PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
After a week off for American Thanksgiving, the Premier Hockey Federation returned to action with a quartet of games that saw the Connecticut Whale sweep a weekend over the Minnesota Whitecaps, and the Boston Pride take down the Toronto Six.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Connecticut Whale are no joke. This season's team looks like one of the best in the franchise's history and could be poised for a run at the Isobel Cup.
It was no big surprise, then, that they swept their weekend series against the Minnesota Whitecaps, and that their top line of Taylor Girard, Kennedy Marchment, and Alyssa Wohfeiler had a big weekend, combining for five goals, five assists, and 21 shots on goal.
Saturday's game saw the Whitecaps with a fantastic chance early on from the ever-dangerous Allie Thunstrom, but goaltender Abbie Ives has really continued to step up this season and make save after save. After a scoreless first period during which Connecticut saw a goal waved off, the Whitecaps came out charging early in the middle frame. They put on a lot of pressure and maintained possession, but a bad giveaway would spell the beginning of the end.
Amanda Conway pounced on the puck following that giveaway, quickly pivoting and shooting it top-corner into the net behind Amanda Leveille to put the Whale on the board. Connecticut then added two quick goals in a span of just 1:07 to take control of the game; with Leveille on the edge of the blue paint, Allie Munroe snuck the puck in behind her, before Wohlfeiler made it a three-goal game.
Just moments after Wohlfeiler's goal, Ives kept the tides rushing in Connecticut's favor, making a huge save on Alex Woken, who came in alone on the netminder. Late in the second period, Girard scored her first goal of the weekend on a 3-on-2, feeding off a pass on the odd-player rush.
Woken would eventually beat Ives in the end, but it wasn't enough to foster a comeback for Minnesota. Catherine Crawley also added a goal minutes later to seal the 5-1 victory for the Whale.
The teams rematched on Sunday, and goaltending continued to be key as the game remained scoreless past the midway point. Girard would open the scoring off a backhand tip from Kennedy Marchment, just seconds after the Whale's power-play ended.
Goals came fast and furiously late in the second period. A bouncing puck rebounded off the boards behind the net, and Amanda Conway stayed on it and capitalized with Leveille just out of position.
To their credit, the Whitecaps stayed in it, as Jonna Curtis put forth an individual effort to score over Ives' shoulder on the backhand only 43 seconds after Conway's goal. Just as quickly, Thunstrom tied with 10 seconds to play in the second period on a rebound.
The teams exchanged chances in the third, with Ives making a big toe save to prevent Thunstrom from striking once again. Moments later, the Whitecaps thought they scored, but Girard saved the day by sweeping a rolling puck off the goal line before it could completely cross.
The hero of the day, Girard not only saved that goal, but scored twice more to complete the hat trick and give Connecticut the 4-2 victory.
Ives stopped 46 of 49 shots faced over the pair of games for the two victories, while Leveille made 60 saves on 68 shots.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Six were brought back down to Earth by their weekend series against the Boston Pride. While the Six came into the weekend undefeated, the Pride played strong on the puck and controlled the play to hand Toronto both their first and second losses of the season.
The Pride dominated Saturday's game early on, barely giving the Six a chance to touch the puck, let alone possess it or build any momentum. They slowly chipped away it, though, and Emma Woods eventually opened the scoring early in the second period. Woods carried the puck down the ice, made her way around a Boston skater, and popped it in to put Toronto up 1-0.
Shiann Darkangelo nearly doubled her team's lead later in the game but the play was ruled no goal due to goaltender interference. Michela Cava, who had nearly scored on the play herself, wound up in the net and slid into Lovisa Selander. She was holding Selander's pad when the puck went in, leading to the ruling.
Clutch as ever, Boston captain Jillian Dempsey tied the game with 11:10 left in regulation. The Pride kept it in the zone at the blue line, and Dempsey picked up the loose puck after McKenna Brand's shot was denied. She took it top-shelf on a hard angle from just below the faceoff circle to Samantha Ridgewell's right side, an just like that, it was a whole new game.
A fruitless overtime led into a shootout, where Christina Putigna and Brand scored to give Boston the victory.
While Saturday's game was a close battle, Sunday's was the exact opposite, as Boston rallied for a decisive 8-2 win, powered by multi-point efforts from Meghara McManus, Amanda Boulier, and Dempsey.
The Pride opened the scoring just past the midway point of the first period, as Dempsey picked up a cross-ice feed from Boulier and shot it down low on Ridgewell's left side. Early in the second period, McManus doubled the lead, capitalizing on an open side of the net after a pass from (who else?) Dempsey.
The Six quickly got one back just over a minute later, as Taylor Day bounced the puck in off goaltender Katie Burt's arm and into the net, but that would be all the offense Toronto could muster for awhile. Boston scored the next five goals and really seemed to deflate their opponent as the game went on.
Whether it was Taylor Wenczkowski tipping in the puck off the back of the goaltender, Sammy Davis deflecting it in front of the net, or Jenna Rheault taking advantage of sloppy defensive work, it was all Boston's game from that point on.
Tera Hofmann made her Toronto debut in net late in the game, but their luck or effort saw no improvement. Davis added her second of the afternoon on a deflection, and Putigna tallied off a pass from Brand that went through a few careless Six defenders.
Lindsay Eastwood eventually got on the scoreboard with a power-play goal for Toronto, but by that point, the game was essentially over. Dempsey potted a late goal with 1:02 remaining in regulation for her third point of the afternoon.
Ridgewell recorded a combined 57 saves, while Hofmann stopped 17 of 20 shots. Boston split their goaltending duties over the weekend, with Selander stopping 30 shots Saturday (... say that three times fast!) and Burt stopping 36 on Sunday.
1. Boston Pride (6-2, 15 points)
2. Connecticut Whale (4-3-1, 13 points)
3. Toronto Six (3-1-1, 10 points)
4. Metropolitan Riveters (2-1-1, 7 points)
5. Minnesota Whitecaps (1-4-1, 4 points)
6. Buffalo Beauts (1-2-0, 2 points)
The Metropolitan Riveters head north for a pair of games against the Toronto Six (Saturday & Sunday, 2:00 PM Eastern) while the Buffalo Beauts travel west for two games against the Minnesota Whitecaps (Saturday, 7:00 PM Central, Sunday, 2:00 PM Central).
(Photo: Connecticut Whale/PHF)