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2019-20 NWHL Season Recap: Minnesota Whitecaps

The Isobel Cup winner is still up in the air, but Minnesota solidified a successful season.

Al Saniuk

In some of the weirdest turn of events, the truth is...we don’t know the results. The Whitecaps were slated to take part in the 2020 Isobel Cup Final on March 14, which has since been postponed to a later unknown date.

They could be, not only the 2020 Isobel Cup champions, but the first to become two-time winners as well as back-to-back winners, and stopping the Boston Pride from taking that title after only losing one game this whole season.

Needless to say there is a lot left up in the air for the Whitecaps but taking that all into consideration they still had a phenomenal year and a pending Cup game isn’t going to stop that from being true.

The Whitecaps ended the season in second place behind the Pride, with a 17-5-2 record with 36 points. This puts them ten points behind the Pride in first place, and thirteen points ahead of the Riveters in third. Three losses were to the Riveters, three to the Pride, and one to the Beauts. However, it must be added again that they were the only team to successfully shut down Boston, so it’s not a mistake that we are waiting on these two teams to finish out the season together.

On top of the regular season, they battled the Riveters in a semi-final match and won in overtime with just one goal being scored by none other than the season goal scoring leader, Allie Thunstrom.

Record Breaking Year

Coming off a championship season their first year in the league, and a season where the team sold out every single home game they played, the thought process must have been ‘don’t fix what ain’t broke,’ however, we all know that offseason provided a lot of forcible changes.

The Whitecaps went into this season with 13 returning NWHL players, 12 returning to the Whitecaps. This put them in very good shape comparatively to the rest of the league. They also remained at TRIA rink, the practice facility of the Minnesota Wild as their home rink. Familiarity may not be the only component to help a team find success but it’s certainly up there and these two things alone had a huge impact on the Whitecaps.

Despite the incredible start the Boston Pride had, this season was major for the Whitecaps as Allie Thunstrom led the league in goals with 23 while breaking the season record, and of course, going on to score the game winner in their playoff game as well. Amanda Leveille trailed Pride goaltender, Lovisa Selander by inches in every stat, finishing the season with 16 wins and a .935 save percentage.

Team MVP

It’s certainly a toss-up between Leveille and Thunstrom. It could be argued that they wouldn’t have won nearly as many games without either, and certainly both of those players. However, I think I would hand it to Thunstrom who did claim half of the NWHL’s MVP award alongside Pride captain, Jillian Dempsey.

Not only did Thunstrom break the single season record for goals with 23, she passed Brianna Decker on the all-time goals list to take third place behind Dempsey and Riveters captain, Madison Packer, both of whom have played all five seasons in the league. This was Thunstrom’s second season.

If there were a way to make them both MVP, I certainly would but it just can not be understated how vital Thunstrom is to this team with the speed, endurance, and ability to score goals that got her to the All-Star Game and Isobel Cup Final.

Grades

Offense: A

It’s hard to give the Whitecaps any sort of offensive penalty when they had the league’s leading scorer for the season. Thunstrom and Jonna Curtis each had 36 points on the season, and there were seven players with 20 or more points which is an impressive feat.

They didn’t quite reach the absolutely maddening peak that the Pride were able to so they just can’t be graded the same. Another highlight that must be mentioned about the Whitecaps offense is their discipline. In total, their forwards took 89 penalty minutes all season. For reference, league leader Madison Packer took 48 alone. That contributed a lot to their success.

Defense: B+

If there was a downside to the Whitecaps team it would be their defense, but even that is hard to say. Aside, from Amanda Boulier, who was the team’s best defender by far with 27 points and 22 blocked shots, there wasn’t much to rave about.

The defense was responsible for most of their penalty minutes as well as a large portion of their giveaways. Among their eight losses, the Whitecaps lost by an average margin of 1.5 goals which is small enough to wonder if the defense being just a little bit more disciplined and faster would have had an effect on those outcomes.

Goaltending: A+

If there is one thing the Whitecaps have figured out, it’s their goaltending. Amanda Leveille deserves all the praise she gets and so much more. She is the backbone of this team and while we didn’t see much of Morse this season, she seems to have the ability to jump in when needed as well.

If it wasn’t for Lovisa Selander, Leveille would own every goalie stat this season as she usually does and I don’t think a single person is confused as to why Lev will play in her fourth Isobel Cup Final.

  • Leveille: .935 Sv%, 677 saves, 2.06 GAA, 16 wins in 24 starts
  • Morse: .885 Sv%, 23 saves, 2.01 GAA, 1 win in 0 starts

She had a career high 16 wins this season, as well as career low goalies against average.

Overall: A

It’s hard to argue with anything about a team who punched their ticket to the Isobel Cup Final and took second place only to an impeccable Boston Pride squad. Not to mention, being the only team to hand them a loss at all.

When the game does happen, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see this team run away with it and make history. They are that good.