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2019-20 NWHL Season Recap: Boston Pride

The sole privately owned team in season 5 set a new model for the league.

Michelle Jay

The COVID-19 pandemic has indefinitely postponed the 2020 Isobel Cup Final between the Boston Pride and the Minnesota Whitecaps. Eventually, the next Isobel Cup champion will be crowned, but until that day comes the top team of the 2019-20 season was undoubtedly the Boston Pride.

For the third time in franchise history, the Pride were regular season champions with a peerless record of 23-1-0. That, my friends, is pretty damn good.

The Pride of Boston

The Pride had an unrivaled amount of skill and depth this year as evidenced by the bounty of hardware earned by the team’s stars. Rookie sensation Lovisa Selander was named the NWHL’s Goaltender of the Year and the MVP of the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game. Kaleigh Fratkin earned honors as the Defender of the Year and finished the season one point shy of being a point-per-game player. Captain Jillian Dempsey shared league MVP honors with Minnesota’s Allie Thunstrom, but didn’t share the scoring title with the 40 points she amassed in 24 games.

Boston flourished under new owner Miles Arnone. The triumvirate of general manager Karilyn Pilch, team president Hayley Moore, and head coach Paul Mara helped return the Pride to the superpower they were in the league’s first two seasons. Until they were finally defeated by the Whitecaps on Jan. 25, 2020, Boston looked like a juggernaut.

Team MVP

Jillian Dempsey did it all for the 2019-20 Pride.

She killed penalties, drew penalties (14), won faceoffs (62.41%), led the team (and the league) in primary assists (17), and led the league in average game score (2.77 GS/GP). Her combination of skill and work ethic epitomized what Boston Pride hockey was and is all about.

As great as Lovisa Selander and McKenna Brand were this year, Boston was Dempsey’s team. Her consistent excellence in all three zones and in every situation made her the league’s top center this year, bar none.

Grades

Offense: A+

Boston’s offense was simply on another level this year. The Pride averaged 44.6 SF60 and 4.96 GF/GP. On average, they out-shot opposing teams by 17.06 shots per-60 minutes. That’s a lot. Their power play ranked second in the league (21.9%) to the Whitecaps, but Boston’s even strength offense was so good that it simply didn’t matter.

The Pride finished the regular season with a +58 even strength goal-differential. That is a staggering figure to reach in a 24-game regular season. And before you think that Boston had a disproportionate amount of luck on their side, consider the fact that both the Whitecaps and Beauts finished the season with higher team shooting percentages (12.29 and 12.82 respectively). For the most part, Boston made their own luck by generating quality scoring chances and getting offensive contributions throughout the lineup.

The top line of Dempsey, Brand, and rookie Christina Putigna was the most dominant trio in the league. But Boston also had a stacked second line of Lexie Laing, Carlee Toews, and Tori Sullivan and the best third line in hockey in Emily Fluke, Alyssa Wohlfeiler, and Mary Parker who finished the season with 15 goals of her own.

Defense: A

The Pride’s defense deserved more attention than it got this year from the media for what they accomplished as a group. All season long they played outstanding hockey in their own end and fueled the fire of Boston’s offense with smooth outlet passes. They also made life easy — at times perhaps too easy — on their goaltenders and limited the opposition to an average of 25.38 SA60. They were a mobile, physical group that excelled at limiting quality scoring chances for the opposition.

Boston’s top-four was the best in the league. Fratkin and Mallory Souliotis were great together all year long and Lexi Bender and Lauren Kelly were just as brilliant. Souliotis should have been an All-Star and Kelly had a fantastic sophomore season in her shutdown role.

The only mark against Boston’s blueliners is the number of trips they took to the penalty box. Fratkin, Bender, and Kelly combined for 39 penalties, which seems very high for a team that dominated in the shot share all year long.

Goaltending: A+

Selander and Victoria Hanson were both outstanding in their first year playing pro hockey. Together, they earned a .926 save percentage — the best in the league — and combined for three shutouts.

Boston’s Swedish sensation set records aplenty in her debut NWHL season, posting a .939 Sv% and backstopping the pride to 17 wins in 18 starts. While it’s true that Selander had a light workload (27.98 SA60) relative to her peers, she was simple unflappable. Calm and composed, Selander made goaltending look easy even when it wasn’t and came up with big saves after long periods of inaction.

Overall: A+

How can you give this team anything other than an “A+” with the 2020 Isobel Cup Final still up in the air? Boston was the most dominant team in North American pro hockey this year. With the 2020-21 season shortened to 20 games, there is no telling how long it might take for another team to match or surpass 23 wins in a single season.

The Pride were a success on and off the ice in a critical year for not only the franchise, but for the league itself. With or without the 2020 Isobel Cup, Boston has become the new model for success in the NWHL.