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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 6

Toronto and Connecticut are streaking! Plus, Elaine Chuli is the MVG and MVP.

Michelle Jay

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Thanks again to all of my teammates at TIG and everyone who’s been following along; and thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for all of your openness, your time, and especially your assists.

No column next week during the holiday break - but I will have something special dropping at the beginning of next week and cannot wait to share what I’ve been working on. Hope you and your families all have a healthy, and safe holiday season.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* After this past weekend Connecticut Whale captain Shannon Tuner has now played in 99 regular-season games in the NW/PHF and is scheduled to play in game no. 100 on Jan. 15 when the Metropolitan Riveters visit Danbury. Her former teammate in Connecticut, Buffalo Beauts’ defender Elena Orlando is up to 93 games played now (100 if you include postseason games). The two OGs have been so important, not only to the growth of this thing but for setting a strong foundation that can be built upon.

“Always makes the long drive seem less burdensome,” replied Turner when I asked what a bus ride back to Connecticut from Buffalo feels like after a weekend sweep on the road. The vibes around the team are as high as they’ve been since the first season (waaaaay back in 2015-16) and they were extremely pleased with how they closed out the 2021 portion of their schedule - on a four-game win streak.

Connecticut Whale celebrate a goal in Lake Placid, NY. Michelle Jay

2* Both Orlando and Doyle are currently in season seven and although we don’t always include Whale forward Janine Weber in those OG notes, conversations, etc. she is a big part of it too. The first-ever player to sign a contract in the NWHL back in 2015, Weber - like Orlando - has played for three franchises and with 46 points (17g-29a) in six seasons, she is the leader amongst all European players who have played here.

She had a big game on Sunday, starting the party with a late, first-period power-play goal and then in the second period she perfectly set up Catherine Crawley’s (eventual) game-winning goal. Think of how well the Whale have been playing and how much better they can be if Weber gets into a groove offensively.

3* Connecticut has now played each of the other five teams this season twice and is the first team to reach the halfway point (ten games) of their season. With a 6-3-1 record (19 points, second place) so far, I’d say things are going swimmingly for them in Season 7.

They’ve had balanced scoring with one of the deepest lineups in the PHF, with contributions from everyone, stellar goaltending, and for the first time in eons - maybe ever - they don’t have a player on the negative side of the plus/minus category. They were my pick before the season started to win the Cup and while I feel emboldened because of their play, there is a lot of hockey left to be played. But they are (finally) on the right path it seems.

4* Back in the summer, Buffalo used their pick (first overall) in the PHF International Draft on a goaltender - Lovisa Berndtsson. In other worlds or dimensions, this would have been a huge deal and eyebrows would’ve been raised more distinctly than The Rock with a superstar goalie already signed and on the roster in Carly Jackson. But not in this dimension, not with these Beauts.

“We have such an awesome goaltending trio in Buffalo, and we’re all so similar - it's been a lot of fun to be a part of that; we all get along really well,” Jackson told us before the season. “Having Lollo, having (Caty) Flagg, it only makes our team better, and it’s so much fun to be a part of that. They’re just amazing individuals who make the Beauts better.”

The Beauts schedule to start the season has been…less than ideal to say the least. Part of that is because they had a series postponed, part because of scheduling. But it was nice to see Berndtsson get a start in their fifth game of the season. Despite the loss, I thought she was phenomenal in turning aside 40 of the 43 shots that she faced - many of the high danger variety. As a big fan of goalies, I’m certainly hoping to see her play in person at some point this season. The Buffalo Beauts have been synonymous with great goaltending throughout their existence and this season will be no different.

5* Hard to believe but the Beauts haven’t been able to play with the lead yet this season. Again, they haven’t had the most ideal schedule and probably feel like they’ve started the season three separate times already, but going forward they will need more production from their forward group.

Granted, they were missing co-captain and star forward Taylor Accursi this weekend (GM Nate Oliver told us that it was something that popped up later in the week and they wanted to be cautious. She should be ready for their next game) but both of their goals over the weekend came from their defenders. Buffalo has twelve goals this season - half of that total has been scored by their blueliners.

Michelle Jay

6* The Six, like the Whale, have now played against each team in the PHF this season, and judging from the standings they’re doing alright. Record aside, there are a few things that Head Coach Mark Joslin has liked about how Toronto has started their first full season as a franchise.

“I love the way we are dialed in defensively, yeah we have some offensive firepower, but everybody has bought in defensively. That’s why nine games in (to the season) we’ve given up 17 goals against. That is my biggest source of pride as a coach,” Joslin told me on a phone call Monday night. “We’re leading (the PHF) in special teams - power play, penalty kill. That’s more important to me than scoring and winning 5-0 or 6-0. The way we’ve developed and gelled defensively, that will help us come playoff time.”

6.1* When the Minnesota Whitecaps won an Isobel Cup their first season in the NWHL I think a lot of us (I know I did) figured the stability of the core of that group (which had been together for years) was a big factor in their success. That wasn’t necessarily the case with the construction of Toronto’s roster. While there are some players who played together previously, I think their situation is a bit different - and for me, impressive as heck.

“These girls have a great, strong chemistry amongst themselves in that dressing room, on the road, and they have accepted (Assistant Coach) Angela James and I with open arms,” Joslin said. “They’ve bought into what it is going to take to be successful as a team and we’re running on all cylinders right now. It’s certainly fun to be a part of.”

7* Right now it seems pretty clear to me that the MVP or MVG (Most Valuable Goalie) is Toronto’s Elaine Chuli. On Saturday in Minnesota, she pitched her second straight shutout and despite giving up a goal 41 seconds into the next game she rewarded coach Joslin’s faith in starting her on back-to-back days (with a quick turnaround time) with another W. Her shutout streak lasted 157:32 - from the second period of Toronto’s game on Dec. 11 (vs Riveters) to the first period on Dec. 19 (at Minnesota).

“Because of the quick turnaround from Saturday to Sunday, and the time change for us I told Elaine before we left for the trip that she was playing Saturday night 100%, and I wasn’t sure on Sunday yet; so I said we’d play it by ear and make the decision on Sunday,” Joslin said when I asked if it was a hard decision to roll with no. 29 on back-to-back days. So what happened Sunday morning?

“She said I’m ready to go again coach, and I said it’s yours. With two shutouts in a row (going into Sunday), it’s hard to change things. I’m a little bit superstitious, but I’m also smart when it comes to team success,” he added. “We’ve only given up two goals in our last four games and she is obviously a huge part of that. She’s dialed in. She prepares like a pro every single day, on and off the ice, and obviously, the girls are rallying behind her. It was a no-brainer for me to play her in the back-to-back. I’m happy for her, this is the best start she’s ever had in her hockey career.”

8* Would’ve loved to tell you how many saves that Chuli made this weekend but for some reason, the PHF site has become woefully inaccurate (again). It’s frustrating because I see all of the constant promotion of InStat & Stathletes on the regular. Are they being tracked separate from basic stats like games played, saves, shots on goal, blocked shots, and assists? This might be the first time that I’m writing about this particular issue in this space, but chances are if you follow women’s hockey, the NWHL, the PHF…you know what I mean.

Thank goodness for my colleague Mike Murphy for tracking all of the scoring events on his own, because he cares about getting it right. And lucky for us that he is kind enough to share it with us all. It’s important to get these things right for: future contracts, award voting, and most importantly - just being damn accurate. I understand that a lot of it is volunteer work, maybe that needs to change. Divvy up some of those sponsorship dollars, the players deserve the best and that’s clearly not what they are getting.

This is a text from a player this past Monday that I received:

I’m also a little baffled at our stat lines on the website. I felt like a human punching bag and it says I blocked 0 shots. What? The number of bruises tells me 5-6, but hard to remember.

Another player said that a certain play wasn’t reviewed during Saturday’s Toronto-Minnesota game because the refs said they couldn’t review it…because they were told before the game that it didn’t exist (video review) and they can’t change it now.

There are a few weeks before games resume. Let’s get everyone on the same page, make sure you get right what has happened, be prepared to accurately track what is going to happen going forward, and make sure everyone is informed of the rules.

9* When Audra Morrison scored the lone goal for the Whitecaps on Sunday it was the first, first-period goal for Minnesota this season, and their first lead since topping Boston 2-0 (Nov. 20). It also meant that she made my bold prediction come true so follow my Twitter (@DRiceHockey) for a shirsey giveaway after Dec. 25.

@DigDeepBSB

For Morrison, it got the monkey off her back after going pointless the first seven games, as well as her first point with a new last name! She and the Whitecaps have combined for a PHF-low 11 goals through their first eight games.

I thought their game Sunday was miles better than the previous day’s game. It was a small step, but they are almost starting from scratch as they search for their identity this season. They were also the victim of some questionable calls and non-calls, which always seems to happen to teams when they are struggling.

“Our plan is to build on what we did well Sunday. We have to get hungry to score goals and find ways to give ourselves better chances,” co-Head Coach Ronda Engelhardt told Hannah Bevis. “This starts with how we get out of our zone, move through the neutral zone to create scoring chances, and decisions made offensively. The team isn’t happy with where we’re at, and hopefully, we can dial it in, in the second half as we commit to the process of getting better each day.”

10* With no more PHF games until 2022 the standings won’t be changing for a few weeks. No matter what happens when the games resume on Jan. 8, the Toronto Six will be in first place until at least Jan. 15 with second-place Connecticut off until then and third-place Boston seven points out of first.

The fourth-place Riveters have some ground to make up but have also only played six games. When they take the ice on Jan. 15 in Connecticut they could be sitting in fourth, fifth, or sixth place. The fifth-place Whitecaps have as many wins as the sixth-place Beauts, but Minnesota has played three more games.

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! Hopefully, everyone was able to get some kind of puck or plaque for their achievements, stick taps to you all - hopefully they are the first of many.

PHFirst goals: Emma Keenan (BUF), Tori Charron (T6)

PHFirst points: Tori Charron (T6)

PHFirst start: Lovisa Berndtsson (BUF)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

Toronto’s special teams were relentless this weekend, coming through with two power-play goals in Saturday’s shutout, and Sunday the penalty kill was airtight, suffocating and stifling the Whitecaps at every twist and turn. For the season, the penalty kill is now at 97% and their power play is clicking at 24%. No Mercy!

Quote of the Week

“I think after the weekend in Boston it was a wake-up call for us on how to prepare for the long road trips with the travel, no direct flights due to covid. It took us about 15 hours Friday to get from Toronto to Minnesota. We prepared a lot better mentally and physically, and they learned from that weekend in Boston, they prepared themselves better. We obviously got the results that we wanted.” — Toronto Head Coach Mark Joslin on what changed for his team after a flat, first road trip.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Elaine Chuli (T6) - if the season ended today (thankfully it doesn’t) my vote for MVP in the PHF would go to Toronto’s number one netminder. She’s been out of this world so far with a 7-0-0 record that she added two wins and a shutout to this past weekend. Math isn’t my strong suit, but I believe her shutout streak ended at 157:32.

** Mariah Fujimagari (CTW) - in the first of Connecticut’s identical 3-1 triumphs this weekend she went toe-to-toe with Carly Jackson until her mates broke a 1-1 tie late in the third period. She was excellent during a big penalty kill in that period as well and earned her second win of the season in as many starts.

*** Emma Keenan (BUF) - the first-year defender was involved in everything this weekend it seemed, despite her team being unable to lock up a win. On Saturday, she was a force of nature - not only scoring her team’s lone goal which swung the momentum in Buffalo’s favor for a good period of time, but this save (below) that she made to prevent a wraparound goal was probably the play of the weekend for me.

Did You Know?

Through her first 12 games played (regular season) in the NW/PHF Toronto goaltender Elaine Chuli is 11-1-0. The only game she didn’t win? The first-ever Six game - against the Rivs in the first game of Season 6 in Lake Placid. Chuli surrendered eight goals last season (five games) and eight this season (seven games).