The Minnesota Whitecaps were more reliant on depth in 2021 than they ever had been before. With their star players for the most part locked down in the regular season, they needed their role players to step up in big spots. And step up they did, as the team was propelled into the Isobel Cup Final for the third consecutive season.
So, let’s take a look at the three most important Whitecaps not named Allie Thunstrom or Amanda Leveille this season.
Sydney Baldwin was somehow not named a finalist for Defender of the Year, despite being one of the best offensive defenders in the NWHL this season. Baldwin finished with three points, tied for third in the league among defenders behind only Lindsey Eastwood and Kaleigh Fratkin, plus a whopping 26 shots on goal which led all NWHL defenders and tied for tenth best in the league.
Baldwin’s best performance came in Minnesota’s 6-5 comeback victory over the Toronto Six, in which she had a goal and an assist. With Amanda Boulier absent from Lake Placid play, Baldwin had to shoulder the burden of quarterbacking the offense both at even strength and on special teams. Considering the team’s success both on the advantage and shorthanded, Baldwin deserves quite a bit of credit. She averaged 3:41 TOI on the powerplay, and attempted nearly a third of all shots while on the attack.
Baldwin can do it all with her stick. She led all Whitecaps defenders in zone entries (28), led the team in neutral zone takeaways (15) and finished second on the team in Fenwick%, cataloging unblocked shot attempts for and against. Her 52% rating finished behind only Hayley Schmid on the team.
Anyone who can pass, shoot and defend is a valuable commodity at any level. Baldwin proved that Boulier isn’t the only star on the Minnesota blueline.
It may seem odd that Jonna Curtis is included as someone who flew “under the radar.” After all, Curtis was one of the best scoring forwards in the league in 2019-20 and most of the attention she received this year was for not exactly living up to the same standard in Lake Placid. Curtis scored just once in the regular season in the opening game, then was kept off the statsheet for the next three games.
Curtis doesn’t need to rack up points to be invaluable to the Whitecaps’ operation, however. She still averaged 3.5 shots-on-goal per game, while drawing three penalties in four games. Considering Minnesota boasted the best powerplay at Lake Placid, converting on five of 19 chances, Curtis’ contributions in giving her team an advantage are impossible to ignore. She did not take any penalties herself, giving her the fourth-best penalty differential in the league.
Plus, when the Whitecaps did find themselves shorthanded, Curtis was part of the first kill unit, averaging just over four minutes of shorthanded time-on-ice per game. The Caps finished with an 85.7% kill rate, second in the league behind only Boston.
Curtis’ defensive prowess extended to 5-on-5 play. Averaging 21:55 TOI/game, she averaged the second-fewest shot attempts allowed on the team (46) behind only Emma Stauber (41). Curtis finished with a Corsi% of 47%, third-best on the team (excluding Amanda Boulier, who did not play in Lake Placid).
Curtis did eventually find her scoring touch in March, racking up four assists in two Isobel Cup Playoff games.
Haley Mack emerged as a star for the Minnesota Whitecaps. With Allie Thunstrom, Jonna Curtis, Audra Richards and Nina Rodgers up front, plus star power on the blueline like Boulier, plus two-time Goaltender of the Year Amanda Leveille between the pipes, it’s easy to forget just how good Haley Mack is.
And how clutch she is.
Mack’s first goal at Lake Placid came with just 12 seconds remaining in the second period against the Toronto Six, bringing what was a 5-1 deficit to just 5-3 heading into the second intermission. The Caps, of course, battled back and forced the game into a shootout- where Mack scored the game-winner.
Her second goal in regulation came with 10 seconds left on the clock, the lone tally in a 1-0 thriller against the Metropolitan Riveters. Her utilization on the powerplay as a corner option shows her versatility. She has the vision to find a backdoor pass and the hands to find a quality shot from a tough angle.
Beyond her shot generation, she’s a smooth skater who creates offense through puck possession. She led the team in both total offensive zone entries (38) and entries via stickhandling (30) in 2021, which subsequently led to her finishing second among Minnesota forwards in average Time on Attack (26:19).
Mack was one of five players with multiple points while in Lake Placid. While Thunstrom and Richards took over in Boston at the Isobel Cup Playoffs, Mack finished second in the league in postseason shots on goal with 10. She’s a dynamic threat poised for an even bigger role on the Whitecaps next season.