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Boston Pride look to bounce back to top of NWHL

Can the Boston Pride return to their winning ways after a disappointing 2017-18 season?

Connor Murphy

The Boston Pride wasted no time establishing themselves as the premier team in the NWHL following its inception in 2015. The club featured a roster replete with elite talent and swept the end-of-season awards and honors, including the first Isobel Cup Championship. The Pride would return to the Isobel Cup Finals the following year after putting forth a 2016-17 campaign of pure dominance. Although they would lose to the Buffalo Beauts in a shocking upset spearheaded by Beauts goaltender Brianne McLaughlin, the Pride had proven that they had the capability of being perennial powerhouses.

So, what happened last season?

Top stars took off for South Korea

It is no mystery that centralization for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics hampered the Pride. Several star players, including Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Meghan Duggan, left the Boston team to carry the mantle of the US National Team. When they left, they took their offense, experience, and chemistry with them. Boston finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 4-8-4, with three of their four wins and eight of their 12 total points coming against the floundering Connecticut Whale. The disappointing year ended with the Pride missing the Isobel Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history.

The 2017-18 Pride never coalesced into the clockwork machine that previous Boston rosters embodied. Despite promising performances by Dana Trivigno, Emily Field, and Jillian Dempsey, the void left by the Olympians was too much to overcome. The team went from scoring 4.17 and 4.29 goals per game in their first two seasons to a 2.06 G/GP last season. All-Star goaltender Brittany Ott posted respectable but unremarkable numbers, with a .907 save percentage and two shutouts. The lack of offensive support repeatedly snuffed out any chance of stealing games.

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

Rebuilding for the season ahead

The question now is how do the Boston Pride return to Isobel Cup contenders?

Now, over a month and a half into NWHL free agency, teams have made key additions to their rosters. However, many vacancies have yet to be filled, which could shift the balance of power in the league. As of July 19, the Pride have made significant signings by bringing Boston College standouts Toni Ann Miano and Katie Burt to bolster the defensive end of the ice. In addition to those fresh faces, veterans and All-Stars Alyssa Gagliardi and Emily Field will be returning to Boston and could play a pivotal role in leading the team to back to the top.

However, it appears that the club will remain without three of the most talented players to ever suit up for the Pride. Knight surprised the women’s hockey world by signing with Les Canadiennes de Montreal of the CWHL following the conclusion of the 2018 Olympics. Knight, who is the all-time leader in goals and assists in NWHL history, has shown no signs that she will be returning to Boston or the NWHL for the upcoming season. Alex Carpenter will remain in the CWHL for 2018-19 after posting 29 points in 17 games during her rookie season for the Pride in 2016-17. Decker, who co-captained the team to their Isobel Cup alongside Knight, will serve as an assistant coach for the US U-18 Women’s National Team. There has been no indication that she will be returning to the NWHL for a third season.

Boston’s monopoly on US Olympians is no longer secure. The addition of the Minnesota Whitecaps to the NWHL has the potential to divide national team talent among the professional teams on a scale which has not been seen thus far. The Pride may very well have to rely on recruitment of local talent more than they have in previous years. Luckily for Boston, the northeast is a hockey hotbed from which the franchise has many options to draw upon. Miano and Burt could be the first wave that brings Boston back into competing with the best of the league.

A clearer picture of the Boston Pride will form as teams finalize their rosters over the course of the next two months, ahead of the 2018-19 season. New head coach Paul Mara, who has experience coaching the US Women’s National Team, will be in a position to build off of some promising prospects alongside seasoned veterans who know what it takes to win in the NWHL. If the young stars of Boston can take the next step forward in their development, and with perhaps a little more puck luck in finding the back of the net, the Pride may very well find themselves back where they began — hoisting the Isobel Cup.