If Saturday wasn’t fun enough for you, I raise you Sunday’s slate of NWHL bubble hockey action.
Minnesota pulled through following a four-goal surge to sit at the top of the standings, the Pride finally showed their offensive might and the Riveters pulled out a dramatic win over the upstart Whale.
We’ll all get a breather on Monday before Tuesday’s action features a matchup of the undefeated teams between Metropolitan and Minnesota and the start of the much-anticipated Boston and Toronto rivalry.
But first, takeaways from a super Sunday in Lake Placid.
Minnesota Whitecaps (2-0-0) 6, Toronto Six (0-1-1) 5, (shootout)
MIN: Haylea Schmid, Sydney Baldwin, Haley Mack, Audra Richards, Meaghan Pezon
TOR: Lindsay Eastwood, Breanne Wilson-Bennett (2), Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Emily Fluke
Key takeaway: Most teams went with their backup goalies on the back-to-back, including Toronto with Sam Ridgewell making her debut.
Minnesota went the other way, starting Amanda Leveille following her 36-save performance against Boston on Saturday. Early on, it looked like that decision would cost them.
Leveille got banged up after three goals and Allie Morse saw the ice, but head coach Jack Brodt went back to Leveille later in the second frame and Minnesota’s offence came through with five goals, and a shootout win.
What a short-handed goal by Audra Richards pic.twitter.com/3xuqHaqTmE
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 24, 2021
It sure feels like the Whitecaps got away with one they trailed 5-1.
But hey, the bubble format is new for everyone, and every team is learning how they respond to the amount of hockey they’re playing in a short amount of time.
Thankfully for Minnesota, their offence bailed them out.
“In the second period, the last two minutes, those big goals were a big momentum changer for us,” said Whitecaps forward Winny Brodt-Brown. “It probably put Toronto a little on their heels heading into the third, and we took that momentum and rolled with it.”
Player of the game — Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Toronto: Sure, Minnesota won but Grant-Mentis really needs a lot of hype for her play so far.
She nailed down her first goal with the Six and nabbed another snipe in the shootout that gave Toronto a chance at its first ever win. She took nine shots on net in the first game against the Riveters and four more Sunday, when she was also a plus-3.
— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) January 24, 2021
It’s clear she’s the offensive heart of the Six, and one of the best young up-and-coming players in the game.
In just two games with Buffalo last season, Grant-Mentis scored twice and had an assist. She’s the type of player who makes noise whenever she’s on the ice, and while Toronto might not have the most experience in the league, high-energy players like her make up for that.
What’s next: After an off-day Monday, the Whitecaps will face the only other undefeated team, the Riveters, on Tuesday.
It’s a bit early to hype up a single game so much, but the Whitecaps have had a gauntlet early. Taking down Boston took a lot of energy and they looked burnt out against the Six before their depth came through.
Maybe a well-rested Caps club comes out with similar energy to Saturday.
Toronto faces their Twitter rival Boston Pride on Tuesday in their first ever matchup. Toronto, as well, has had a real tough schedule early, being shut out by the Riveters in Game 1 and falling in the shootout to Minnesota.
There’s been a lot of talk between the social media managers for months, it’ll be fun to finally see the teams on the ice.
Metropolitan Riveters (2-0-0) 4, Connecticut Whale (1-1-0) 3
MET: Mallory Rushton, Cailey Hutchison, Rebecca Russo, Theresa Knutson
CON: Amanda Conway, Emma Vlasic, Kaycie Anderson
Key takeaway: The Whale aren’t going quietly. There’s plenty of time to break down how the Riveters have powered through to win their first two games, but this has been the best the Whale have looked maybe in franchise history.
Saturday they peppered Buffalo goalie Carly Jackson and they did the same to Riveters rookie Tera Hofmann with 36 shots on Sunday. Connecticut’s offence has ranked near league-bottom since franchise inception, so it’s refreshing to see the Whale offence surging as it has.
Part of that is rookies like Conway and Katelynn Russ making an impact early, but Vlasic and Anderson have paid their dues with the Whale and are benefiting from playing with a far deeper roster than in years past.
Sunday was about the Riveters, but it wasn’t *not* about the Whale, and how far they’ve come in their quest for Isobel.
Player of the game — Rebecca Russo, Metropolitan: The Riveters’ offence struggled at times after Russo took last season off. In her two games back with Metropolitan, though, she’s showing her value.
Dubbed as one of the fastest skaters in the league for a reason, her speed helped create Knutson’s goal, as she negated an icing and gave room for her teammate to put the Riveters ahead for good.
There’s arguably more speed in the league than any previous season, so Russo is a major asset to the Riveters to combat that, especially against a young-leaning team like the Whale.
Her redirect on the power play earned the Rivs a goal earlier in the game, too. As if Metro wasn’t deep enough with Kelly Babstock’s return to the league, Russo has given them a ridiculous advantage.
Of note, Knutson herself generated seven shots on goal Sunday and has taken a noticeable leap from a year ago. The Riveters offence is legitimate.
What’s next: Metro gets a fun challenge in the Whitecaps on Tuesday, not that the Six and Whale weren’t respectable opponents.
Minnesota is on a different level, though, as we saw on Saturday with their shut down of the Pride and again with a four-goal surge against the Six on Sunday.
Sonjia Shelly will likely step back in the Rivs net after her shutout of Connecticut in the first contest.
The Whale won’t see the ice again until Wednesday when they face Boston, the team that ousted them from the 2020 post-season.
Connecticut is a different club than they’ve been, but the Pride have historically handled them. It’s also an Alyssa Wohlfeiler revenge game special.
Boston Pride (1-1-0) 5, Buffalo Beauts (0-2-0) 1
BOS: McKenna Brand, Taylor Wenczkowski, Sammy Davis, Jillian Dempsey (2)
BUF: Jordan Juron
Key takeaway: The Pride power play went 0-for-7 against the Whitecaps on Saturday, which was a concern for everyone involved.
After a tough start again against the Beauts, it felt like deja vu.
That changed on Dempsey’s power play tip in to put Boston ahead 3-1, and then when Davis nabbed a power play tally for her first career NWHL goal.
Sunday looked a lot more familiar to long-time Pride observers, from the late-first period goal from Brand that took the wind out of the sails of the Beauts, to the power play dominance.
Boston’s 20-5 shot advantage in the second period was reminiscent of the team that got to the Isobel Cup a year ago. It made it easier for Victoria Hanson who made her first start of the season in net, making 20 saves.
It’s one game to draw something from, but so was Saturday, and Sunday’s game felt a lot different. Perhaps the Pride just needed to shake a little bit of rust off.
Player of the game — Jillian Dempsey, Boston: She scored her 100th career NWHL regular season point, how can’t it be her?
The Pride captain became the first player to reach 100 career points in league history with her power play goal in the second period, her second of the game, and the one that seemed to flip the switch for the Pride offence.
As Dempsey goes, so does her line as Brand found her stride as well. When functioning at full strength, that top line is the best in the league, statistically, over the past two seasons.
Dempsey’s five shots on goal led the Pride, as did her .643 faceoff percentage to dominate possession.
Of note for the Beauts, rookie defender Whitney Dove was a standout against the aggressive Pride offence, as the new-look Buffalo defence had their work cut out for them to manage an angry Boston club.
What’s next: The Pride face the expansion Six on Tuesday in primetime. A much-anticipated matchup — and an Emily Fluke revenge game, don’t forget — that will surely have both teams fired up.
Boston figured a lot out on Sunday but so did the Six, who put up five goals on the tired Whitecaps. Boston will be well-rested, and it’ll be a hefty challenge for the Six.
Jenna Rheault left the game after being hit in the arm and didn’t return, which would be a tough blow to Boston after she’s broken out in Lake Placid. If she misses time, Briana Mastel can come off the bench after being a regular blue liner a year ago.
Buffalo will face off with the Rivs on Wednesday after an extra day of rest, and maybe catch a break that they’ll have Metro coming off a game with the Whitecaps on Tuesday.
Jackson dealt with playing two games in a row and the rest will certainly benefit her and the defence in front of her.