minnesota duo showcased their offensive abilities once again.
Shannon Doyle did her part to keep the Whale close with a goal several minutes later, but it wasn't long before Thunstrom tapped in a back-door pass for her second goal of the game. Elena Gualtieri was able to pounce on a loose puck for another Connecticut tally, but Thunstrom eventually completed the hat trick as the Whitecaps skated off with the victory.
Connecticut was able to stay much closer in Sunday's game, although it too was an eventual loss.
Meghan Lorence struck first for Minnesota on the power play, as she was able to keep Sonja Shelly moving and scored from the inside the faceoff circle. To their credit, the Whale came out with great energy on the next play and nearly tied the game – a critical play when facing a Minnesota team that is 16-2-1 when scoring first this season.
The Whitecaps' one-goal lead held until early in the third period, when Nicole Schammel made it a 2-0 game off a pass from Haylea Schmid on the side of the net. Shelly was the difference-maker in net for the Whale, keeping her team in it even when she didn't get much help.
Schwenzfeier once again put her team on the board, scoring on a redirection as she fell in front of the net. Just like that, it was a one-goal game with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Audra Richards sealed the Minnesota win with a power-play goal from the slot in the final minutes of the game.
Overall, Amanda Leveille recorded 82 saves in the two wins over the weekend for the Whitecaps. Wolejko and Shelly combined for 88 saves.
Riveters vs. Beauts
New players were the difference-makers in this past weekend's series between the Riveters and Beauts. For Metro, Jayne Lewis recorded three points in her debut. For Buffalo, Mikyla Grant-Mentis scored a pair of goals, while Léa-Kristine Demers was spectacular in her first two NWHL games.
The Riveters came out on top Saturday with a 5-2 win, while the Beauts rallied for a 3-1 victory on Sunday afternoon in the regular-season finale.
Although both teams opened Saturday's game with good chances, it would be the Riveters who struck first. Brooke Baker redirected a shot from Nichelle Simon to make it 1-0 from the left of the goaltender.
Quickly, the Riveters doubled their lead. Lewis scored her first NWHL goal with a top-shelf shot that went above Demers' blocker. Metro appeared poised for success, but it all nearly fell apart when Buffalo struck twice in just over two minutes.
Grant-Mentis put Buffalo on the board with a wraparound goal, before Cassidy MacPherson slid between a couple Riveters and took a quick shot from close in front of the net. The Riveters then found themselves shorthanded and could have completely lost control of the game, but a critical penalty kill turned the tide.
The Riveters then scored three times in the final 12:28 of the game. Madison Packer, Leila Kilduff, and Kendall Cornine added goals for Metro in the win.
Sam Walther looked sharp in her return to the net, recording 25 saves. Demers, in her debut, recorded 36 saves and kept Buffalo in the game at several points.
On Sunday, the Beauts were outshot 37-25, including by a 17-9 margin in the third period, but strong play in net from Demers and a couple of goals led Buffalo to a win.
Erin Gehen put the Beauts on the board with a weak deflection on a shot, with Walther going down early. Captain Corinne Buie made it 2-0 off a low shot from the faceoff circle to Walther's left.
The Riveters finally found the back of the net more than halfway through the third period, but it wasn't enough. Grant-Mentis added her second goal of the weekend with a power-play tally on a 4-on-3 with just 59 seconds remaining in regulation.
Demers recorded 36 saves, while Walther had 22 saves.
With the regular season in the books, the Isobel Cup playoffs lie ahead. The Beauts and Whale face off in a play-in game at 8:30 PM Eastern on Friday; the winner heads to Boston for a 2:30 PM Eastern semifinal game Sunday. In the other semifinal, the Riveters and Whitecaps square off at 12:30 PM Central Sunday.
Stay tuned for a full playoff preview on Friday morning.