In their inaugural NWHL season, the Minnesota Whitecaps won the Isobel Cup but were also the regular season champions, going 12-4 on the season.
Their season schedule was a bit strange. Due to the travel arrangements, the Whitecaps played back-to-back games every series, a contrast from the NWHL’s usual one-game weekends. It didn’t stop them as they played and won eight straight games in October. The Whitecaps didn’t play in another league game until Dec. 1, when they went 1-3 in the final month of 2018. After that, the only lost one more game all season.
First-year player, and Newcomer of the Year award winner, Jonna Curtis lead the team in the regular season in all three offensive counting stats with eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points. Remarkably, 16 of those points came in an even strength opportunities.
Despite not dressing for four regular season games, Kendall Coyne-Schofield had the second-highest points on the team with 15, giving her the highest points per game on the team with 1.25.
Obviously the biggest storyline for their season was that they were in their first NWHL season. But, calling the Whitecaps an expansion team isn’t entirely correct.
Found in 2004 by Jack Brodt, one of this season’s co-coaches, the Whitecaps have an interesting history. After the Western Women’s Hockey League dissolved and merged with the CWHL in 2011-2012, the team functioned as an independent entity. This is important as they had the infrastructure in place already; the NWHL didn’t need to create a team out of thin air. Brodt — and many others — kept the team alive, playing a schedule of exhibitions against colleges, high schools, and even NWHL teams in order to give women in Minnesota a place to play hockey after college. Instead of being a typical expansion team, they were absorbed by the league, after a successful first date’ of the 2017 All-Star Game.
Clearly, all the time and effort the Whitecaps organization had put in paid dividends, especially off the ice. The team sold out every single home game at the 1,200-seat TRIA Rink, including both playoff games. The semifinal game sold out in 26 hours, despite the team not even knowing their opponent. According to an espnW article, the team sold 500 season tickets and was the first team in the league to turn a profit.
The Whitecaps spread their offense around nicely. Nineteen of the 22 players hit the score sheet at least once and 14 different players contributed to their 53 goals in the regular season. Nine players had points per game averages over .50 or more, with four players having an especially nice average.
For a team as stacked as the Whitecaps, one would have expected their power play unit to be much better than it was. However, they had a power play percentage of 7.5, second lowest only to the Whale, and only scored four goals when they had a player advantage.
However, they were the only team to score more than one shorthanded goal. In fact, they scored four — two from Coyne-Schofield and one a piece from Allie Thunstrom and Curtis. Clearly they utilized their outstanding speed even when they were a player down.
The team’s point production was boosted by an offensive defensive as Amanda Boulier was tied for first in points in defenders in the league (13) and Lee Stecklein was not far behind coming in second by two points. Add in that Stecklein scored the game-winning goal and it’s clear that the Whitecaps offense was only aided by a defensive that could put points.
Amanda Leveille shouldered much of the goaltending responsibility this season. She had an impressive save percentage of .923. Her two shutouts tied her with the Buffalo duo in that category. She was the solid, well conditioned goaltender the Whitecaps needed in their constant back-to-back season. She also brought experience in the NWHL to the team, after playing in Buffalo.
Julie Friend, in her first season, got her first start, win, and shutout against the Whale in a 9-0 rout.
Most curious is the lack of playing time for Sydney Rossman. Many predicted she and Leveille might split starts with constant back-to-back games and a heavy October schedule. However, according to her NWHL stats, Rossman saw 0 minutes of ice time in NWHL play, though she did appear in at least one of their exhibition games.
To say the Whitecaps, exceeded expectations is probably an overstatement. They clearly were built well as a team. They had all the right keys with some star power from Coyne-Schofield, Stecklein, and Hannah Brandt to newcomers of Curtis and Thunstrom. Help came from every aspect of the ice. The sky is limit for this team if they continue they way they are, on and off the ice.