The PWHPA's Secret Dream Gap Tour resumed in Chicago last weekend, with another set of games between Minnesota and New Hampshire.
After a pair of slower starts in New York, Minnesota's Team Adidas jumped to an early lead on Saturday thanks to an opening goal by Abby Roque 11:37 into the game, followed by a wide-angle wraparound by rookie defender Maddie Rolfes less than two minutes later.
"I think it was just the preparation," said Savannah Harmon of the strong opening. "We had three practices leading up to this weekend; we started this week with a mini game right at the beginning, to just get ready to go. I think just coming in knowing that we have to be ready to go from the puck drop and not five or six shifts in, we just really focused on that this week and were able to execute that today."
Harmon assisted on her team's third of the day, a wide-open tap-in for Kendall Coyne Schofield on the power play to put Minnesota up 3-0.
New Hampshire mounted a remarkable comeback effort in the third, outshooting Minnesota 17-6 after having been outshot and out-chanced in each of the prior periods. Defenders Megan Keller and Kali Flanagan drove Team Women's Sports Foundation's offensive presence from the back as they looked to overcome a steep deficit.
"On the breakout, we need to continue to push north," said Flanagan. "Sometimes we're bringing it back into our own zone a little bit too much, and having turnovers in the D-zone and in the neutral zone."
Their first big opportunity came five minutes in on the power play, when Keller put the puck in the net, but a quick whistle meant the goal wouldn't count on the scoreboard. The comeback attempt was stymied again just 29 seconds later, when Brianna Decker's tally was called off, having been deflected in with her stick above the crossbar.
With the score still 3-0 in the dying minutes and Minnesota set to gain a bonus point for the shutout, New Hampshire pulled the goalie, but it was Minnesota's Roque who capitalized on a pass from Annie Pankowski to secure the empty-netter.
New Hampshire would ultimately have the last word, with Decker getting one in from the side of the goal line with just 10.7 seconds on the clock.
"Obviously they scored on the empty net," said Flanagan. "But then at the very end we were still pushing for that goal, because we still wanted to break that shutout. Being able to get that goal at the very end there and prevent that shutout for them and that extra point, I think that means everything."
Nicole Hensley stopped 33 shots for Minnesota, while Alex Cavallini turned away 23 of 26.
"You look at some of the odd man rushes we gave up, you look at some of the chances, the point-blank chances from the slot: she bailed us out," Coyne Schofield said of Hensley. "The way she was playing the puck, stopping the pucks behind the net, and giving us an opportunity to break the puck out and get in transition quicker... She didn't just play well in the net, she was aware outside the net as well."
Roque, who collected another two points to maintain her scoring lead, spoke postgame about the limited opportunities she'd had to look forward to in post-collegiate women's hockey and why she values the PWHPA's mission.
"I think I always knew what the landscape would be after [university]," she said. "When the PWHPA formed, that was when the biggest hope for me was. Honestly, I think freshman and sophomore year, there wasn't really a great option for after college. I don't think there was anything that really made me excited. When the PWHPA formed, I actually got excited. I saw all of the best players in the world coming together for this cause, playing together and getting things that we think we deserve and things that we need ― getting sponsors, all these great things. And I think that was kind of a light at the end of the tunnel because coming from Wisconsin, they treat us like professionals, we are given everything we could ever need or want. It was an amazing experience.
"Going into this year, I think anything could be hit or miss, you're not really sure what you're going to get," she continued. "And I think the PWHPA has done a great job of making sure that we are given everything in the hockey sense we need. Training, ice, great coaches, of all the little things that we need; apparel, travel... it's just been awesome, I think, in that sense. Obviously we're working for more than that; we're working to gain more ground. I think we deserve ― all women's sports really deserve a lot more. We're great athletes. And I think we're heading in the right direction. But I think what I expected from when I was maybe even in high school looking at the future... This has been a great, great experience for me."
Unlike the previous series where New Hampshire quickly regrouped to claim the second game of the weekend, Minnesota once again was dominant in Sunday's rematch.
Coyne Schofield opened the scoring at 6:50 of the first period, potting the rebound after Savannah Harmon rattled a puck off the post. Hayley Scamurra evened things up midway through the frame off a scramble in front, sending the teams to intermission at 1-1.
"I think a lot of what helped them last weekend, too, was that the second game was the televised game, so there's a lot of TV timeouts and they could get their first line out there a lot," Roque noted. "Today we adjusted to who we would have to match up, how we'd play with that."
Minnesota's special teams shone in the second period as they killed off a pair of penalties and tallied two power play markers of their own. Kelly Pannek scored from the slot at 8:35, and Lee Stecklein buried a point shot at 13:57. They nearly put themselves up 4-1 at 14:24, but the puck crossed the line after the whistle for the third no-goal of the weekend.
"I think it was just being able to take a step back and take a deep breath," said Dani Cameranesi of the power play success. "We actually haven't been able to practice a ton throughout the weeks beforehand because not all of our players are from the immediate Twin Cities, Minnesota region, so I think it was just having more looks at it between yesterday's game and today and just kind of feeling it out and getting a sense of where everyone's going to be. A big, big thing for us this weekend compared to last weekend was that we just wanted to get pucks on net and kind of create havoc there in the crease."
Amanda Kessel brought New Hampshire back within one at 4:01 of the third, but Hilary Knight replied to double the advantage. Sydney Brodt scored on a passing play at 17:49 to earn her team the bonus point, and Knight added yet another power play goal to wrap things up with five seconds remaining.
Maddie Rooney saved 31 of 33 chances for Minnesota, while Katie Burt stopped 33 of 39 in a losing effort.
Minnesota captured the series with five points, courtesy of two regulation wins and a bonus point for reaching the five-goal mark on Sunday.
- The series was played on the traditional and unceded homeland of the Miami, Sauk, Meskwaki, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, and the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations ― a region has also long been a gathering place for many other Indigenous nations.
- Although dates for further Dream Gap Tour stops have not yet been formally announced, the Minnesota and New Hampshire regions are expected to play further contests. Canadian stops remain dependent on pandemic-related restrictions and are unlikely to occur before April.
(Photo credit: Troy Parla/PWHPA)