NWHL Takeaways: Thunstrom will be dangerous vs. Pride in Isobel Cup

Minnesota Whitecaps forward Allie Thunstrom celebrates her goal during a semifinal game of the 2021 Isobel Cup playoffs in Boston on Mar 26, 2021. (Michelle Jay/NWHL)

Two months later, we know who will play for the Isobel Cup.

It’s the same two teams from a year ago.

The Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps beat their opponents handedly in the semifinals in Boston on Friday evening, nearly two months from the day the NWHL had to pause its Lake Placid season due to COVID-19.

It took that long to get things back on track, but for the Pride and Whitecaps, they now get a chance to battle for the title they both missed out on fighting for a year ago.

Boston 6, Toronto 2

Goals: BOS: Tereza Vanisova, Jillian Dempsey, Mallory Souliotis, McKenna Brand, Sammy Davis, Mary Parker
TOR: Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Mikyla Grant-Mentis

Key takeaway: The Pride offence has figured things out.

If there was any doubt the Pride had figured out their offensive woes from early on in Lake Placid, they put that fully to rest against the top seed in the league.

Boston jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads and held on against an explosive Toronto offence, expanding on their leads and smothering the Six before they could get chances to score.

First it was rookie Tereza Vanisova notching her first career NWHL goal, but then it was the usual cast of characters: McKenna Brand stepping up, Jillian Dempsey scoring off a tremendous pass from Christina Putigna.

When the Pride are clicking, they look a lot like what we saw today.

“I think we did a great job,” Brand said. “I think we have a couple of things that we can clean up and look to get better at tomorrow, but I think overall we showed up and stuck to our game plan.”

After their last couple of Lake Placid games against the Beauts, there likely weren’t a ton of doubters of the Pride’s offence — but if there were, there shouldn’t be anymore. The Pride, for the second year in a row, are Isobel Cup bound.

Player of the game: Mallory Souliotis

The Pride defender has four goals between Lake Placid and Boston now, and is one of the heartbeats of the blue line.

Souliotis blocked a shot, scored a goal and was generally involved all night to lead the Pride to what ended up being a rout.

She had a misplay early on that led to a Six chance, but after that she played essentially a seamless game. The defence responded well to a rough start, and Souliotis is a leader back there to create that kind of chance to rebound.

Julie Allen hit the crossbar early, and if they had scored, maybe it’s a different game; that chance in particular seemed to cause the Pride defence to clamp down for the rest of the contest.

Everyone on the Pride played pretty well, but the defence’s response is worth highlighting, and that’s impossible without the third-year defender Souliotis.

What’s next: The Pride and Whitecaps will faceoff for the Isobel Cup tomorrow night.

The Six have a lot to look forward to when they get to play a normal season and have home games in Toronto. Their future, led by Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Brooke Boquist at forward, is incredibly bright.

“They took it to us,” said Six coach Digit Murphy. “A couple bounces go our way in the first period, and we’re back on top.”

Toronto entered the season the least experienced team in the league, with just three players who had previous NWHL games under their belt. They won four games in a row following their first two losses in the regular season. Traveling from Canada by bus, even as the top seed, might have been too much to overcome this time around.

Minnesota 7, Connecticut 0

Goals: MIN: Haylea Schmid, Allie Thunstrom (2), Audra Richards (3), Haley Mack

Key takeaway: Allie Thunstrom is going to be dangerous.

Perhaps the co-MVP didn’t explode in Lake Placid, but to be fair, she did have knee surgery in the off-season.

She didn’t appear to have any restrictions on Friday night in Boston. She had two breakaways early, and Whale rookie goalie Abbie Ives stopped the first one.

It’s not like you can give her two chances, though.

Thunstrom getting hot is exactly what the Pride, their opponent on Saturday, do not want to happen. But she’s still dangerous and giving her any room is a mistake.

She scored a second goal late to make it 6-0, just in case. After no points in Lake Placid, not bad.

Player of the game: Nina Rodgers

For a team full of stars, maybe Rodgers doesn’t get noticed as much but it sure seems like how she goes, the Whitecaps go.

She set up two of the early Caps goals — first the Schmid goal she was involved in, then earned an assist on Audra Richards’ second period tally.

The two didn’t play together much in Lake Placid but showed some strong chemistry on Friday night. The duo did it again later on in the frame to make it 5-0.

Rodgers, a former Whale skater two seasons ago, has steadily been breaking out as a force since her time at Boston University. Lake Placid felt like her coming out party, and she continued her strong play in Boston.

Goalie Amanda Leveille also gets a shoutout for her shutout. She withstood the Whale onslaught and gave them no room to come back while the offence piled on.

What’s next: Minnesota head coach Jack Brodt has said a few times there’s no doubt his Whitecaps, the only team to best Boston last season, would have won the Isobel Cup a year ago.

He has a chance to prove that on Saturday, in the same arena.

The Whale have a lot to think about this off-season. Star defender Shannon Doyle is likely retiring, and perhaps Elena Orlando at some point soon too. They created a new identity this season, though, and their young players have continued to grow, especially Ives in net.

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