The Minnesota Whitecaps went through some dramatic changes over the offseason. Some might say changes were needed after a 5th place finish in the standings and a failure to reach the Isobel Cup Final, while others may note that not enough consideration was given to those who helped build the franchise and secure its 2018 Isobel Cup.
PP%: 16.4 (2nd)
PK%: 84.1 (5th)
The major story of last season was Amanda Leveille’s injury and how much Minnesota struggled to win games without her between the pipes. For context, Lev had a .937 Sv% (league average was .913) in a litte over 630 minutes — or 11 appearances. The combined save percentage of Minnesota’s other three goalies was .894. The disparity between those figures is just one of the reasons why the Whitecaps were wise to pay Lev $50,000 to keep her in Minnesota.
There was also the matter of the Whitecaps routinely being out-shot and losing the battle at even-strength to the tune of a -12 EV goal differential. The power-play was very good compared to the rest of the league but the Whitecaps were too dependent on Thunstrom, Jonna Albers, and Morrison to light the lamp. There just was not enough depth.
Sydney Brodt, Sidney Morin, and Amanda Boulier
The Whitecaps struggled to move the puck on the blue line last season. That is not going to be the case in 2022-23 with the return of Boulier and Sydney Baldwin and the addition of Sidney Morin. Baldwin played just two games in 2021-22 and Minnesota desperately missed Boulier’s ability to make plays when she signed with Boston. Morin, 27, is joining the Whitecaps after establishing herself as a top offensive defender in the SDHL and SWHL.
The only question now is how ice time will be divided up among the three stars on the blue line. Regardless of how things shake out, Minnesota’s top two d-pairs will be just as good as any in the PHF this year.
Just Boulier doing Boulier things. pic.twitter.com/6ENeBkOSoG— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) December 5, 2021
Sydney Brodt also joins the Whitecaps after proving herself in Europe. She had 56 points in 36 games with Linköping (SDHL) after a productive 2020-21 PWHPA Dream Gap Tour. On paper, she is a gamebreaking forward that will be able to pile up on points on Minnesota’s re-imagined top line. Expect Brodt to be in the scoring race if everything works the way the Whitecaps’ front office envisaged.
Winny Brodt Brown, Audra Morrison, and Allie Thunstrom
Thunstrom signed a two-year deal to join the Boston Pride over the offseason and elite goal-scoring winger Audra Morrison was not brought back. Together, Thunstrom and Morrison accounted for over half (53.8%) of the team’s goals and were indisputably part of the solution last year. The Whitecaps brought in a lot of depth scoring and Sydney Brodt to help offset the loss of all of that scoring but there’s a difference between proven producers and potential offense.
Also out of the picture are Winny Brodt Brown, Chelsey Rosenthal, and Brooke White Lancette. We can quantify a bunch of things in hockey, but there are no stats to tell the story of how much leadership and identity Minnesota lost over the offseason. The Brodt family has changed girls’ and women’s hockey in the State of Hockey and White Lancette has been there every step of the way. Times are changing, but one would hope that some transitions would take place with a great deal more grace and respect for those who built the road today’s stars find themselves on.
F: Anna Klein, Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Brittyn Fleming, Denisa Křížová, Jonna Albers, Liz Schepers, Natalie Snodgrass, Ronja Mogren, Sydney Brodt, Stephanie Anderson, Meaghan Pezon, Brooke Madsen
D: Sydney Baldwin, Sidney Morin, Amanda Boulier, Maddie Rowe, Emma Stauber, Olivia Knowles, Patti Marshall
G: Amanda Leveille, Jenna Brenneman
- Known cap spent: $421,000 (Leveille, Albers, Pezon, Schepers, Brykaliuk)
- Roster: 21/25
- Coaches: Ronda Engelhardt (HC), Amber Hegland (AC), Brennan Poderzay (Goalies), Kevin Gray
- GM: Chi-Yin Tse/
Is it cheating to say Amanda Leveille here? Probably, but watch me do it.
A healthy Lev is the difference between Minnesota being a good team and a true Isobel Cup contender, which they will be if they stay healthy and find chemistry in their top three lines. There is a lot of potential for offense on the blue line this year and with Lev between the pipes, Engelhardt should feel confident telling Morin, Baldwin, and Boulier to join the rush and bring Minnesota back to its identity as a counter-attacking monster.
And Sidney Morin completes a hat trick in her Swiss league debut for HC Ladies Lugano pic.twitter.com/PuYjtgSTbo— Simon Hopkins (@Reporter_Simon) September 11, 2021
There’s also a lot to like about the depth scoring that new faces like Liz Schepers, Natalie Snodgrass, Denisa Křížová, Brittyn Fleming, and Anna Klein represent. This team could have three true scoring lines if Engelhardt and the coaching staff can cultivate the right chemistry in its forward group. That should help Minnesota be a better team in the shot share at even strength than they were in 2021-22.
There is an abundance of talent and potential here but it is only appropriate to wonder aloud if all of these pieces will come together. Whoever the next captain is, she will be stepping into the skates of an icon here and there are a lot of new faces in that locker room. While it’s true that so much of this team knows each other because of all of the Minnesota roots, there might be some growing pains out of the gate. It’s also impossible to replace Thunstrom. To me, she is the definition of a gamebreaking talent.
Another thought — if I had been tasked with building this team, I would have found or made the room in my cap to sign a third goalie — perhaps a player who I could develop alongside Jenna Brenneman to complement Lev. Brenneman is a fine number two and I think that her numbers will be better than last year, but if Minnesota wants to ensure their trip to the Isobel Cup Final, they should watch Lev’s workload closely. With her healthy, rested, and on her game, the Whitecaps can beat anyone.
Even with all of the changes and question marks, I am convinced this is a good team. On paper, the Whitecaps are younger, faster, and deeper than they were last season even if it is now without icons like Brodt Brown and Thunstrom.
A lot has changed but this team still has Lev, Jonna Albers, and Ashleigh Brykaliuk and there is a deep supporting cast around them. Veterans like Emma Stauber, Meaghan Pezon, and Stephanie Anderson don’t get nearly enough credit for their consistent play at this level.
All of that depth is why I think Minnesota can finish as high as third in the standings but I feel like a fourth-place finish is more likely when I consider how long it could take for everything that looks so promising on paper to click on the ice.
At the end of the day, where there is a Lev there is a way back to the Isobel Cup in Minnesota.