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A closer look at the 2019-20 NWHL schedule

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Every NWHL team faces unique scheduling challenges in season five

Al Saniuk

While we’re waiting for the Connecticut Whale and the Metropolitan Riveters to find head coaches, and for the league’s five rosters to fill up, there are plenty of storylines to sink our teeth into. Many of those storylines are a result of the structure of the 2019–20 regular season schedule, which was first released on July 30.

Each team faces unique challenges as a result of the structure of their 24-game season. To get a better idea of what those challenges look like, we’re breaking down the season schedule with notes on all five teams.

Boston Pride

After opening their season on the road against the Metropolitan Riveters in Monmouth Junction, N.J., on Oct. 5, the Pride play nine consecutive home games between Oct. 12 and Nov. 30. That lengthy homestand will be a key stretch for both Boston and the league itself; there are going to be a lot of eyes on the yellow seats at Warrior Ice Arena this fall to see whether or not they are filled.

The extended 24-game regular season schedule will make establishing home ice advantage more important than ever for NWHL teams and the Pride are no exception.

The Pride posted a record of 5–3–0 on home ice last season and a 6–2–0 record on the road, which included two blowout wins on the road against the Minnesota Whitecaps. So, it’s not a stretch to say Boston was a better team coming off of the bus than they were at Warrior last year. If the Pride want to lift their first Isobel Cup since 2016, they are going to have to step up their game at Warrior Ice Arena.

Each NWHL team will be off the ice between Oct. 28 and Nov. 15. Boston’s longest break after is a two-week gap following a road game against the Riveters on Dec. 7. That game marks the beginning of a seven-game stretch where the Pride will be on the road.

Another interesting note about the Pride’s regular season schedule is that it wraps up one weekend earlier than the rest of the league. Boston plays its final two games of the season in Connecticut and New Jersey on the last weekend of April; the NWHL’s other four teams all have two games the following weekend. That scheduling quirk could make for some great drama in regards to the standings and playoff seeding.

Buffalo Beauts

The Beauts have the longest wait in the league for their home opener, which should build plenty of interest and suspense for their debut at Northtown Center in Amherst, N.Y., on Oct. 19.

After playing six road games in the first two months of the season, the Beauts will defend their home ice for six consecutive games between Dec. 21 and Jan. 5. However, if you’re looking for a weekend to make a road trip up to Amherst, your best bet is probably Nov. 23. That weekend the Beauts are playing a brace of games against the visiting Whitecaps — the very team that defeated them in overtime in last year’s Isobel Cup Final.

Beginning on Jan. 13, the Beauts go a full month without playing a game. That should prove to be a significant challenge for first-year head coach Pete Perram and his team.

Fortunately for the Beauts, they will have plenty of opportunity to return to form in time for the playoffs. After that lengthy break in the action, Buffalo closes out its season with six games in the final three weekends of the regular season. During that window, it will be crucial for Perram to keep his players rested in order to avoid a costly injury before the playoffs begin.

Connecticut Whale

The Whale get to kick off their season in their new home in Danbury, Conn., on Oct. 5 when they host the Beauts. In many ways, that home opener is the must-watch game on Connecticut’s schedule (outside of their game against the Riveters on Feb. 1, which looks like it will be a neutral site game).

The NWHL’s underdog team will have a chance to change their image with a lot of early action on their home turf this year. After returning home from the long bus ride up to Buffalo on the weekend of Oct. 19, nine of the Whale’s next 10 games will be played on home ice. The only road game in that span is a trek to Boston on Nov. 23, which comes without the pressure of having to play a back-to-back. All in all, the Whale’s schedule through the first two months of the season looks pretty favorable for a team that will be hungry to find its identity and start a winning culture in a new home rink.

Jordan Brickner has been with the Whale since the NWHL’s inaugural season in 2015-16.
Pat McCarthy

The biggest challenge of the Whale’s regular season schedule begins on Jan. 11. Between that date and Jan. 26 the Whale have six straight games on the road. That road trip begins with back-to-back games in New Jersey and Boston on the first weekend, followed by a flight out to Minnesota. That’s a lot of travel in a short period of time for any NWHL team.

The Whale close out their regular season with their second road trip to Minnesota. Depending on how this year’s playoff structure plays out, that last bit of travel could prove to be a factor for the team in the postseason. It’s also worth noting that the Whale have yet to defeat the Whitecaps and have scored just two goals in their four meetings with the NWHL’s youngest franchise. Can they end the 2019–20 regular season on a high note? We’ll have to wait and see.

Metropolitan Riveters

This year the Riveters have moved southwest from Newark to Monmouth Junction. They and the league are hoping that fans will be able to migrate with them despite the fact that there are no appealing options when it comes to taking public transportation to the team’s home games.

After beginning the regular season at the ProSkate Arena, the Riveters will play 10 of their next 11 games on the road. Woof. During that stretch, the Riveters also have to contend with a month-long period without playing a game, beginning on Oct. 27. It goes without saying, but practices will be crucial for the 2018 Isobel Cup Champions during that time if they want to avoid repeating the rocky start that sank their 2018–19 campaign.

Another wrinkle to the Riveters’ schedule this year is that it provides the team with an opportunity to finish strong on home ice. The Rivs play 10 of their final 12 games in the 2019–20 season on home ice, including five straight games at ProSkate Arena to close out the season.

Some strong play on home ice in February could swing momentum in the Riveters’ favor when it matters most. Last season, we saw something similar play out when the Rivs upset the Beauts in a 4–3 shootout victory in the final game of the regular season before overwhelming the Whale by a score of 5–2 in NWHL’s first play-in game.

Minnesota Whitecaps

It’s no secret that the Whitecaps are the NWHL’s greatest geographical outlier. However, there is a case to be made that their travel schedule is less demanding than the Beauts’ because it requires fewer hours on the bus. Although there is something to be said about spending a few hours waiting for your hockey gear at baggage claim for six separate weekends.

The reigning Isobel Cup Champions begin their 2019–20 campaign with a two-game homestand against the Riveters, a team that they routinely trounced last season. After that, the Whitecaps will have to wait over a month to play their next game(s) at TRIA. That’s a lot of airplane peanuts.

Amanda Leveille lifted her second Isobel Cup with the Minnesota Whitecaps last year.
Pat McCarthy

After they close out the month of October with a road trip to Connecticut, the Whitecaps have to wait 26 days — nearly a full month — before they return to action on Nov. 23 for a weekend in Buffalo. Yes, that means they will be heading into a much-anticipated rematch of the 2019 Isobel Cup Final either well-rested or rusty — depending on who you ask and the outcome of that weekend series, of course.

If you’re a Whitecaps fan, you should definitely free up your weekends in the month of January. Minnesota plays half of its home games in the first month of the New Year, starting with the weekend of Jan. 11 with back-to-back games against the Beauts. Those are two games that every women’s hockey fan should have circled on their calendar.

After January’s white-hot action, Minnesota caps off their season with a road series in Buffalo and a home series against the Whale following a 24-day hiatus. That late break in the season could be problematic for the Whitecaps before the playoffs, but there’s a chance that they can stay sharp by scheduling exhibitions against college teams like they did throughout their first season in the NWHL.