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2021-22 PHF Season Preview: Minnesota Whitecaps

Will the Whitecaps remain a powerhouse in 2021-22?

Michelle Jay

The Whitecaps have been a power in the PHF since they joined the league but there are no guarantees that they will be a top team heading into the 2021-22 season.

Roster

Defenders: Mak Langei, Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Patti Marshall, Taylor Turnquist, Maddie Rowe, Sara Bustad, Winny Brodt-Brown, Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal, Emma Stauber, Lisa Martinson
Forwards: Allie Thunstrom, Audra Morrison, Jonna Curtis, Alex Woken, Nicole Schammel, Meghan Lorence, Stephanie Anderson, Haley Mack, Brooke White-Lancette, Haylea Schmid, Lexie Laing
Goaltenders: Jenna Brenneman, Amanda Leveille

General Manager: Jack Brodt
Head Coach: Jack Brodt, Ronda Engelhardt

Lake Placid

The Whitecaps went 3-1-0 in Lake Placid thanks to the outstanding play of Amanda Leveille, Nina Rodgers, and Audra Morrison (Richards). One could make a case that Lev and the power play (26.3 %) got the Whitecaps through the “bubble” — so too did the play style of opting for quality over quantity in scoring chances at evens. The Whitecaps averaged 28.0 SF/GP and 39.25 SA/GP and came out of New York with a +1 goal differential. Lake Placid was a small sample but those numbers still tell us a lot. There have been indications that the speedy Whitecaps haven’t necessarily been a dominant possession team.

In the postseason, the Whitecaps’ offense roared back to life in the semis in a 7-0 win over the Whale. In the final, the Whitecaps lost by a single goal. That’s right, a single goal in a single-elimination showdown is what determined the 2021 Isobel Cup winner. Minnesota scored twice in the third period after entering it trailing by a score of 3-1, but it just wasn’t enough. The Pride became the first PHF team to win Isobel twice.

New Faces

In: Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Taylor Turnquist, Nicole Schammel, Mak Langei, Patti Marshall, Alex Woken, Lexie Laing

The Whitecaps added a lot of depth in the offseason, most of which was a result of signing draft picks and capitalizing on the endless pool of players tied to Minnesota. As it turns out, the State of Hockey has a lot of hockey players.

Scooping up Turnquist from the Pride and adding Langei and Marshall will add some very welcome young legs to a blue line that has undergone a lot of changes over the past few years. However, it is worth noting that all the defenders who have signed are righties. That could prove to be an obstacle for finding the right defensive pairings.

Up front, Brykaliuk and Woken will both be expected to play big roles as top-six forwards. The biggest “new face” is the Schammel, who returns to the Whitecaps after spending a season in the PWHPA. Schammel had 25 points in 22 games with Minnesota in the 2019-20 season. Don’t overlook what her return means to this team and its potential to score goals.

Left for Other Places

Out: Amanda Boulier, Nina Rodgers, Rose Alleva

In addition to the known losses of Boulier, Rodgers, and Alleva, it is likely that Sydney Baldwin will not be back. In Lake Placid, co-head coach Jack Brodt called Baldwin the team’s best player — that team had Thunstrom, Curtis, and Leveille on it. The loss of Boulier and Baldwin is massive. They were both top-five defenders in the league over the past two seasons.

This team is also going to miss Nina Rodgers a lot. Rodgers was so impactful in the home plate area in front of the net for the Whitecaps in Lake Placid. Like Morrison, she has a gift for making herself a target for deflections and passes in prime scoring areas. Minnesota added a few talented forwards but I don’t think they added anyone who can replace what Rodgers brought to the table.

Spotlight Addition

The return of Nicole Schammel is a huge deal but the addition I want to highlight here is Ashleigh Brykaliuk.

In the 2017-18 season, Brykaliuk was playing pro hockey in China with the CWHL with the Vanke Rays. She finished that season fourth on the team in scoring with 25 points in 28 games playing primarily defense. During her collegiate career, she finished just shy of being a point-per-game player and averaged at least 1.22 Pts/GP in her junior and senior seasons as a forward at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

So, we know that Brykaliuk can produce at this level. We also know her hockey IQ is off the charts — she is a coach. One way or another, she is going to make a mark on this season. The ability to play her all over the ice is a huge boon to Minnesota’s coaching staff. The Ice Garden has confirmed that she entered camp listed as a forward but don’t be surprised if she takes the point on the power play with Boulier and Baldwin gone.

Rookie Radar

The Whitecaps are expecting big things out of Patti Marshall, who joins the team after testing herself in the SDHL during the 2020-21 season.

“Patti Marshall was drafted last year with the hope she would sign with the Whitecaps in 2021,” Jack Brodt said in the team’s release announcing her signing on Oct. 5. “Her defensive play at U of M was outstanding plus she brings additional offense to our blue line ... We look to her as one of our leaders even though this will be her rookie season with the Whitecaps.”

Marshall was a member of three Team USA U18 Worlds rosters before playing at the University of Minnesota so she is well-known to those who follow girls’ and women’s hockey in her home state. She didn’t put up eye-catching offensive numbers in college but she was the second highest-scoring defender on Brynäs last year. She scored six goals in 36 games for the powerhouse Swedish club after scoring eight goals in 150 games of NCAA DI hockey. So, look out for her to build off of that season.

At the end of the day, Marshall’s impact will come down to her role and ice time. The Whitecaps need one of their young defenders to step up and play top-pair minutes, potentially alongside shutdown defender Maddie Rowe. I can easily see that being Marshall.

How they win the Cup

The Whitecap’s recipe for a second Isobel Cup is pretty simple: they have Leveille and scoring depth.

They are a younger team than they were a year ago but the Whitecaps still have a lot of leaders despite losing some key players in the offseason. In my opinion, the stage is set for Leveille to win Goaltender of the Year with Lovisa Selander likely sharing a bit more of her crease in Boston. Leveille is one of the best players at her position in the world and goaltending wins (and steals) hockey games. If she stays healthy, they should be contenders even with all the changes to the blue line.

How they lose the Cup

It seems like general manager Jack Brodt took his sweet time putting this roster together — we were still waiting for signings to be announced just a week before the season gets underway. With that said, there is a lot of talent here but I don’t think the Whitecaps have a great replacement for Boulier and/or Baldwin. Players like them aren’t exactly easy to replace.

The Whitecaps could slip this year if they miss those elite puck-moving defenders at even-strength and on the power play. Without them, Brodt and co-head coach Ronda Curtin Engelhardt might need to reimagine the team’s transition game and how they play at evens. Is this me hitting the panic button over the loss of two players? Well, maybe, but the Whitecaps’ team identity is speed and being able to quickly go on the attack in the transition game. Boulier and Baldwin were essential to that.

I guess we’ll see what happens.

Data courtesy of EliteProspects.com, premierhockeyfederation.com, and TheirHockeyCounts.com which is the author’s personal site.