PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
By all accounts, this will likely be the last Dream Gap Tour sponsored by Secret, and the PWHPA spent all season showing North America what type of hockey to expect from their new league. In the playoffs, each team came together to play their best hockey in a succession of four one-goal games, three of which went to extra time. Sunday night's championship was the only decision made in 60 minutes – but the third period in and of itself felt like overtime from start to finish.
The weekend's games were broadcast on ESPN+ in the US, TSN in Canada, and (with the exception of the championship game) globally on YouTube. Izzy Germain handled play-by-play, with Liz Knox providing color commentary – both were excellent as always. There were some technical issues occasionally on the broadcasts throughout the weekend, mostly issues with audio and some jittery/lagging video at times. The LA Kings' practice facility in El Segundo, the site of the placement/consolation game, was shot entirely through a thick netting, potentially making viewers forget if they'd switched over from Ohio State vs. Quinnipiac in Columbus. (Saturday's consolation game, between Team Sonnet and Team adidas, went to overtime, and saw Team adidas come out on top thanks to a dramatic breakaway goal by Kristin O'Neill.)
The first goal of the championship game, a Team Scotiabank power play goal by Kelly Pannek, was apparently scored while the broadcast was still on commercial break.
But despite some occasional audio issues, the rest of the game was broadcast without major incident, and it was truly captivating hockey. Team Scotiabank came in as a real underdog, but they went up 2-0 early thanks to Kelly Pannek's second of the night, set up by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it pass from Victoria Bach behind the net:
Jamie Lee Rattray finally got Harvey's on the board thanks to a giveaway by Megan Keller. The back-and forth action of the first period continued with Alex Carpenter re-gaining the two goal lead for Scotiabank on a deceptive shot that looked low but went high on Ann-Renée Desbiens.
Unfortunately for them, it would be their last two-goal lead of the night, as Emily Clark's first tally went behind Maschmeyer off of a cross-crease pass in tight.
Scotiabank held the lead going into the second period, but there was blood in the water. With Brigitte Lacquette in the box early in the second, Clark added her second goal. A hard shot from between the circles by Marie-Philip Poulin trickled through Maschmeyer's pads, and Clark gave it the extra push it needed to cross the line, making it 3-all.
Clark completed her hat trick after being sprung on a breakaway by a brilliant pass from Jessie Eldridge, flipping a backhand over Maschmeyer to take the 4-3 lead.
Scotiabank seemed a little stunned after the goal, but never stopped pushing. They made a tie game again late in the second period, with Blayre Turnbull crashing the net and taking a couple whacks at the puck to get it past Desbiens.
This set up what would be an outstanding third period for both teams. Scotiabank knew what they had to do with their game and executed in every way except by scoring – and Team Harvey's did what they've done time and time again by being patient, relying on Desbiens, and waiting for someone to make a mistake. With tons of chances at both ends and both goaltenders holding steady, it looked very much like it was going to extra time for the fourth straight game in southern California. But Lacquette, for Scotiabank, was the one who made the mistake – she pushed Emily Clark into Emerance Maschmeyer in the crease, and in that ensuing chaos, Jessie Eldridge picked up a loose puck and backhanded it into the cage. It was a gorgeous goal in the last minute of play that culminated Eldridge's incredibly strong play all weekend, and added to her three assists on the day already.
And thus the Secret Cup was awarded for the second-ever time, presented by Billie Jean King, Ilana Kloss, and Jayna Hefford:
(It was previously awarded as a prize during the Calgary PWHPA showcase event in 2021, when each weekend showcase had its own champion.)
Throughout the weekend, Germain and Knox kept excitedly repeating that there would probably be news soon about the new PWHPA-backed league, which is notably unionizing and approving a CBA for its players before puck drop, as reported by Hailey Salvian. The PWHPA is exclusively working with BJK Enterprises (headed by Billie Jean King, a former PWHPA advisor) and The Mark Walter Group. Mark Walter is the majority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, and a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Sparks. King and her partner Ilana Kloss both own minority stakes in Angel City FC as well as the Sparks (and Walter's Dodgers). Both the WNBA and NWSL are unionized as well, so they should have an understanding and background on the primary concerns of workers in a pro women's sports league. The timeline seems to indicate that they are waiting to finalize a CBA before starting league operations, which, to my knowledge, would be a first in North American sports labor history.
Details about the new league and the CBA haven't emerged yet. There were rumors that the PWHPA's league play would begin in January 2023, but that did not materialize. In the interim, they did put on their most extensive showcase series to date, and experimented with a more league-like roster format, which saw players ranked by a panel of experts and divided into four ostensibly even teams. While Harvey's was both the regular season winner and the eventual champion, and all of the teams had their ups and downs, they were very evenly matched and played at an electric pace in the Southern California Showcase weekend. All four teams made a convincing case that the future of their new league is bright if they can play hockey like this.
(Photo: Heather Pollock/PWHPA)