PWHL Minnesota makes history with inaugural Walter Cup win

Sophie Jacques came up huge with a pair of goals and Nicole Hensly pitched a shutout with 20 saves as Minnesota defeated Boston 3-0 to win the inaugural Walter Cup.

LOWELL, Mass. — Kendall Coyne Schofield stepped off a purple carpet and onto the ice, and then she threw the 35-pound Walter Cup over her head and looked at her Minnesota teammates while she cheered, and they yelled right along with their captain. 

Coyne Schofield skated the trophy over to her teammates, still holding it up in the air, and they all got a hand on it.   

On Wednesday night in Boston, history was made, and in the most fitting way. 

Minnesota won the inaugural Walter Cup with a 3-0 win over Boston, punctuated when Coyne Schofield hammered a slap shot into the empty net with a couple of minutes to go, and then became the first player in league history to raise the championship hardware.  

“It’s hard to put into words,” the emotional Minnesota captain said, when it was over. Coyne Schofield repeated that statement, “hard to put into words,” four times, and you can’t blame her. It’s the 32-year-old who got this league going six years ago, with a phone call to Billie Jean King, and here she was with a black champion’s hat on her head, one of the PWHL’s first champions after winning the title in a sold out building.   

“You really couldn’t have written a better script than that,” said PWHL SVP of hockey operations, Jayna Hefford, who was feeling “a sense of pride, a sense of relief,” as she watched Minnesota celebrate at the Tsongas Center.  

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The State of Hockey was dominant in this fifth and decisive game of the final, outshooting Boston to the tune of 44-17 in front of a crowd of 6,309 that cheered “Thank you Boston!” once it was over, and “Frankel! Frankel!” for goalie Aerin Frankel, who was again Boston’s best player, and kept this game closer than it should’ve been.

Taylor Heise, who had an assist on Minnesota’s second goal for her playoff-leading eighth point, was named MVP of the post-season. “I feel like I’m living in a fever dream right now,” Heise said, grinning, when it was over.

Her assist came on the insurance goal scored by Michela Cava from Thunder Bay, Ont., about eight minutes into the third. Cava, who scored on a backhand wraparound after Minnesota had an absolutely dominant stretch of play, was one of her team’s best players this post-season, with seven points, second only to Heise. 

Minnesota-born Liz Schepers scored the goal that stood up as the game-winner, and it was the very first goal of her PWHL career — what a night for it. About six minutes into the second period, she hammered home a puck from the doorstep after her linemate Sydney Brodt made a nice move to draw Frankel out of her net.  

“It’s a great feeling obviously,” Schepers said, just after a photo shoot with the Walter Cup, which she planned to drink “anything and everything” out of. “Syd was really patient with the puck, it found its way in off my stick or my skate, I don’t even know what happened — but I’m happy it did.” 

Boston didn’t register a shot in the third period until the 13:30 mark. They pulled Frankel with about four minutes to go, and Coyne Schofield added that punctuation mark with about two minutes left, and the captain jumped in celebration with her linemates. 

“She has beaten anyone to any puck, so I was already celebrating by the time she was on the red line,” Heise said. “To be able to play with her a lot this year has been an honour for me.” 

“Nobody deserves this more,” added Minnesota goalie Nicole Hensley, of her captain. Hensley recorded her second shutout of the post-season in Game 5. 

When the final buzzer went, Minnesota players erupted on the ice and from the bench, tossing their sticks and gloves in the air. It’s the second time they’ve celebrated winning the championship: The first came in Game 4 on Sunday, after Minnesota defender Sophie Jaques scored in double overtime, but the goal was called back because of goaltender interference, and Boston scored less than a minute later to force Game 5. 

“I just think to have something so good taken away, like last game, I just think we knew we had to have it,” Heise said. “Like that feeling, it’s like drugs I feel like a little bit — like you had it, you want it back.”

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“Would we have liked to win at home, 100 per cent, in front of 13,000 fans,” added Minnesota GM, Natalie Darwitz. “But we got our opportunity and we closed it out.”

On Wednesday, Minnesota did, and the celebration this time around lasted after midnight. Even 10-month-old Drew Schofield was still going. He was also the first baby ever in the Walter Cup, for a team photo, and Drew didn’t like it one bit: He cried, even as his mom kissed him and smiled at him and tried to cheer him up.   

You can’t blame him. Drew’s bed time, as Coyne Schofield pointed out, is “7 p.m. — central time. “ 

Drew, who was sporting a giant championship necklace — every member of the team had one on, though nobody was sure where they came from — wasn’t the only member of his family tearing up on Wednesday. 

Before the game, Coyne Schofield got emotional speaking to her teammates after they got a visit from King and Mark and Kimbra Walter, the chief financial backers of this league, who the Minnesota captain had a chance to thank, in person, for their help in making the PWHL a reality. 

Out on the ice, when it was over, Coyne Schofield’s voice began to break up and her eyes started to water when she talked about the next generation. 

“I’m so overjoyed that there’s so many kids that now have a dream that they’ve deserved for a long time, that we’ve had to fight very hard for. I think there’s a lot of kids that graduated college and we’ve all been there, and we look to what’s next, and it was hard to see what was next that was an opportunity for us just to be hockey players. We didn’t have that opportunity,” she said. “And now knowing that there’s not going to be a kid that walks across that stage like a lot of us — now they know where to look. They know what’s next. Their dream is to hoist the Walter Cup one day. It’s the dream.”

One she and her Minnesota teammates so fittingly got to live out on Wednesday night. 

This Minnesota team went on a five-game losing streak to end the regular season, and then squeaked into the playoffs. Then the top-seeded Toronto elected to play them in Round 1. The underdogs are now champions.  

“A lot of people counted us out,” Coyne Schofield said. “As soon as we got in, we never looked back. There were times we were down, but we weren’t out. And I think some people may have counted us out, but we believed in us the entire way.”

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