PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
After all the pre-tournament questions about Minnesota Duluth, they came to Erie to play and had more than a few opportunities to win this game.
They had Northeastern on the ropes through the first two periods, but seemed to tire in the third after dogging every stride the Huskies took. They closed on Northeastern quickly and forced them to make quick decisions and mistakes. Huskies coach Dave Flint said his team hadn't faced that much pressure before and were struggling to keep up with the pace of play. UMD had Northeastern on their heels, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Coach Maura Crowell said after the game it would be easy to look back and say things would be different had the Bulldogs scored in the first, but her team had plenty of opportunities to score throughout the game and expand their lead and weren't able to convert.
The Bulldogs scored twice in the second, but by that time, Northeastern was starting to find their stride.
It took a 5-on-3 power play and a goal right as the first penalty expired for Northeastern to get on the board and that seemed to shake the Huskies up. They found confidence and momentum as UMD flagged and were able to tie the game in the third to force overtime.
The Huskies controlled the third period while it was clear the relentless pressure the Bulldogs put on them through the first two periods took its toll. UMD was tired and that allowed Northeastern to do all the things they'd been stymied on in the first two frames. They had time and space to move the puck, build from the back, gather through the neutral zone and skate in on Minnesota Duluth goalie Emma Soderberg, who made a number of great saves to keep the game tied.
The intermission served UMD well and the game was much more evenly matched in the overtime period. Both teams were playing their best hockey on both ends of the ice. Each team had a number of chances to end the game. The best might have come from Anna Klein, who had a breakaway in on Aerin Frankel, who took a chance and laid out on her stomach, using the very tip of her glove to knock the puck away. If she'd missed, the net was wide open. It was a spectacular risk that paid off.
(Insert tweet: https://twitter.com/DigDeepBSB/status/1372651508643291137)
The end of the game will be remembered for being somewhat controversial. A UMD player was tripped in her own zone and it was not called. The refs had been letting the teams play. There had been some contact all the boards that I hadn't thought much of, but some on Twitter thought should have been called. So in the second after the trip, which happened to a UMD player in their defensive zone and the puck went to another Bulldog, I didn't think too much about the no call. It was consistent with what the ref had been doing.
Unfortunately, there was immediately a turnover as Skylar Fontaine read the breakout and jumped in to intercept the pass. She took it to the far past and shot back across her body. The puck deflected up and into the net to win the game for Northeastern. And the no call suddenly looked a lot worse.
A dispassionate look at the play says the turnover was given by the player who had the puck after the trip, so the trip was irrelevant. UMD fans think there's a bid difference between not calling contact on the boards and not calling a blatant trip.
Either way, the call didn't happen and Fontaine won the game. She ended up with 16 shots on goal for the night, more than double any other player on the ice. When the Huskies were struggling, the coaching staff told them to get pucks on net and she took that to heart. It's fitting she's the one that ended the game.
Northeastern advanced to their first-ever national championship game.
With two teams so familiar with each other, no one was quite sure what to expect when they faced off in the Frozen Four. Their last meeting in the WCHA tournament final needed overtime and nearly all their games this year were decided by a single goal.
That what made Wisconsin jumping out to a 3-0 lead in this game so surprising.
The Buckeyes hoped the quarterfinal game would be enough to clear their nerves, but playing on the big stage of the Frozen Four got to the team as they started the game slowly while Wisconsin was able to strike quickly. The Badgers scored less than 90 seconds into the game and then scored again in the first few minutes of the second period.
All three of Wisconsin's early goals came from their third line. Badger coach Mark Johnson said he liked what he's seen over the past month or so from freshmen Makenna Webster and Casey O'Brien. He pointed out that in a regular season, 20 or so games played would be about half the year and it would be the time we'd see younger players start to find their stride. Instead, rookies are still getting settled in and it's the national semifinal.
But the big stage didn't seem to phase them and while Ohio State check Wisconsin's bigger name stars off the scoreboard, the Badgers' depth showed as these players that are trending to be the future of USA Hockey on the international stage proved they are comfortable in the spotlight. Senior Caitlin Schneider is the third member of that line and she has a knack for playing up to the moment. She doesn't score many goals, but she tends to score them in big time situations. She's the one that netted the game-winner against Northeastern the last time those two teams met.
OSU coach Nadine Muzzerall felt her team dominated the second two period and said postgame that sometimes the best team doesn't win. She and senior Emma Maltais spoke of the family atmosphere on their team and how that togetherness has carried the program from fourth in their conference to a second Frozen Four in four years.
The Buckeyes' scoring also came from players further down their depth chart. Gabby Rosenthal was in the right place unguarded to tip in a rebound and Sara Saekkinen was part of a 3-on-2 rush and scored the second OSU goal.
Muzzerall pulled goalie Andrea Braendli with a minute left in the game and Wisconsin had a good look at an empty netter that OSU tracked back to stop. But as they tried to break out of the zone, Daryl Watts blocked the puck and was able to skate it in to the empty net to make it a 4-2 Badger win.
After the game, Maltais confirmed she plans to return to Columbus next season and a team rep said Liz Scheppers has also said she plans to pursue that course.
(Photo credit: Brad Frank/UW Athletics)