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TIG Roundtable: NWHL end of season award predictions

Who we think will the end of season awards

Shannon Doyle
Pat McCarthy

Last season, the NWHL awarded four individual awards at the end of the season - Most Valuable Player, Defender of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, and Newcomer of the Year (open to any player in their first year in the NWHL).

While we don’t know if those same awards will be handed out this season yet, a few of us here at The Ice Garden made predictions as to who we think the winners of those awards should be.

Who do you think should win? Let us know in the comments!

MVP

Jillian Dempsey (Mike Murphy): In hockey, it’s easy for fans and analysts to put too much of an emphasis on scoring, especially when we evaluate skaters. It goes without saying that Dempsey leaves little to be desired in the scoring department. The NWHL’s all-time leading scorer became the third player to eclipse the 30-point mark in a season this year and will soon become the first player to reach 100 career points in regular season play.

Dempsey isn’t just the favorite for the MVP because of her scoring. She plays a true 200-foot game. When she’s not winning faceoffs, she’s blocking shots. When she’s not blocking shots, she’s making a diving effort to clear the puck on a penalty kill. She’s unselfish and clever and hustles on each and every shift.

Nobody’s perfect, but Dempsey fits comfortably into the mold of what any coach should want in their top line center. When she’s on the ice, the Boston Pride truly look unbeatable.

Taylor Accursi (Eleni Demestihas): It’s hard for me to pick anyone on the Pride to be MVP because—as we’ve seen—it feels like you could pick out most pieces of the puzzle and they’d still be unreasonably dominant in almost any situation. That’s the main reason I think it might very well not be any of them, even though in some ways they all feel like MVP candidates.

Yes, as of today, Taylor Accursi leads the Beauts in points (23). Yes, a majority of those are primary points (20). That only scratches the surface of what, to me, has been an MVP season. The Beauts are by and large a young team of, some might say, misfits. It’s something that has endeared them to fans around the league, because there are homegrown players, a pair of fantastic Slovak players, USports players, and DIII players—people outside the mold of NCAA DI American and Canadian players that the NWHL has traditionally been shaped around. In situations like this, there are two types of players you need: the glue and the showman. Corinne Buie is the glue. Taylor Accursi is the showman.

When the Beauts were down and seemingly out in their first ‘home’ outdoor game ever, Taylor Accursi found another gear and went absolutely insane with four goals in one period. That’s the thing from this season that most people will remember about her, but if you watch her and the Beauts you know this isn’t a new thing for her. It’s usually not on such a dramatic stage, but Accursi is always a factor and is almost always the spark that lights the Beauts offense, in good times and bad. To me, that’s an MVP.

Allie Thunstrom (Dan Rice): I could’ve picked Dempsey but the way I see it if you remove Dempsey from Boston, they’re still good. Not sure where Minnesota is without Thunstrom.

Shannon Doyle (Anne Tokarski): Shannon Doyle has been a mainstay for the Connecticut Whale for the past four and a half seasons, but it’s this year that’s proved to fans, media, and the rest of the league just how invaluable she truly is.

With a team-leading 61 shots on goal and a league-leading 59 blocks, Doyle is not only a defensive powerhouse, but has proved herself to be a valuable asset to the Whale’s offense as well. She’s tied for second in points on the team behind three forwards, and is in the race for the position of the league’s highest scoring defender of all time.

Stats aren’t everything, though — when you take all the numbers away, Doyle is an invaluable veteran presence without which the Whale would flounder. She brings grit to the blue line and a spark to the offense, and without her, there’s no telling what might have become of the Whale over the past five seasons.

Cappy (Syd Kuntz): It’s a special thing when a player manages to go from being a complete unknown to being a household game in just one season. It’s even rarer when that player does so in spite of the added challenge of having a giant hockey puck for a head. It’s safe to say that we can attribute a fair amount of Minnesota’s impressive second season to the energy and drive that Cappy brings to the ice and the bench.

The Whitecaps are good, yes, but always remember: they didn’t snap the Boston Pride’s 19-game winning streak until after Cappy joined the roster.

Defender of the Year

Shannon Doyle (Mike): Doyle’s production is actually down this year following her breakout 2018-19 season, but I can’t think of a defender who means more to her team — especially in the defensive zone — than the Whale’s captain.

Amanda Boulier, Kaleigh Fratkin, Sydney Baldwin, and Marie-Jo Pelletier have all had tremendous seasons, but Doyle has been the beating heart of the Whale. When Connecticut lost to the Pride in a shootout in December, Doyle’s enthusiasm in her salute to the crowd sold me on just how much she cares about her team and about leaving it all out on the ice.

If you’re a fan of intangibles, you should love the Canadian blueliner. Her excellence in blocking shots is second to none in or outside of the NWHL. She’s small, but immensely strong. Hockey players are famous for their toughness and they don’t come any tougher than the two-time NWHL All-Star.

Amanda Boulier (Eleni): Boulier has the highest total game score of all Minnesota defenders as of this moment. If you’re a bigger fan of the eye test, she’s someone you’ll always notice in the offensive end of the ice and will never notice in the defensive end unless you’re looking for it. For a defender that’s a compliment: it means she does her job so well that when she’s defending her own zone, she does so without incident.

She also scores. And assists. A lot. She has 23 points on the season, and 14 of them are primary. What this means, in comparison to someone whose points are mostly primary, is that Boulier may not be the one you’re thinking of when the goal happens, but the scoring play most likely started with her.

Next to Boston, the Minnesota offense has been the most consistent, and Boulier is a huge part of that. She’s also a big part of how Minnesota has managed the second-best goal differential. She leads the team in blocked shots with 17, well ahead of anyone else, and the only defender on the team with a better personal goal differential is rookie Syd Baldwin.

Shannon Doyle (Dan): Not only does she block shots, but she’s also a minutes-muncher who plays in all situations for CT, and she’s the Whale’s best defender. Baldwin is a close second.

Amanda Boulier (Anne): Despite Shannon Doyle being my pick for league MVP, I don’t think she’s necessarily the best defender in the NWHL. That title, in my opinion, goes to Amanda Boulier, who, as Eleni mentioned, is one of the quietest but most successful defenders in the league. While offensive production does not necessarily make a good defender, Boulier’s got that too. With 23 points on the season, she isn’t shy about her playmaking abilities either, and it’s crucial to have a reliable player on the blue line who knows both how to handle the puck AND keep it out of the net.

Cappy (Syd): Cappy brings a healthy amount of aggression to Minnesota’s blue line. You can see this in any photo of them: if you look into their eyes, you’ll know that they’re ready to dig deep, block shots, and do whatever it takes to get things done in the defensive zone. And despite their proclivity for dropping gloves, you might have noticed that they’ve accrued zero penalty minutes this season, which is an impressive feat for a player with such a major tendency toward pugnacity both on and off the ice. Few players can be so bold and stay out of the box, which goes to show that Cappy has an unmatched level of skill in that department.

Goaltender of the Year

Amanda Leveille (Mike): Lovisa Selander’s numbers have been amazing all season long, but I have to give the nod to Whitecaps’ goaltender Amanda Leveille. She had a somewhat slow start to the season, but has been in top form for the last two months. Simply put, she has looked just as good as Selander while being asked to do more.

The Whitecaps’ offense has come up flat on a few occasions this year and their workhorse starting goaltender has kept them in games that should not have been close in the first place. Selander has been in net for more one or two-goal victories than Lev, but the two-time Isobel Cup champion has turned in six performances making 30 or more saves in a victory; Selander has four.

At the All-Star break, Leveille has a .932 save percentage and a league-leading three shutouts. Her average workload of 31.28 SA60 is dwarfed by Sam Walther’s, but is a cut above Selander’s 29.22 SA60. She’s been the backbone of the Whitecaps all year long.

Lovisa Selander (Eleni): Selander made the jump from NCAA to professional hockey as if it was nothing at all. She has a .932 SV%, tying her with NWHL veteran Leveille. There’s a lot of pressure in standing behind a team as dominant as the Pride skaters have turned out to be. Even for a veteran netminder, living up to expectations in the City of Champions is no joke.

Selander has had games where she looked utterly human, and still won all but one of them. The fact that we’re discussing her season in terms of ‘games where she seemed like you might be able to score at some point’ and ‘games where you’d need to get lucky’ tells you what you need to know about the kind of goaltender she is and the impact that has on a team whose focus is getting pucks in the other net.

Amanda Leveille (Dan): The numbers speak for themselves, and she’s played nearly every minute for Minnesota (save for 20 of them). She’s the defending champion for a reason and in a one-game playoff, Lev is who you want in net; Selander second.

Lovisa Selander (Anne): Just as Eleni mentioned, Selander has transitioned seamlessly from the collegiate scene to the NWHL, posting consistent numbers all season. She’s riding a .932 SV% into the All-Star Break, and has nearly 400 saves under her belt (her pads?). While she faces an arguably lighter work load than Whitecaps’ goalie Leveille due to the Pride’s rock solid defense and a reliable back-up in Victoria Hanson, Selander still has the advantage of being consistent all season despite her rookie status.

Amanda Leveille (Syd): Come on, guys. Have you seen Cappy’s pads? Not a goaltender.

Newcomer of the Year

Lovisa Selander (Mike): The 2019-20 NWHL season has been defined by players who are new to the league. Lovisa Selander has held on to her spot on the Swedish women’s national team in part due to the quality of her play for the Boston Pride. At the All-Star break she has a peerless .932 Sv%, a 2.00 GAA, and leads the league with 14 wins.

This season, Selander has set records for the most consecutive wins by a goalie in a season (13) and has become the all-time leader in wins among European-born goaltenders (14). At RPI, she proved that she has the strength to withstand an avalanche of shots and scoring chances. In Boston, the big, patient goalie has proven that she has the focus to play between the pipes for a team that dominates puck possession.

Kate Leary (Eleni): The second the Riveters signed Kate Leary, anyone who watched her at BC knew she was going to tear it up. She has absolutely lived up to the hype. Madison Packer is the cornerstone of the Riveters franchise, returning Ashley Johnston and Kelly Nash and rookies like Tatiana Shatalova and Kendall Cornine have somewhat obscured our view of the impact Kate Leary has had this season, but don’t sleep on her. Leary has been unbelievably consistent. Behind Packer, she has the second-most points on the team (23), 21 of which are primary, 17 of which are at even strength. The Riveters spend enough time in the box that cashing in on even-strength opportunities is absolutely critical to winning games.

Kendall Cornine (Dan): She’s brought her speed, a wicked shot, and precision passing to the Rivs, and she’s also been an ace in the face-off circle. she’s capable of creating shots for herself as evidenced by her being fifth in the NWHL in SoG. Sullivan close second.

Brooke Wolejko (Anne): Brooke Wolejko has had an incredibly solid second half of the season. After losing Meeri Räisänen to injury and then the SDHL last year, the Whale were in desperate need of a reliable netminder to lock down their back end. Since they don’t have as productive of an offense, defense and goaltending have been super important for them, and Wolejko hasn’t disappointed. Though she’s ranked fourth in both SV% (.908) and GAA (3.59), Wolejko has been unbelievably reliable for a struggling team. Those highlight reel saves don’t hurt her case, either.

Cappy (Syd): The huge influx of new players to the NWHL’s talent pool had made the Newcomer of the Year award more competitive than ever, and for good reason: there are so many incredible new players who are completely deserving of this recognition. That being said, anyone who’s been following the NWHL this season has been abuzz about Cappy and their astounding performance so far. And sure, there’s plenty of fresh blood making waves in the league, but have they also only been around since January?

That’s right: no other player has made such a major impact in such a short amount of time. We can only imagine what kind of influence Cappy will have on the league in the future, but we can safely say that it’ll be big.