The third event of the Dream Gap Tour comes on Sunday when the New Hampshire and Minnesota hub teams meet up in St. Louis at Enterprise Center, home of the Blues.
It’s been a long layoff after the original event, set to take place at the end of March, was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. After that, many of the players went to Portland, Maine, to train for Worlds which were abruptly cancelled, then moved to August.
Minnesota is 3-1 in the four previous games played in New Jersey, New York and Chicago and sits atop the standings with eight points.
New Hampshire won the first game behind the efforts of Brianna Decker.
Since then, Team USA had its invite camp ahead of the World Championships, trained for Worlds, and rosters have been selected.
This weekend, the USA teams will have a chance to hoist the Secret Cup before the Canadian tournament begins in Calgary next week.
Here’s who to watch for both squads.
Annie Pankowski, F
It’s the second season in a row Pankowski didn’t make the Worlds roster so she’s going to be as motivated as anyone to have a solid showing.
In four games with Minnesota so far, she has just two assists and is seeking her first goal on the PWHPA Dream Gap Tour. There was talk she had an injury ahead of Worlds camp, and that might be why she didn’t make the cut. She’s presumably healthy now and ready to play.
Pankowski remains one of the elite talents in the showcase and can break out at any given time. With the last two games on the tour happening now, why not now?
Maddie Rolfes, D
Rolfes has been one of the surprise standouts when she’s suited up with Minnesota, and with a shorthanded defence she’ll be at it again. The offensive defender has made some strides with zone entries and has been a part of the deep Minnesota attack that extends into the blue line. Expect a lot from her again this weekend.
Nicole Hensley, G
Hensley has been arguably the best goalie in the PWHPA this season and it’s earned her a role with Team USA.
In her two games played, she has a .953 save percentage and averages 32 saves per 60.
The former Lindenwood player has strong ties to St. Louis, having starred as the goalie at the Missouri-based university. She’s going to be vying to be the top goalie for Team USA, a tall order with Alex Cavallini around, but in these games at least, she’s outplayed her.
Women’s Sports Foundation New Hampshire goalie Alex Cavallini, right, blocks a shot by Team Adidas Minnesota’s Annie Pankowski during the first period of a Dream Gap Tour hockey game at the United Center in Chicago. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
Makenna Newkirk, F
The Boston College alum follows in the footsteps of several other Eagles who have stepped into the PWHPA. Newkirk, 25, was a part of the Dream Gap Tour last season, after a stellar career in Hockey East where she tallied 189 points in 154 games.
She is yet to make an appearance on the tour this year, but almost certainly will have a large role on a small New Hampshire roster.
Delaney Belinskas, F
Belinskas is still seeking her first point of the tournament. She scored what was considered her first career professional goal in the Tampa Bay series with the USPHL at the start of the year, but has been held off the scoreboard since.
The right wing has 93 career points in 151 games at Boston College, so she has the potential for huge offensive output. It feels like she could take off playing with elite talent like she is. She was a 20-goal scorer as a senior, so she’s not too far removed from that kind of production.
Alex Cavallini, G
Cavallini, like Hansley, was named to the Team USA roster for Worlds. That the duo will go against each other in real game action is a solid narrative on its own. She has the second-best save percentage of .903 during her two games of the tour.
She also, like Hensley, has ties to St. Louis and is living there currently so it will be nice for her to perform in front of her adopted hometown crowd.