The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association continued the second edition of the Secret Dream Gap Tour this weekend with two stops in Chicago.
New Hampshire stopped Minnesota from earning the extra standings point with a shutout by scoring with 10 seconds left in the Saturday game, making it just a two-point affair. Minnesota itself was a mere extra Abby Roque goal away from doubling up on a hat trick and a five-point afternoon.
That was Saturday’s 4-1 win for Minnesota at the United Center, the home of the Chicago Blackhawks and the first women’s professional game at the venue.
On Sunday, Minnesota defeated New Hampshire again, this time 6-2, at Fifth Third Bank Arena, also in Chicago, to conclude the two-weekend start of the tour. The five-plus goals also earned them another standings point, putting them at eight to the two for New Hampshire.
Some new takeaways this week with more data to pull from, but the same general feel was the dominant players remained dominant and the young guns for Team USA are going to be a whole lot of fun to watch these next few years.
Nicole Hensley played one of her sharpest games since the last Olympics on Saturday, shutting down New Hampshire until the final 10 seconds.
That didn’t get her team the extra point in the shutout, but in the long-term, those who want to see Hensely make a push to start in Beijing have to be pretty happy with the performance.
In two games played over the last two weekends, she has two wins and a .953 save percentage.
Annie Pankowski was left off the worlds roster and is trying to battle her way back into good standing with the Team USA program, so these games against some of her would-be teammates matter a lot.
On Saturday, she opened up with a terrific scoring chance and nabbed an assist on Roque’s second goal. Nothing world-changing, but a solid showing.
There was some fun new chemistry throughout as well. Roque worked with a bunch of players, but seemed to shine particularly with Ryleigh Houston and Samantha Donovan.
Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary Knight weren’t together the whole time, but when they were, they stood out.
Gigi Marvin and Alexa Gruschow, former NWHL rivals, also worked well together, especially in the defensive end.
Gruschow, a former NWHL MVP, hadn’t netted a point until Sunday, the fourth game of the Secret Dream Gap Tour, but her defensive game has been eye-opening in general. Certainly a sleeper standout over the past two weeks.
Players of the weekend
It was another Abby Roque show.
What’s there to say that hasn’t been said? Roque’s been far and away the standout of the tour, making an even stronger case for a bigger role come Olympics time.
She was already projected to be one of the new young stars with Team USA in Beijing, but the more we see of her, the more clear it is she’s going to be a game-changer on the national stage.
She added another assist on Sunday to have 10 points over the four games.
Coyne Schofield also stood out, surprise, surprise. She’s on a four-game goal-scoring streak to open the Secret Dream Gap Tour, picking up a tally in each game.
The defenders in action for Minnesota deserve some kudos as well. Known as Team Adidas, the group had just four defenders available to them. One of them, Maddie Rolfes, tallied on Saturday afternoon in place of Jacquie Greco.
That’s some serious minute-eating, though, asked of that group and they showed up.
There’s nothing officially scheduled next for the Secret Dream Gap Tour, but with worlds in May, there’s not much time left for more events.
They do have a partnership with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal just announced a new sponsor for their hub team, so a Canadian event could be on the horizon for what could be a short tour season.