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2021 NWHL Season Preview: Minnesota Whitecaps

The Whitecaps will be shorthanded in Lake Placid

Michelle Jay

Can the Minnesota Whitecaps make it three seasons in a row where they earn a spot in the Isobel Cup Final? Or will the NWHL’s westernmost franchise stumble out of the starting block without some of its key players in Lake Placid?

Five Factors

  • Holes in the Ship | The Whitecaps will be good again, but how good will they be without Nicole Schammel, Corinne Buie, and Amanda Boulier?
    Schammel was an offensive force last year but didn’t get her fair share of the headlines because of Allie Thunstrom’s goal scoring. Schammel led the league in Steady per-game (7.64) and was fourth on Minnesota in scoring. Her ability to create chances for herself really stood out last season and made the Whitecaps’ offense multi-dimensional. She recently made her debut with the PWHPA in Tampa.
    Buie was expected to help offset the loss of Schammel and provide a valuable net-front presence on Minnesota’s power play. She’s a proven playoff performer and that is something that every team would love to have in Lake Placid, especially Minnesota.
    Boulier re-signed but has opted-out, which leaves a huge hole in Minnesota’s lineup. Boulier is a magician when it comes to zone exits and making plays from the blue line. The late addition of Sydney Baldwin should help Minnesota in terms of having an offensive threat from the blue line but this defense looks like it will be spread thin.
  • Leave It to Lev | Over the past few years, no goaltender has been more consistent than Amanda Leveille. She will step onto the ice at Lake Placid with over 3,600 minutes of NWHL experience to her name — and that’s just counting the regular season. Simply put, Lev is money in the bank. Allie Morse is an underrated backup, but Lev is a true workhorse who has the endurance to stay between the pipes for the duration of this two-week sprint. The Whitecaps will go exactly as far as Leveille can carry them in Lake Placid.
  • Thunderstruck | Thunstrom was the co-MVP of the 2019–20 season so, yeah, she’ll be a factor for the Whitecaps. Thunstrom scored 24 goals in 24 games last year. Her ability to find another gear on the rush is pretty much game-breaking. She’s the most dangerous player in the league when there’s nothing but open ice between her and the opposing goaltender. Expect her to remain a focal point of the Whitecaps’ attack and put pressure on opposing defenders, especially those who haven’t gotten a firsthand look at her speed before. Welcome to the NWHL, rookie defenders.
  • Stay Special | The 2019–20 Whitecaps had the best power play in the league (23.26%) and the second-best penalty kill in the league (84.93%). Minnesota also had the second-best even-strength goal differential (+40) — but they were miles behind the Pride (+62). If the Whitecaps want to remain a powerhouse they will need to stay fast and be furious on special teams. With Jonna Curtis making plays on the power play and Leveille in the goal crease, they should be fine on both fronts. This roster has plenty of skill.
  • Win it for Winny | Winny Brodt Brown, the Whitecaps’ captain, is 42 and will be 43 in February. How much more gas is left in the Minnesota icon’s tank? Only WBB has the answer to that question. Winny is the Whitecaps and always has been. How fitting would it be for her to go out as a champion? The Whitecaps’ combined experience is definitely one of those intangibles to think about as we head into the bubble.

Why the Whitecaps Can Win It All

The short answer here is if Leveille plays like Leveille, and the top line is as good as it was last year, Minnesota can definitely win it all — but it won’t be easy. The Whitecaps’ biggest concerns heading into Lake Placid are defense and depth scoring.

The good news for the blue line is that newcomer Sara Bustad has the ability to step into a larger role than the one she had in Buffalo last year. The same can be said of Rose Alleva who is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. Rookie Maddie Rowe was something of a utility player at the University of Wisconsin, so there could be some untapped potential there but it's hard to say without seeing her be tested at this level. This blue line could be one injury away from being in deep trouble.

On the other side of the puck, Nina Rodgers is a player to keep an eye on as someone who can step into a larger role. Rodgers dressed as a depth forward for seven games last year and managed to pick up a goal and three assists. Fellow forward Stephanie Anderson has a lot more offense to give than the four goals and six assists she contributed in 22 games last year. Anderson won gold with Team USA at the 2015 Worlds and was a dangerous player for Kunlun Red Star in 2017–18. There’s also Audra Richards, who continues to be one of the most quietly productive power forwards in pro women’s hockey. She has 28 points through her first 40 games of NWHL regular season play.

The key for the Whitecaps will be cobbling together second and third lines that can generate scoring chances while also supporting a defense that could struggle to move the puck. If they can do that and stay healthy, this group could surprise us.

Prediction

Last year the Pride and Whitecaps were undeniably the top two teams in the league. Heading into Lake Placid, Boston is unanimously thought to be the team to beat, but the Whitecaps are far from a sure thing.

Minnesota’s already veteran core is a year older, and this team is missing a lot of key pieces. Furthermore, a two-week sprint in unfamiliar territory is not ideal for a team that has six of the nine oldest players in the league. The collective experience of this squad is definitely an asset, but one has to wonder how it will measure up against teams with younger legs and more puck-moving defenders. According to an interview he gave back in November, head coach Jack Brodt will also be alone behind the bench.

With all of that said, this remains a good hockey team. There is still some real star power to be feared here and anything can happen when (and if) you make it to the Isobel Cup Semifinals. It’s never wise to underestimate the defending Isobel Cup champions, but the Whitecaps may not have enough depth to keep the Cup.