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NWHL 2017-18 Season Preview: Boston Pride

Can the Pride get back on top?

Jillian Dempsey of the Boston Pride winning a faceoff against Kourtney Kunichika of the Buffalo Beauts.
Al Saniuk

The Pride are a dramatically different team from the USWNT star-studded team that dominated the NWHL’s first two regular seasons and claimed the 2016 Isobel Cup. However, many believe that the Pride are Isobel Cup favorites because of all the new faces with Boston roots that jumped at the opportunity to play for the re-branded Pride.

A Look Back at Last Season

In the regular season Brianna Decker was close to unstoppable, rookie Alex Carpenter was sensational and the Pride’s top six bolstered by free agent signing Meghan Duggan was the best in women’s hockey. Boston was a machine held together by elite national team talent and consistent goaltending. They were, without a doubt, the best team in the NWHL last season.

Buffalo’s Brianne McLaughlin shuts the door on a shot attempt from Boston’s Meghan Duggan. Al Saniuk

The Pride dominated puck possession all season, had a towering +44 goal differential and finished 2016-17 with a record of 16-1-0. The Riveters managed to defeat Boston in Newark at the close of the regular season.

After yet another dominant display in the 2016-17 regular season the Pride made quick work of the Connecticut Whale in the 2017 Isobel Cup Playoffs. It seemed like a second Isobel Cup was a foregone conclusion, but Brianne McLaughlin had other ideas. The Pride lost to the Beauts and were handed postseason defeat for the first time in the franchise’s history.

Season Prediction

Will the Pride be regular season champions for the third straight year? Even with the Beauts scooping up three CWHL stars Boston undoubtedly had the most successful offseason in regards to replacing and adding talent. Boston managed to attract free agent talent from each of the NWHL’s other franchises. As a result the Pride have outstanding depth, lots of firepower and rock solid goaltending. That top line with Haley Skarupa looked fantastic at times in the preseason.

Anything short of a first place finish in the regular season will be a disappointment for the team wearing yellow, black and white. With all of the new faces and new coaches there could be an adjustment period, but Boston isn’t the only team that will go through that. For the third straight year the Pride are the team to beat in the NWHL.

Breakout Players

Jillian Dempsey
The Pride’s newest captain is one of just a handful of players that’s been playing for Boston since day one. The former captain of the Harvard Crimson has 29 career points in the NWHL entering the 2017-18 season, but with Knight, Decker, Duggan and Carpenter all out of the picture Dempsey will be stepping into a bigger role in the Pride’s offense. We should expect Dempsey to get plenty of ice time at evens and on the power play for the Pride this year.

Jillian Dempsey of the Boston Pride carrying the puck into the zone in a game against the Buffalo Beauts.
Al Saniuk

Kaliya Johnson
Johnson’s rookie season in Connecticut was spoiled by a serious injury. The Arizona-born Boston College alumna is looking for a fresh start with the Pride in 2017-18. Johnson never put up gaudy offensive numbers with the Eagles and had just four assists in 14 games with the Whale, but her real strength lies in her play in the defensive zone. The Pride will need her to be a big factor on a very different blue line. We may even see Johnson step up into a more offensive role.

Offseason Moves

Out: Blake Bolden (HC Lugano, Swiss League), Rachel Llanes (Kunlun Red Star), Alex Carpenter (Kunlun Red Star) | Centralized: Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy, Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Amanda Pelkey

In: Kaliya Johnson, Janine Weber, Brianna Laing, Paige Savage, Sydney Daniels, Paige Harrington, Dana Trivigno, Meagan Mangene, Corey Stearns, Madison Litchfield, Haley Skarupa

The Pride have a good mix of veterans and rookies this year with a solid core of holdovers from last season’s roster.

In addition to a slew of new players on the ice, the Pride also replaced former head coach Bobby Jay with former NHL defenseman Thomas Poeck. But of course the most noteworthy changes are the stars who have left Boston and the new stars who have replaced them including Weber, Trivigno and Skarupa.

Three Must-Watch Games

Oct. 28 at Riveters at Prudential Center
The Pride begin the 2017-18 season on the road at the Prudential Center against the Riveters. Not only will it be the first NWHL game played in an NHL rink, it will also be the first time that Janine Weber plays her former team. It will be a historic, must-watch game for fans of women’s hockey.

Dec. 2 v Beauts
December 2nd will be the second time that the Pride play the Beauts in the 2017-18 season, but it will be the first time the two teams cross sticks at the Warrior Ice Arena. After the Pride’s shocking defeat in the 2017 Isobel Cup Final there’s plenty for Boston to play for in the team’s second meeting with the NWHL’s northernmost franchise. The history between Buffalo and Boston is fast becoming proof that even a four-team league can have great rivalries.

March 3rd v Riveters
The Olympic women’s hockey schedule wraps up on February 22nd which makes early March a realistic time frame for Olympians to return to the NWHL. No NWHL team lost more talent to the USWNT than the Pride did, but Boston only has a few roster spots available. Will we see some national team stars return for the final weeks of the regular season and the 2018 Isobel Cup Playoffs? Only time will tell.

#HotTakes

The days of the Pride effortlessly exiting their own zone may finally be over (for at least a little while). There’s a lot riding on contributions from offseason additions Johnson and Harrington, but Boston may not have done enough to bolster the blue line. The Pride lost a lot of defenders with puck skills and great passing ability due to Olympic centralization and Blake Bolden signing in Switzerland.

Boston will almost certainly be in the Isobel Cup Final, but whether or not they claim their second Isobel will come down to the team’s chemistry and ability to handle the big stage without many of its biggest stars from last season.