The Premier Hockey Federation's Boston Pride captured their third franchise title with a 4-2 win over the Connecticut Whale in Monday's Isobel Cup Final. Seven different Boston players recorded at least a point, and Katie Burt stopped 32 of 34 shots faced.
The Whale looked good to start the game and were outshooting the Pride 3-0, but Boston scored that ever-important first goal less than five minutes in. Captain Jillian Dempsey carried the puck into the zone along the left side of the ice, deked out multiple Connecticut skaters and threw a backhanded shot toward the net that beat Abbie Ives on the far side.
"The bigger the moment, the bigger she is," said Amanda Boulier of Dempsey. "It's just so cool to see her get that first one for us and lead us through the rest of the game."
The team that scored first had won every playoff game this season up until this point, and that streak continued on Monday night.
Connecticut's nerves started to show as the first period went on. They seemed a bit scatterbrained and couldn't capitalize on their chances. Their first good scoring opportunity came past the midway point of the game, when Kennedy Marchment's pass just narrowly missed Taylor Girard for an easy connection.
Their persistence finally paid off with 3:15 left in the opening frame. Amanda Conway picked up a feed in the neutral zone, skated up the ice and ripped it past Katie Burt's toe to tie the game at one. Conway's goal to break up the momentu, was a particularly important one, as Boston had historically been scoring in bunches, and seemed to settle the Whale's nerves a bit heading into intermission.
It didn't take long for Connecticut to find their first lead of the game. Marchment and Girard's connection paid off in front, as a pass found Girard on the back door just 32 seconds in. This marked the first time the Pride trailed in the playoffs this year.
Moments later, the Whale got a huge five-minute power play after Dempsey was called for a bad cross-check on Cailey Hutchison in front of the boards. They recorded eight shots on goal during the advantage, but Burt stood tall to stop everything thrown her way.
"That was an enormous kill for us," said Boulier. "I think there were about 45 seconds left and I said to Kali Flanagan & Kaleigh Fratkin: Now, we go. Now, we attack them."
"I think that was just felt throughout the whole team," Boulier added. "We get this, now we can go on the attack. It took us a little bit to get there, but we really started and felt that momentum. That was a huge turning point in the game."
The pace of the game picked up from there as both teams really looked to be firing on all cylinders. Conway nearly scored but rang one off the post; at the other end, Tereza Vanišová sped to the net but Ives made a phenomenal glove save. Moments later, Marchment almost got one.
With 13:23 to play, the Pride tied it at 2 when Evelina Raselli capitalized on a bouncing puck off a rebound in front. Taylor Wenczkowski then regained Boston's lead only 18 seconds later.
"We've seen this coming for two years now," said head coach Paul Mara of Wenczkowski's rise to the top. "We see it every day in practice. Every day, we're like, she's right on the cusp of breaking out to be one of the elite players in our league and this country. The last two months, she's done that."
Connecticut simply couldn't break Boston, despite multiple chances. Jenna Rheault then potted an empty-netter with 90 seconds to play to provide a bit of insurance.
Wenczkowski was named MVP after scoring the Cup-winning goal and also tallying in both of the Pride's other two games in Florida. As a result, she was awarded $1,000 in gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods. (Dick's is the presenting sponsor of the Isobel Cup championship post-game trophy presentation & MVP award.)
Per their contracts, players on the Pride will each receive a $500 bonus, so long as they appeared in at least 75% of the team's regular season games or 50% of playoff games. Meghan Rickard and Delaney Belinskas are the lone Boston players who would not qualify for the bonus, which is supposed to be paid out to players within 15 calendar days.
It wasn't the easiest path to defending their title, but what matters most for the Pride is that in the end, they got there – and now, they've become the first back-to-back champions in league history.
"We had so much stacked against us, and I'm just incredibly proud of how we came together at the right time to get the job done," Dempsey said.
(Photo: Michelle Jay/PHF)