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Rachel Llanes and the Pride ready to play their game

Starting strong is key as Boston enters the Isobel Cup Playoffs

On Sunday, the New York Riveters spoiled the Boston Pride’s perfect season, defeating the defending Isobel Cup champions 4-2 in Newark, NJ. The win was exactly what New York wanted right before the playoffs. However, if you ask Rachel Llanes, the outcome of the game was also good for the Pride. “The one loss on Sunday was more of a wake-up call for us.” With the pang of defeat fresh in their memory, the Boston Pride look to forge ahead.

As the team arrived for the game in New Jersey, Llanes recalls, one of her teammates mentioned potentially finishing undefeated, but she says that a 17-0 record was never the final goal. “Going into Sunday, nobody really thought about that undefeated [streak].” After the game, however, being reminded of the one blemish on the Pride’s season was agitating. “It stung, and it’s frustrating to hear people talk about. But it’s one game, and the playoffs are the most important part of the season. That’s what we’re focused on now,” said Llanes yesterday.

Llanes wears a New England Patriots shirt for warm-ups Superbowl Sunday weekend.
Al Sanuik

The next part of the journey begins tonight against the Connecticut Whale. Connecticut enters the game with a 5-12-1 record, which includes an 8-game losing streak that lasted 68 days. The Whale snapped their streak with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Beauts.

However, Llanes and her team are as disinterested in Connecticut’s record just as much as their own. “All season long, [Connecticut] has been able to capitalize on our turnovers,” noted Llanes. Despite Connecticut’s fourth-place ranking, the Pride are well aware how much of an offensive threat the Whale can be. Containing the Whale defensively, while maintaining discipline overall, will put Boston in the right place.

Admittedly, the Whale is not the opponent Llanes is most concerned about. The returning Pride forward wants to see her team win their mental battles. “When we go into games, we’re in a battle against ourselves.” Llanes accredited that very battle to the notoriously slow starts Boston had in the regular season. Of their league-high 71 goals, only 13 have come in the first period. Additionally, Boston has held opponents to 29 goals in the regular season, allowing 11 in the first period. Connecticut is a team that likes to start strong, so stopping them early will be key.

“Once our team gets our feet moving and moves the puck well together, there is no team in this league that’s been able to keep up with us this year when we have done [that] ...”

Al Saunik

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Llanes if the undefeated season was never the goal for Boston, what has been the team goal? With her Pride teammates taking a stand for the game at the international level, it is very apropos that Llanes ended her comments with, “I think it’s more of a statement: That this league, the NWHL, is the top in North America and in the world. We have world-class players ... that go out every game and try to prove that.” She continued, “We have to go out there and show fans and whoever is watching online that this is the best hockey you’re going to see. So, I guess our statement for each one of us is to show them that the talent is here.”

A good portion of the Boston Pride talent also competes for USA Hockey. With the recent news that players are prepared to boycott the IIHF World Championships surfacing this week, it’s a guarantee that there will be several eyes and ears on the Pride players, especially those who compete for Team USA. If the newcomers stick around, they will undoubtedly find these players are unbelievably skilled, and could develop ever more skill with equitable resources and consistent marketing and media coverage for women’s hockey.