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2019-20 NWHL Season Preview: Boston Pride

With the core intact, the Pride are true contenders for the 2020 Isobel Cup

Pat McCarthy

Roster

Forwards: Jillian Dempsey, Tori Sullivan, Christina Putigna, Lexie Laing, Mary Parker, McKenna Brand, Alyssa Wolfheiler, Marisa Raspa, Whitney Renn, Carlee Toews

Defenders: Kaleigh Fratkin, Jenna Rheault, Lexi Bender, Mallory Souliotis, Lauren Kelly, Briana Mastel

Goalies: Lovisa Selander, Victoria Hanson

Space: 18/25 spots filled.

Home Ice: Warrior Ice Arena

How Last Season Went

New head coach Paul Mara turned the Pride around last season thanks to a much-improved roster and sound defensive structure. In 2017-18, the Pride finished with a dismal 4-8-4 record, which was somewhat shocking from the team that looked like it had “dynasty” written all over it in the NWHL’s first two seasons. Under Mara, the Pride improved to 11-5-0 last year and finished with the second-best goal differential in the league.

Rookie goaltender Katie Burt didn’t get nearly enough recognition for her .920 save percentage in 16 starts last year. The same could be said of Boston’s outstanding group of forwards, headlined by Haley Skarupa, Gigi Marvin, captain Jillian Dempsey, and newcomers Denisa Křížová and McKenna Brand. The Pride were truly a force to be reckoned with, even when compared against the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps.

The Pride were handed a heartbreaking defeat by the Buffalo Beauts in the 2019 Isobel Cup semifinal. Buffalo blanked Boston’s offense in the 4-0 victory and punished the Pride for taking too many penalties. It was an underwhelming climax to Mara’s first year at the helm.

Offseason Moves

Several of the Pride’s top players from last season left the team (and the NWHL) as a result of joining the #ForTheGame movement. Alyssa Gagliardi, a four-year NWHL veteran, is a leader in the PWHPA and will definitely be missed on Boston’s blue line. The Pride are also going to miss forwards Gigi Marvin, Haley Skarupa, Dana Trivigno, Amanda Pelkey, and Denisa Křížová. That’s a lot of firepower that is no longer in the picture.

New general manager Karilyn Pilch re-signed Kaleigh Fratkin, Lauren Kelly, Mal Souliotis, and two-time All-Star Lexi Bender to defend Boston’s blue line. She also re-signed forwards Jillian Dempsey, McKenna Brand, and Mary Parker in addition to signing Alyssa Wohlfeiler, who played for the Whale in the NWHL’s inaugural season. Wohlfeiler was an elite scorer last season with EC Bergkamener Bären and should be good for several goals in her return season to the NWHL. She’ll also bring plenty of sandpaper to the Pride’s roster.

Thus far, Pilch has signed 10 rookie players, including goaltenders Lovisa Selander and Victoria Hanson. Rookie forwards Christina Putigna and Lexie Laing should help replace some of the offense that the Pride lost, but this team’s greatest strength on paper is its blue defense and goaltending.

Three Players to Watch

McKenna Brand

Brand is going to be a nightmare for opposing defenders to handle this season. In her rookie year with the Pride, she finished third in the league in even strength scoring (15 points) and was the fifth-highest scoring skater in the league (17 points). Brand also averaged 3.13 SOG/GP, which was the 10th-highest average shot volume in the league last year.

The big question for Brand heading into her second season is whether or not she’s ready to carry the torch for the Pride’s offense with Skarupa and Marvin no longer in the picture. The fact that she drew just one penalty last season suggests that she didn’t carry the puck into the offensive zone nearly as much as Skarupa — who drew eight penalties last year.

Fortunately for Mara and the Pride, Brand has all the tools necessary to step into an even larger role in the offense. The fact that she did so much of her scoring at even strength last season is a strong indication that she’ll be one of the league’s top scorers this season. If Mara can solve the riddle of Boston’s inconsistent power play, Brand could crush her boxcar stats from last season.

Jillian Dempsey

Dempsey is a player to watch for the Pride this season because she’s been a player to watch throughout her NWHL career. She enters her fifth year with the Pride and seventh year playing professional hockey in Boston as the NWHL’s all-time leader in goals (tied with Madison Packer) and just four points behind Brianna Decker’s record of 61 career points in the NWHL. In other words, she’ll be chasing and setting quite a few records this year.

Al Saniuk

The Pride’s captain truly does it all for her team. Dempsey is a selfless two-way center with a knack for producing at even strength and an underrated shot. Dempsey kills penalties, she blocks shots, and she stays out of the box. She’s also the league’s all-time leader in faceoff wins and has an impressive 52.46 percent success rate on the dot.

Lovisa Selander

It’s hard to believe that the Boston Pride have lost Katie Burt and Brittany Ott but are still entering the 2019-20 season with some of the best goaltending in the league.

The 5-foot-11 Lovisa Selander is going to turn a lot of heads this season. She was a workhorse starter in her collegiate career at RPI where she set the NCAA record for career saves. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Selander posted a .942 save percentage last season after finishing her junior season with a .932 save percentage. Her outstanding play in the NCAA punched her ticket to the 2019 Women’s World Championship as a member of Team Sweden.

All signs point to Selander being the Pride’s workhorse starter in her rookie season, much like Burt was last year. She’ll be backed up by fellow rookie Victoria Hanson, who played one season in the Frauen-Bundesliga after finishing her collegiate career at Boston University. Hanson also had great numbers in the NCAA, but the starting job will be Selander’s to lose. She’s truly exceptional.

Three Games to Watch

The Rematch | Oct. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET at Warrior Ice Arena

Fittingly enough, the Pride’s much-anticipated home opener will be a rematch of the 2019 Isobel Cup Semifinal. The Buffalo Beauts are not the same team they were last season, but Boston’s veterans will still be hungry to prove to their new owner and their fans that they will be a force to be reckoned with this year.

The Long Road Trip Begins | Dec. 7, 7:00 p.m. ET at ProSkate

The Pride’s game against the Riveters on Dec. 7 will be their second road game of the season; more importantly, it will mark the beginning of a seven-game road trip. Coming away with two points against the Riveters in their second trip to ProSkate will be a great start to the toughest stretch of the schedule.

The “TBD” Game | Feb. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET at TBD

The NWHL has an established history of neutral site games, which makes the mysterious location of “TBD” on the league’s schedule for Feb. 22’s game between the Pride and the Whale intriguing. If this is in fact a neutral site game, it will be a must-watch contest made all the more interesting with two former Whale players from the NWHL’s inaugural season on Boston’s roster.

Prediction

There’s a lot of buzz around the Pride and much of it has to do with the team’s new ownership. We don’t yet know what new owner Miles Arnone will put in place to support his players, but he’s made it clear that he’s going to listen to his team. He’s already announced plans to hire a team president.

Boston has seven players returning from last year’s roster, a returning head coach, and one of the most exciting rookie groups in the league. Furthermore, much of the Pride’s leadership from last season is in place with the return of Dempsey and veteran defenders Kaleigh Fratkin and Lexi Bender. If you’re a Boston fan, there’s definitely a lot to like here.

Boston may stumble out of the gate as a result of their preseason games against local college teams being cancelled, but it would be shocking if they didn’t quickly recover. If the Pride stay healthy and get enough out of their rookies they will undoubtedly finish either first or second in the standings.

All data courtesy of nwhl.zone, EliteProspects.com, HockeyEastOnline.com, and the author’s own tracking.

Disclosure: The author of this story is currently employed by the NWHL.