The 2020 All Star Weekend had something for everyone, from the fans who appreciate strong defense, aggressive fore checking, or a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich.
The weekend started on Saturday Night with the Skills Competition, which saw Team Dempsey and Team Packer duke it out in six different events, one of which was brand new to the competition. The Franklin Relay Race served as the penultimate event which saw four players from each team passing a variety of obstacles, from stick handling, quick turns, and maintaining puck possession while ducking and jumping over obstacles.
The evening started in an explosive fashion. On the evening of the event Grace Kleinbach of the Connecticut Whale, skating for Team Packer, was announced as the winner of the Chipwich Fastest Skater Competition, lapping the rink in 13.6 seconds.
However, on Tuesday morning, the NWHL announced that “an error led to an incorrect reading of Grace Kleinbach’s time,” and named Allie Thunstrom as the winner at 14.10 seconds. Kleinbach placed second with Curtis in third.
Mariah Fujimagari of the Buffalo Beauts got a point for Team Dempsey by besting Amanda Leveille in the Chipwich Fastest Goalie race, finishing with a 18.85 second time, good enough to to come third overall among the forwards in the fastest skater competition.
Next came the Franklin Accuracy Shooting Competition, where history was made by team captain Jillian Dempsey of the Boston Pride. With a lightning-fast performance, Dempsey hit four targets with five shots on net, clearing all the targets in a blinding 9.6 seconds. The record-setting performance managed to blaze past Corinne Buie’s previous record of 12.6 seconds.
In the Slalom Hardest Short competition, Kaleigh Fratkin of the Boston Pride blew away the competition (and caused goalies to shiver in their pads) when she won the competition for Team Packer with a 76 mph slap shot. The winning shot brought the Skills Competition score to even, at two points apiece.
The Franklin Relay Race was a treat for players and fans alike, who had an opportunity to see the diversity of skills each player possesses. Team Dempsey won with a flawless run by Marie-Jo Pelletier, who had an unplanned height advantage when it came to the final set of obstacles - she only had to duck a few inches below a suspended hockey stick, enabling her to focus on clearing a small hurdle and shooting on an open net.
The night ended with the Dunkin’ Donuts Team Shootout event - where players could really show their style. Christina Putigna skated backwards from center ice to have her opportunity to shoot on net. However, Packer net minder Sam Walther of the Metropolitan Riveters stole the show - skating from her crease to meet Taylor Accursi between the faceoff circle. They battled in a game of rock-paper-scissors and exchanged sticks and gloves. Walther, wielding Accursi’s equipment, skated on net and froze the forward-become-goalie, scoring for her team.
That goal may have been the difference for the competition, as Team Packer won with one shootout goal over Team Dempsey.
Sunday afternoon’s All Star game was played to over 10,000 viewers on Twitch, who were certainly not disappointed. Although Team Dempsey won the game by a two-goal margin, the contest never seemed to favor one team or the other.
The game was run a little differently than normal. Rather than three 20 minute periods, the contest featured two 25-minute running clock halves and a 17 minute half-time.
The difference in strategy was apparent from early on in the game. Team Packer lead in puck possession; however, Team Dempsey made the most of their scoring opportunities with high-risk shots from the net mouth. Team Packer was much more poised in the defensive zone, able to break up shots, carry the puck with a forceful fore check, and set up in the offensive zone. Shots for Team Packer were restricted to low-risk shooting areas, which Team Dempsey and their pair of stalwart net minders could fend off without too much difficulty.
Kate Leary of the Metropolitan Riveters opened up scoring five minutes into the game with a goal assisted by Madison Packer and Lenka Curmova.
However, Jonna Curtis evened up the score five minutes later with an unassisted goal on Team Packer goalie Amanda Leveille, normally her teammate when they’re home in Minnesota playing for the Whitecaps.
It took less than 10 minutes for the Riveters’ Kiira Dosdall-Arena to score two unanswered goals, putting Team Dempsey up 3-1.
Coming back from the break, Amanda Leveille returned to the Packer net, while Mariah Fujimagari took over in the Dempsey net for Lovisa Selander.
It took until the final two minutes of the second half for the offensive action to resume. Leveille and Fujimagari worked to mitigate any threats, especially when Team Packer got an early power play opportunity that saw Allie Thunstom go to the penalty box for a hooking minor.
Packer’s Amanda Boulier opened up scoring late in the second half. The shot came as three Packer forwards gained the player advantage entering the offensive zone. Boullier received a pass from Audra Richards, her teammate in Minnesota, to bring Team Packer within one goal, less than three minutes into the period.
However, Jillian Dempsey restored the two-goal lead with a top shelf power play goal that only confirmed what everyone learned during the skills competition — she can hit anywhere when the puck is on her stick.
Invigorated by the recent scoring, Team Packer pulled Leveille for the final two minutes of the period. However, despite having the player advantage, Team Packer remained hemmed in their own end. Kayleigh Fratkin kept their hopes for victory alive with an individual effort in net - causing us all to wonder why the Pride haven’t strapped some pads on her and put her between the pipes.
But, despite their best efforts, Lexie Laing placed the final nail in Team Packer’s coffin with an empty net goal to secure Team Dempsey’s victory 5-2.
For her outstanding play in the first half of the game Lovisa Selander walked away as the MVP of the game - hoisting a coveted Normatec recovery system high above her head.
The NWHL All-Star game provided these players an opportunity to see the game without the pressure of playoffs looming above their heads. However, they all know that the work starts again on Monday. There are only 11 more games in the season March 1. The first game back from the break is on Saturday, February 15 at 6:30 PM, when the Connecticut Whale will return to Warrior Ice Arena to play the Boston Pride.
Editor’s note: When this post was originally published, Grace Klienbach was the winner of the Fastest Skater. The NWHL later announced Allie Thunstrom as the winner, and it was updated accordingly.