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On Brand: the Boston Pride’s rising superstar

McKenna Brand has been unbelievable at even strength for the Pride through the first three weeks of the season

Pat McCarthy

In her rookie season with the Boston Pride, McKenna Brand finished tied for fifth in the league in scoring with Amanda Kessel. Despite the fact that she scored 17 points last year, Brand was largely overlooked by the media because of Jonna Curtis’ rookie campaign and the cabal of stars that established the core of the 2018-19 Buffalo Beauts.

Brand’s production last year was exceptional, but when we look back at her collegiate career it should not have been surprising.

At Northeastern University, she led her team in goals (15) and primary assists (14) during her senior season in 2017-18 and her 4.03 SOG/GP led the Huskies by a significant margin. Of course, the 34 points Brand amassed as a senior paled in comparison to other elite forwards in Hockey East that year — namely Daryl Watts, Caitrin Lonergan, Victoria Bach, and Makenna Newkirk. That also may have contributed to her undeniable success as an NWHL rookie receiving less fanfare than it deserved.

Brand was even more productive in her junior season at Northeastern. She led the Huskies with 23 goals in 37 games in 2016-17. It’s worth noting that 2019 NWHLPA Player of the Year and rising Team USA star Hayley Scamurra was a senior on that team and finished with six fewer primary points than Brand.

This season, Brand has been an unstoppable offensive threat for the Pride — it’s as if her mission is to hold those who overlooked her rookie campaign accountable. She has established herself as the gamebreaker on the most productive line in the NWHL through the first three weeks of the 2019-20 season playing alongside rookie winger Christina Putigna and All-Star center Jillian Dempsey.

Brand shares the goal-scoring lead with Buffalo Beauts’ rookie Brooke Stacey with six goals in her first five games of the season in addition to picking up two assists — one of which was primary. Despite the fact that she’s scored six goals in Boston’s first three weekends, she’s not exactly punching above her weight. Brand is averaging a blistering 7.8 SOG/GP; the only other skater with a SOG/GP north of 6.0 is Curtis.

When Brand is on the ice, the Pride are the most dangerous team in the NWHL at even strength. Her +11 5-on-5 on-ice goal differential leads the league; teammates Dempsey, Kaleigh Fratkin, and Mallory Souliotis are tied for second with a +9. That means that Brand has been on the ice for 11 of Boston’s 5-on-5 goals this year and zero 5-on-5 goals against. Even in a sample size of five games, that goal differential jumps off the page. It’s a clear indication of just how dominant the Pride are when Brand has been on the ice.

What separates Brand from so many of her peers is the speed of her release and the speed of her feet. The Pride’s stacked defense has its share of puck-movers, including Fratkin who is also off to a commanding start. Thanks to those puck-moving blue liners, Boston has enjoyed a lot of success executing stretch passes out of their own zone. When those passes have clicked, more often than not, it’s been Brand flying up the open ice with the puck on her stick.

Eventually, opposing defenses are going to adapt to Boston’s ability to exploit sloppy changes and lapses in coverage in the transition game, but there’s not much they can do to slow Brand or her shot down. Remember, the Pride didn’t have the benefit of a preseason tune-up game like the NWHL’s other clubs, yet they have piled up 22 goals at even strength in five games. Brand has primary points on six of those goals and has been on the ice for half of them. For some context: the Beauts are the only other team to play five games thus far this year and they have just 10 goals at even strength.

Brand and Dempsey are beginning to look like the spearhead of Boston’s most dangerous offense since the NWHL’s second season. Head coach Paul Mara can afford to let Putigna and Brand play in high gear because he has the benefit of having two other scoring lines. No other team in the NWHL has the luxury of having an All-Star like Emily Fluke on its “third line” or a third line center — Mary Parker — averaging over four shots on goal per game.

Of course, this NWHL season is longer than the four that came before it, which leaves more time for players who have come roaring out of the gates like Brand, Stacey, and Dempsey to come back down to earth. With that being said, Brand has already matched her goal production from her rookie season and still has 19 games to play. This is what the beginning of a truly legendary sophomore professional season looks like.

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

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