With the National Women's Hockey League set to kick off its sixth season in a single-site, two-week format beginning this weekend, teams are now heading to Lake Placid, New York to prepare for the tournament-style games. Each team will play at least seven games, all of which will be broadcast for free on Twitch. The semifinal games & Isobel Cup Final will also be televised on NBC Sports Network in the United States.
Today's preview will cover three of the league's teams: the Toronto Six, Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps. In case you missed it, here's a link to my other season preview, which covers the Buffalo Beauts, Metropolitan Riveters and Connecticut Whale.
(Note: players listed in italics are returning players from last season.)
Forwards: Julie Allen, Brooke Boquist, Taytum Clairmont, Sarah Coutu Godbout, Amy Curlew, Shiann Darkangelo, Emily Fluke, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Mackenzie MacNeil, Natalie Marcuzzi, Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Emma Woods (F/D), Taylor Woods
Defense: Kristen Barbara, Lindsay Eastwood, Emma Greco, Megan Quinn, Sarah Steele
Goalies: Elaine Chuli, Samantha Ridgewell
The NWHL's newest team is, of course, the biggest question heading into Lake Placid. Much of the roster is new to the league, but there's a lot of talent here. Boquist joins the Six after two years in the SDHL, during which she racked up 49 points in 41 games, while Lindsay Eastwood brings four years of experience from Syracuse University, including two seasons as the team's captain.
Shiann Darkangelo will serve as the captain of the Six, bringing experience in the NWHL, CWHL, and PWHPA to the table. Darkangelo spent one season with the Whale (13 points in as many games), one season with the Beauts (12 points, 16 games), and one season with the Toronto Furies (10 points, 27 games). Emma Woods and Emma Greco, who have combined professional experience in the CWHL, SDHL, NWHL and PWHPA, will serve as alternates.
The Six also have highly-skilled forward Emily Fluke on their roster. Fluke spent two seasons with the Whale, including serving as captain in 2018-19. She then joined the Pride last season, where she accrued 27 points in 23 regular-season games. She'll bring additional offensive firepower to an already skilled Toronto squad. Mikyla Grant-Mentis also joins the Six after appearing in three games with the Beauts last season.
Former CWHL and PWHPA netminder Elaine Chuli will suit up in goal for the Six, having previously played with the Furies and Vanke Rays as well as the GTA West squad of the PWHPA. Samantha Ridgewell, the team's other goaltender, joins Toronto from Djurgårdens IF of the SDHL.
The lone player signed for Toronto who won't be in Lake Placid is Jenna McParland. The Six are led by head coach Digit Murphy, general manager Mandy Cronin, and assistant coaches Gary Soper, Lisa Haley, and Spiros Anastas.
The Six will have no time to waste adjusting to the NWHL; they'll kick off their first season in the league with a back-to-back and have only one day off between each of the rest of their regular-season games. Recovery will be key for all the teams, but especially with a schedule like this.
Here's the Six's schedule (all times Eastern):
- Saturday, January 23 @ 1:00 PM - at Metropolitan
- Sunday, January 24 @ 1:00 PM - vs. Minnesota
- Tuesday, January 26 @ 8:30 PM - at Boston
- Thursday, January 28 @ 5:30 PM - vs. Buffalo
- Saturday, January 30 @ 12:00 PM - vs. Connecticut
Forwards: McKenna Brand, Sammy Davis, Jillian Dempsey, Lexie Laing, Meghara McManus, Mary Parker, Christina Putigna, Meaghan Rickard, Tori Sullivan, Carlee Turner, Tereza Vanišová, Taylor Wenczkowski
Defense: Paige Capistran, Kaleigh Fratkin, Lauren Kelly, Briana Mastel, Jenna Rheault, Mallory Souliotis, Taylor Turnquist
Goalies: Victoria Hanson, Lovisa Selander
The Pride are one of the most dangerous teams on paper heading into this season. They have a significant number of returning players, and have also added some impressive rookies to their roster, too. Multiple Boston players spoke in their pre-season media availability about having a chip on their shoulder after not being able to compete for the Isobel Cup last season due to COVID-19, an energy that they're bringing into this special season.
"We're hungry, ready to compete... ready to get in there and get started," said captain Jillian Dempsey, who noted that the schedule in Lake Placid is going to be a grind for the players, who will have to overcome both physical and mental fatigue as the season wears on.
Last season, the Pride were the best of the best. The regular-season champions lost just one of 24 games, scored a league-high 120 goals and allowed just 43 against. Their penalty kill was effective 90 percent of the time, while they went 22 percent on the power play. Heading into the Isobel Cup, the Pride were on a five-game winning streak – and then COVID happened.
They could have similar results this year. All of their leading scorers have returned, from Dempsey (17G, 23A) to Brand (19G, 17A), Putigna (8G, 21A) to Laing (12G, 15A). Emily Fluke signed with Toronto, but in her absence, Boston has added rookies like Boston University captain Sammy Davis, who recorded 41 points in her senior season.
Fratkin returns on defense to lead the Pride's blueline, while both Selander and Hanson return in net. Selander went 17-1-0-0 last season with an incredible 1.71 GAA and .941 save percentage, while Hanson put up equally impressive numbers in her six games (1.97 GAA, .919 save percentage).
Expect players like Dempsey and Fratkin to continue to serve as leaders both on and off the ice. Fratkin also isn't afraid to get physical and will step up to give her team that extra edge and attitude.
Returning off-ice are head coach Paul Mara and general manager Karilyn Pilch. The team also has a little extra incentive this year to win it all for their president, Hayley Moore, who is leaving after this season to take a Vice President position with the American Hockey League.
It may not be an uphill climb for the Pride, but that's not to say that things will be incredibly easy for them in Lake Placid. Boston has two sets of back-to-back games in the regular season schedule, and they'll kick things off with a rematch of what was supposed to be last season's Isobel Cup Final. Both teams will be coming in eager and hungry, and if there's one regular season game you watch, this should be it.
Here's Boston's schedule (all times Eastern):
- Saturday, January 23 @ 4:00 PM - at Minnesota
- Sunday, January 24 @ 7:00 PM - vs. Buffalo
- Tuesday, January 26 @ 8:30 PM - vs. Toronto
- Wednesday, January 27 @ 5:30 PM - at Connecticut
- Saturday, January 30 @ 6:00 PM - at Metropolitan
Forwards: Stephanie Anderson, Lynn Astrup, Jonna Curtis, Megan Lorence, Haley Mack, Meaghan Pezon, Audra Richards, Nina Rodgers, Haylea Schmid, Allie Thunstrom, Brooke White-Lancette
Defense: Rose Alleva, Sydney Baldwin, Amanda Boulier, Winny Brodt-Brown, Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal, Maddie Rowe, Sara Bustad, Emma Stauber
Goalies: Amanda Leveille, Allie Morse
Like the Pride, the Whitecaps have a strong roster and look hard to beat heading into this season. They had also been five-game winning streak heading into the Isobel Cup Final, and with a lot of returning players, will look to continue that hot streak.
Where Boston led the league in nearly every statistic, Minnesota was second. The Whitecaps went 17-5-2, had 106 goals and allowed just 52 against. Their penalty kill was effective 85 percent of the time, and they capitalized on 23 percent of their power play. Both teams went 9-1 to finish the regular season.
Consistency is perhaps the biggest advantage for the Whitecaps coming into the season; all but one of their players on this year's roster are returners. Sara Bustad, who joins them from the Beauts, is the lone exception.
Leading scorers Thunstrom and Curtis, who each recorded 36 points last season, are both back. They've also returned both of their goaltenders: Amanda Leveille, who went 16-5-0-2 last year, and Allie Morse, who won the single game she appeared in. Leveille recorded a 2.08 GAA and .935 save percentage and was a critical piece of the Whitecaps' run to the Isobel Cup Final.
Missing from their roster, however, is defender Amanda Boulier, who was second on the team in scoring last season with 27 points, including 21 assists. Boulier was a big part of the team's defense last season, but she also contributed significantly on the offense, and that's a hole that they'll undoubtedly have to fill with other players stepping up. Corinne Buie, who was set to join Minnesota after four season with the Beauts, is unable to make it to Lake Placid. Lisa Martinson and Lauren Barnes are also out.
Like the Pride, the Whitecaps have a lot of strong points. As with last season, look for Thunstrom and Curtis to be significant parts of the team's offense. They combined for seven power-play goals, two shorthanded tallies and five game winners; that kind of skill, combined with Thunstrom's speed, can't be ignored.
Last season, the Whitecaps utilized Leveille heavily, with Morse only playing in one game. That isn't likely to be the case this season, with 7-9 games in a span of two weeks. From a sheer perspective of rest & a balanced workload, co-head coaches Ronda Engelhardt and Jack Brodt will have to find a way to use both goaltenders effectively.
Here's Minnesota's schedule (all times Eastern):
- Saturday, January 23 @ 4:00 PM - vs. Boston
- Sunday, January 24 @ 1:00 PM - at Toronto
- Tuesday, January 26 @ 5:30 PM - at Metropolitan
- Thursday, January 28 @ 8:30 PM - vs. Connecticut
- Saturday, January 30 @ 3:00 PM - at Buffalo
The NWHL's COVID-19 Protocol
The Victory Press requested additional details about the league's protocols for testing, isolation and other COVID-19 related subjects while in Lake Placid. We'll have a more in-depth piece on this (along with the PWHPA's protocols for their recent trip to Florida) sometime tomorrow, but here are some of the key points.
Everyone obtained RT-PCR testing 72 hours prior to departure for Lake Placid. Aside from negative test receipts, it was strongly recommended that players limited their exposure to non-household members, and air travel was not allowed for 14 days prior (with the exception of the Whitecaps' flight).
The NWHL has a plan, in conjunction with the Olympic Regional Development Authority and local health authorities, which includes contact tracers in case of a positive test. If the events in Lake Placid need to be called off due to public health or safety reasons, players will be compensated in full. COVID testing will be done regularly, via Yale's SalivaDirect test and rapid tests.
Every member of the traveling staff has their own room, and masks are required at all times except for players during games. Finally, there are no team meals in person. Food and drink will be provided to players in individual bags, and there is no food or drink allowed in locker rooms.
Other Tidbits to Know
- Teams will dress 18 skaters and two goaltenders for each game.
- Mariah Fujimagari will reportedly serve as an emergency back-up goaltender (EBUG) for the league for the two-week stint in Lake Placid. Fujimagari appeared in 14 games with the Beauts last season, with a .865 save percentage and 5.10 GAA.
- All games will be broadcast on Twitch, where you can watch for free. The semifinals and Isobel Cup Final will also be televised on NBCSN in the United States, but there will also be a separate Twitch broadcast. Erica Ayala (CT) and Alexis Pearson (MIN) will be remotely broadcasting the games from Florida, alongside several other analysts. No word on the NBCSN crew yet.
- The NWHL has secured a number of league & team sponsors for the season, including Dunkin', BladeTech, Hyperice and, reportedly, Discover. Team partners/sponsors include Canadian Tire, the New Jersey & Minnesota lotteries, Chipwich, Oyster Bay Brewing Company and HERstory.
Full Season Schedule
Following the NWHL's regular season play, teams will play round-robin games based on seeding to determine which four make it to the semifinals. The winners of those games will then play for the Isobel Cup.
Here's the full schedule:
Saturday, January 23
1:00 PM - Six @ Riveters
4:00 PM - Pride @ Whitecaps
7:00 PM - Whale @ Beauts
Sunday, January 24
1:00 PM - Whitecaps @ Six
4:00 PM - Riveters @ Whale
7:00 PM - Beauts @ Pride
Tuesday, January 26
5:30 PM - Whitecaps @ Riveters
8:30 PM - Six @ Pride
Wednesday, January 27
5:30 PM - Pride @ Whale
8:30 PM - Riveters @ Beauts
Thursday, January 28
5:30 PM - Beauts @ Six
8:30 PM - Whale @ Whitecaps
Saturday, January 30
12:00 PM - Whale @ Six
3:00 PM - Whitecaps @ Beauts
6:00 PM - Pride @ Riveters
Sunday, January 31 - Round Robin
2:00 PM - Seed 4 @ Seed 3
5:00 PM - Seed 6 @ Seed 2
8:00 PM - Seed 5 @ Seed 1
Tuesday, February 2 - Round Robin
5:30 PM - Seed 6 @ Seed 1
8:30 PM - Seed 4 @ Seed 2
Wednesday, February 3 - Round Robin
7:00 PM - Seed 5 @ Seed 3
Thursday, February 4 - Semifinals - on NBCSN & Twitch
5:30 PM- 4th-place team @ 1st-place team
8:00 PM - 3rd-place team @ 2nd-place team
Friday, February 5 - on NBCSN & Twitch
7:00 PM - Isobel Cup Final