2021-22 PHF Season Recap: Boston Pride

The Boston Pride have gone back-to-back, repeating as Isobel Cup Champions. Despite a relatively underwhelming regular season, Boston proved they are built for postseason play, posting dominant defensive performances in all three games in Tampa. In an eerily similar script to last year’s abbreviated campaign in Lake Placid, the Pride muddled through the weeks leading up to the Playoffs before cranking the intensity to ten and making the most of the one-and-done format.

How they finished

Record: 10-5-5 (32 points)
PP% 4/71 (5.6%, 6th in the PHF)
PK%: 59/67 (88.1%, 3rd in the PHF)
Tm Sv%: .926

What went right

Boston’s regular season, while a mixed bag, provided quite a lot of hope for future seasons. For one, they were always in every game. They finished 3-3-2 against Connecticut and Toronto, the top two seeds in the league. Their offense, while not lighting the world on fire as it has in previous years, was fine at even strength, generating 44 goals (third-best in the PHF). McKenna Brand and Taylor Wenczkowski paced the team with 15 points, with Jillian Dempsey contributing 14 more.

Shot generation remained a strong point on an individual level. Christina Putigna and McKenna Brand ranked among the league’s best in shots-on-goal, placing fourth and sixth respectively. A contributing factor to that possession success is Boston’s active stick work on the forecheck. Five of the top ten players in takeaways were members of the Pride: Kaleigh Fratkin (2nd, 29); Jillian Dempsey (3rd, 28); Lauren Kelly (6th, 25);

As a fun bonus, the Pride boasted the top earner in face-off percentage in the league. No, not Jillian Dempsey, though she finished in the top ten with a 52.3% win rate. This year’s top player on the dot in the PHF was Evelina Raselli, winning 60.9% of her draws (154-99). Only Connecticut’s Catherine Crawley (58.0%) and Toronto’s Shiann Darkangelo (57.3%) were really in the neighborhood.

What went wrong

That’s a difficult question to answer when the season ended with a Cup celebration and ceremonial bucket hats. Anything that may have looked “off” in the regular season was null and void by the postseason. This was a group with championship pedigree oozing with confidence that when the chips were down, they’d find their game and rattle off three wins without a problem. And they did.

Lovisa Selander didn’t post video game numbers in net for once, but Katie Burt stepped up when it mattered most. The powerplay stunk for 20 regular season games, then went six-for-nine in three playoff contests.

Even on an individual level, there’s not much to complain about. Sure, it’s bizarre that a defensive corps that featured Olympic Gold Medalist Kali Flanagan and Defender of the Year winners/nominees Kaleigh Fratkin, Amanda Boulier and Mallory Souliotis didn’t absolutely dominate the league with scoring from all angles for 20 games. Fratkin and Souliotis wound up with five points a piece in the regular season- a career low for Fratkin and a surprising step back for Souliotis. Boulier posted the lowest points-per-game average of her career at 0.6 (11 points in 20 games, fewest since her rookie season in Connecticut). Flanagan finished without a goal and just four assists in 14 games.

But alas, their postseason totals are what matter. For Fratkin: three games, three assists, +5. For Boulier: three games, three assists, +4. For Souliotis: three games, one assist, +2. For the Pride defense as a whole in three playoff games: two even-strength goals allowed. For Flanagan: a team-leading five playoff points, four of them primaries.

When your best players step up when it matters most...who cares?

Best Forward | Taylor Wenczkowksi

Wenczkowski took the biggest step forward for the Pride this campaign. She netted just one goal in seven games played at Lake Placid last year, but came away with the game-winning powerplay goal in the third period of the Isobel Cup Final against the Minnesota Whitecaps. Fueled by that moment of stardom, Wenczkowski burst out for 15 points in 20 regular season games in 2021-22, which tied for the team lead.

She got hot at the right time in the second half, registering points in 12 of her final 14 games played including playoffs. She scored eight goals on 45 shots in that stretch, a 17.8% clip. For reference, only five skaters in the PHF shot at 17.8% or better over the entire season: Allie Thunstrom, Claudia Kepler, Amanda Conway, Kaycie Anderson and Breanne Wilson-Bennett.

“[Taylor is] all heart, she wears it on her sleeve,” head coach Paul Mara praised. “She works so hard both in practice and in the games. We’ve seen this coming...Every day, we’re like, ‘she’s right on that cusp of breaking out to be one of the elite players in our league and in this country.’”

Wenczkowski capped off her breakout season by once again recording the game-winning goal in the third period of the Isobel Cup Final and earning Finals MVP. Sometimes, you’ve just got the magic touch.

Best Defender | Kali Flanagan

Flanagan signed with the Pride in December and flashed her skill immediately. She recorded a pair of assists with a +2 defensive rating in her second appearance, an 8-2 win over the Toronto Six on home ice. She was named to the PHF All-Star Showcase, but finished the year relatively quiet statistically. She ended with just four total points, all primary assists, in 14 regular season games played.

But like most members of this Pride team, Flanagan activated Playoff Mode and dominated. She racked up two goals and three assists over three playoff games, including a coast-to-coast play that should be getting more acclaim as one of the most impressive goals of the season considering the circumstances.

Flanagan’s season embodies the entire Boston Pride modus operandi this season. This is a team that used the first 20 games to work out the kinks for the last three. And did they ever.

Best Rookie | Evelina Raselli

The Pride are a very veteran-heavy roster, so there are not a ton of choices for top rookies. And even Raselli is hardly a “rookie” in the grand scheme of things. The 29-year-old has been a standout both in the SWHL and the Swiss World Championship squad for years. Yet she was an impact player in her first North American pro stint and a key cog in the Pride’s Isobel Cup run.

Raselli was dominant on the face-off dot, leading the league with a 60.9% win rate. She scored in her PHF debut, the insurance goal in a 6-4 win over the Minnesota Whitecaps.

After finishing with three points in 16 regular season games, Raselli notched two goals and an assist in three playoff games (again, Playoff Beast Mode, it’s a recurring theme here for Boston). In fact, it was Raselli who tied the game by potting a rebound at 6:39 in the third period against the Connecticut Whale in the final, shortly followed by the game-winner just 18 seconds later.

MVP | Katie Burt

Paul Mara noted after the Isobel Cup Final that when Katie Burt signed with the Pride last summer, she was the third-string goaltender. Lovisa Selander, former Goaltender of the Year in 2019-20, reigned supreme as the starter with Victoria Hanson serving as backup.

“She said, ‘okay, coach, give me the chance and I’ll play,’” Mara recalled. “And she did. She played her tail off this year.”

Burt seized the number one gig with a slew of strong performances out the gate, facing high shot volumes and being named to the PHF All-Star Showcase. Selander, meanwhile, was surprisingly vulnerable down the stretch in games where she faced very few scoring opportunities. Mara gave Burt her fair shot, and she did not look back.

“She worked so hard, she played with focus,” Mara elaborated. “When she focuses, she’s an incredible goaltender. She’s probably one of the main reasons we’re back-to-back champs and I’m really proud of her for stepping up and coming to Boston.”

Burt finished the season with a 7-2-2 record, 1.41 goals-against average and .958 save-percentage. She allowed just three goals on 85 shots in the postseason- good for a 1.00 goals-against average and a .965 save-percentage.