Saturday evening's NWHL Isobel Cup Final had a little bit of everything: beautiful goals, incredible saves, a penalty shot, a major penalty, even a misconduct. When sixty minutes of hockey was said and done, the Boston Pride captured the championship with a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Whitecaps.
A close battle of offensive strength and stellar goaltending first broke open just under eight minutes into the first period. As you'd expect, Allie Thunstrom – a former speedskater – picked up a loose puck and carried it into the zone, deked around a Pride defender and beat Lovisa Selander to give Minnesota an early lead.
"We came out almost with too much energy and too much excitement," Thunstrom said. "We were a little jittery to start, but then we kind of got in our groove. We played Whitecaps hockey. To score first to get that momentum going was helpful, and I think even going into the second period, we came out strong."
The Whitecaps held on for about 15 minutes of game action before the Pride pounced. Mary Parker provided a good effort in front of the net and stayed on the puck to beat Amanda Leveille. From there, Boston really stepped up and showed why they deserved to win.
"We had the momentum from the first period," said Winny Brodt-Brown. "We had the momentum going into the second, and if we capitalize on a couple of our opportunities, that game is completely different. We didn't capitalize on those chances; Boston capitalized."
Pride captain Jillian Dempsey scored a top corner, glove-side goal with under five minutes left in the second period to give her squad their first lead of the game. Lexie Laing chimed in with a power-play goal later in the period.
"I was fired up," Dempsey said. "It was a phenomenal play by Taylor Turnquist on the wall, she pinched and forced that play to stay in...Being patient and making that play with some pressure right on her. I was in one of my sweet spots, I like shooting from that spot. Leveille is an amazing goalie, so that definitely got us fired up and so excited from there."
As the teams neared the midway point of the final frame, the game got even more interesting. The officials deemed that a Whitecaps player had closed her hand on the puck in the crease; per NCAA rules (which the NWHL follows), the Pride had a choice between a power play or a penalty shot. They chose the latter.
Leveille made the save, and not long after, Thunstrom added another goal, her fourth of the weekend.
"Our team is kind of a team that battles, so that obviously fired us up," said Brodt-Brown. "Lev, she does just a phenomenal job and we trust her and she kept us in there again, like she usually does. They didn't capitalize and then Allie goes down the ice and scores. We had the momentum again and had them on their heels, and we just ran out of time."
Minnesota pushed hard to make a comeback and had a lot of momentum built up behind these few minutes to stay in it, at least until rookie Taylor Wenczkowsi snatched up a rebound to make it a 4-2 game.
When Tereza Vanišová was given a major penalty and misconduct for checking from behind late in the game, the Whitecaps were afforded another opportunity to make a push. With an extra attacker on, Meaghan Pezon did score one for Minnesota, but they were ultimately unable to find the equalizer.
The Pride franchise is the first team in the league to win the Isobel Cup twice. They previously defeated the Buffalo Beauts in 2016, but only one player remains from that initial squad: Dempsey. (Funny enough, Kelly Cooke, another player from that championship-winning team, was also on the ice Saturday evening – as a referee.) Meanwhile, Kaleigh Fratkin, another original NWHL player, has now finally won her first league championship in her sixth season.
Dempsey was named the Most Valuable Player and received a $1,000 prize in store credit from sponsor Dick's Sporting Goods.
The MVP was quick to recognize her teammates and their overall effort. Eight different Pride players recorded at least a point in the championship game. "We had contributions from everyone," Dempsey said. "Everybody went out there and did their job, owned their role and battled hard, one shift at a time. That was our mindset and focus going forward. So proud of this team."
For the Pride, and the NWHL as a whole, it's undoubtedly a relief to be able to put a cap on such a strange season and finally award the Isobel Cup for the first time since 2019. Boston and Minnesota were slated to meet in last year's championship game; just two days before this game was supposed to take place, it was postponed (and eventually cancelled) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league played much of this season in Lake Placid, New York and then had to shut things down due to an outbreak that affected multiple teams.
Now, finally, it's a wrap.
"It's been the longest season ever," said Fratkin. "I feel like... last year into this year has just been a blur, it really has. You go from a packed seven games that we played in Lake Placid, you take a break and then you're practicing again. It's been the longest season ever, but man, what a way to finish it off, that's for sure."
(Photo: Michele Jay/NWHL)