The Minnesota Whitecaps and Toronto Six will compete for the Premier Hockey Federation's Isobel Cup on Sunday, March 26 at 9 PM ET at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and TSN5.
The Whitecaps have twice appeared in the Isobel Cup Final, winning in 2019 and falling to Boston in 2021. This will be the first time the Six are competing in the championship game and also marks the first time a Canadian team made it to the final.
The Path to Isobel: Minnesota
The Whitecaps came into the postseason as the fourth seed, with a 10-11-3 record in the regular season. They faced a tough Boston team, the best team in the PHF, but handily defeated them in two games in the semifinals at The Bentley Arena.
The Whitecaps won game one of the semifinals 5-2 over the Pride, a score that looks more mismatched than the game itself thanks to two empty-net goals. Ronja Mogren & Jonna Albers gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead in the first, but Boston's Becca Gilmore lessened the gap just 22 seconds after Albers' goal.
Loren Gabel tied the game less than three minutes later. After a scoreless second period, Albers' second of the night broke the tie for good at 11:21 of the third, on the power play. Sydney Brodt added an empty-netter, while Albers also completed the hat trick on the empty net.
The Whitecaps finished the series with a 4-1 win on Saturday, March 18. Despite being outshot by a 48-31 margin and going down 0-1 just 6:19 in, Minnesota scored the next four goals to snag the victory.
Albers scored her fourth goal of the series, while Brittyn Fleming, Sidney Morin and Natalie Snodgrass also tallied.
Amanda Leveille had a whopping 77 saves over the two games, including 47 in the second game of the series.
The Path to Isobel: Toronto
The Six finished the regular season with a 17-5-2 record, good for second overall in the PHF - and just three points back of the first-place Toronto. After dropping their first semifinal game, they rallied in the second and won the series in three.
The Connecticut Whale won game one of the series 5-3, powered by a pair of goals from Taylor Girard. Justine Reyes, Melissa Samoskevich and Lenka Serdar also scored for the Whale. Michela Cava potted two goals in the third period for Toronto, with Emma Woods notching the other tally earlier in the game.
Woods played the overtime hero in game two, scoring the game-winning goal at 2:31 to even the series. Brittany Howard had Toronto's other two goals in the 3-2 win, while Girard and Kennedy Marchment scored for Connecticut. Toronto outshot Connecticut 4-0 in the brief overtime.
After forcing the series to three games, the Six scored three goals en route to their eventual win. Cava scored her third of the series, while Leah Lum and Kati Tabin added insurance markers in the 3-0 win. Although they weren't on their standard home ice, the Six did have somewhat of a "home ice advantage," playing at Toronto's Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Elaine Chuli played in all three games for Toronto, stopping 82 of 88 shots faced.
Head-to-head results: 4-0 TOR
- Toronto 3, Minnesota 2 (OT)
- Toronto 3, Minnesota 2
- Toronto 1, Minnesota 0
- Toronto 7, Minnesota 1
- Brittany Howard (TOR): 3 goals, 2 assists
- Shiann Darkangelo (TOR): 3 goals, 2 assists
- Natalie Snodgrass (MIN): 2 goals, 2 assists
- Dominika Lásková (TOR): 2 goals, 1 assist
- Jonna Albers (MIN): 1 goal, 1 assist
- Sidney Morin (MIN): 1 goal, 1 assist
- Elaine Chuli (TOR): 86 saves/90 shots faced (4 goals allowed) - 3 games
- Amanda Leveille (MIN): 56 saves/62 shots faced (6 goals allowed) - 2 games
- Jenna Brenneman (MIN): 63 saves/71 shots faced (8 goals allowed) - 2 games
- Carly Jackson (TOR): 22 saves/23 shots faced (1 goal allowed) - 1 game
Players to Watch
- Leading scorers: Jonna Albers had five points, including four goals, in the semifinals. Michela Cava led the Six with four points, including three goals, in their semifinal series. Brittany Howard (2-2) and Kati Tabin (1-3) also had strong performances, while Emma Woods had two goals. Both teams saw a depth of production, with 13 Whitecaps and 12 Six players recording at least a point in the semifinals.
- Top goalies: Expect to see Amanda Leveille face Elaine Chuli in net on Sunday evening. Both are their respective teams' top netminder and played all of their respective semifinal series. Leveille finished the regular season with a 2.43 GAA, while Chuli had a 2.61.
- Don't forget: Daryl Watts, who only just joined the Six in late January, had seven points in 12 regular season games. Sidney Morin, on Minnesota's backend, also produced plenty of offense in the regular season and had a goal and an assist in the semifinals.
At first glance, Toronto seems to have the edge going into the Final. They were the second-best team through the regular season and swept the season series against Minnesota. In fact, Toronto is 9-0-1 historically against the Whitecaps.
A part of Toronto's success this season has been scoring the first goal of the game. When they score first, the Six are 14-1-0 this season. When their opponent opens the scoring, the Six are 5-5-2, more of a mixed bag.
Meanwhile, the Whitecaps are 7-10-1 when their opponent scores first, and 5-1-2 when they score first. If Toronto manages to get the first goal of the game? Look out.
On the flip side, you can't count the Whitecaps out. Yes, they came into the postseason as the fourth seed, but just look at how they handled the first-place Boston Pride. The Pride looked invincible, but the Whitecaps took them out in a two-game sweep without issue. Players are undoubtedly energized by that win, and will look to build off it with another Isobel Cup.
Chuli and Leveille are two of the top goaltenders in the PHF, so what Sunday's game will come down to is getting in the dirty areas and finding crafty ways to beat them. I wouldn't expect a high-scoring affair, given such stellar goaltending, but could see Sunday's game being a 1-0 or 2-1 final - maybe even in overtime.
Who comes out on top? I say Minnesota.
(Photo: Lori Bolliger)