A tripleheader kicked off the NWHL's sixth season on Saturday, with the Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, and Connecticut Whale coming out on top in their respective games. The first day of action in Lake Placid, New York featured some great goaltending battles, low-scoring affairs, and entertaining special teams that made the difference between a win and a loss.
Toronto Six vs. Metropolitan Riveters
The Toronto Six did a lot of things right in their first game and looked more comfortable as time went on, but ultimately were unable to solve Metropolitan Riveters netminder Sonjia Shelly and fell 3-0.
The Riveters wasted no time, getting on the board off a redirect from Leila Kilduff just 1:43 into the game.
"That was a game-changer," said Riveters head coach Ivo Mocek. "To get on the horse quickly and set the tone of the game from then."
Although both teams would exchange penalties as the period continued, neither was able to capitalize. As the opening frame neared its end, Kilduff struck again to make it 2-0.
The pace of the game picked up from there, including this near-goal by Toronto and this hit by Julie Allen on Emily Janiga which resulted in a minor penalty:
Janiga added an empty-net goal in the dying minutes of the game, sealing the 3-0 victory for the Riveters. Shelly had 40 saves for her first NWHL shutout.
Although it wasn't the ideal result for the Six in their first game, head coach Digit Murphy is happy with her team, even though they have some work to do.
"First time we played together in a game, ever," Murphy said. "We've got a lot of bugs to iron out, got to look after the details more. But we're a high-skilled team, high-energy team... it's not about winning the first game, it's about winning the last game."
Boston Pride vs. Minnesota Whitecaps
In a closely-contested battle between two offensive powerhouses and strong goaltenders, the Minnesota Whitecaps narrowly edged the Boston Pride 2-1 in a rematch of what would have been last year's Isobel Cup Final.
Christina Putigna broke the stalemate with just over seven minutes to play in the opening period, as Boston capitalized on some zone time and took a few passes to beat Leveille from her left side. That lead, however, didn't even last three minutes, as Jonna Curtis and Audra Richards caught a break and Curtis got the better of Selander on her right side from just outside the paint.
Windy Brodt-Brown gave her team the edge midway through the second period. At 42 years old, she became the oldest player in NWHL history to score a goal. Brodt Brown capitalized off a pass from Richards with some nice work down low from the duo.
In the end, goaltender Amanda Leveille and the Whitecaps' penalty kill were the difference-makers. Leveille made 36 saves, while her counterpart, Lovisa Selander, stopped 17 of 19 shots faced at the other end.
"If Lev didn't have the kind of game she had, we wouldn't have won the game," said Whitecaps head coach Jack Brodt after the victory. Brodt also noted the strength and skill of Richards, who recorded two assists.
Pride head coach Paul Mara also noted Leveille's performance, saying that if she hadn't been in net, the score could've easily been a 5-2 or 6-2 win for Boston.
Minnesota took three minor penalties in the opening frame alone, then another three in the other two periods. Despite the disadvantages, they managed to stave off a dangerous Boston power play that capitalized on 22 percent of their chances last season. The most important kill, of course, came with under two minutes to play in regulation as the Whitecaps held onto their one-goal lead.
"Our whole team needs to be better," said Mara. "I think there's always room for improvement."
Connecticut Whale vs. Buffalo Beauts
The final game of Saturday was a goaltending standoff between two rookie netminders, as the Connecticut Whale and Buffalo Beauts squared off in a rematch of last year's Isobel Cup semifinal.
As in the earlier games, both teams looked tentative to begin – as can be expected for a group of players who haven't seen real game action in more than 300 days. Each team had chances early on in the game, but Connecticut had a quick edge with some good opportunities. Both Carly Jackson and Abbie Ives were making their NWHL debuts in net, but you wouldn't have known that just by watching; the pair made great saves all night long at their respective ends.
Less than five minutes into the second period, rookie Kayla Friesen scored on a top-shelf shot to put the Whale on the board first. Though the Beauts had their chances, Connecticut maintained the lead for the rest of the middle frame.
It was Kristen Lewicki who would finally find the back of the net for Buffalo, early in the third period. The Beauts capitalized quickly on their advantage, needing only 15 seconds of power play time to get the equalizer. Lewicki's shot from the faceoff circle, following a few nice passes from her teammates, beat Ives for the tying goal.
The goaltending battle continued through the rest of regulation and five minutes of overtime, bringing the extra point down to a shootout. Katelynn Russ notched the lone goal in the shootout to give Connecticut the 2-1 victory. Ives recorded 24 saves, while Jackson stopped 43 of 44 shots faced in the 65 minutes.
"We've been off the ice for a long time, so we just wanted to get pucks there and make the goalie work," said Whale head coach Colton Orr of his high-shooting team. Orr also spoke about the team's quick start and early chances and how important that was in the first game of such a tournament-style season.
- Riveters head coach Ivo Mocek initially wasn't happy about the Six player who hit Emily Janiga only receiving a minor penalty; then he spoke to the refs: "The officials had to make the right decision. They explained that it wasn't a major penalty because the player didn't charge. It looked worse than it was."
- On the performance of goaltender Lovisa Selander: "She made some big saves for us. That's what Lovisa does." - Pride head coach Paul Mara
- On recovery: "It's a lot of games in a short amount of time, which we have not been used to... We all have different types of recoveries, whatever works best for you. It's going to be important to do that because you've got to be ready to turn around and go again." - Beauts forward Kristen Lewicki
- Toronto Six forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis recorded a whopping 10 shots in her first game of the season.
- Boston Pride captain Jillian Dempsey won 78 percent of her faceoffs.
- Not only did Connecticut Whale forward Kayla Friesen notch her first NWHL goal; she also recorded eight shots, three blocked shots, and won 70 percent of her faceoffs.
Sunday's games (all times Eastern):
- 1:00 PM - Whitecaps @ Six
- 4:00 PM - Riveters @ Whale (expect Brooke Wolejko to start in net for Connecticut)
- 7:00 PM - Beauts @ Pride (expect Victoria Hanson to start in net for Boston)
All games broadcast for free on Twitch.
(Photo: Michelle Jay/NWHL)