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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 8

This week we hear from Amanda Leveille, Tori Sullivan, and what the heck is PHFuture Considerations all about?!?

Pat McCarthy

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Lots to get to, so I won’t waste any time blabbering here.

Thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for all of your openness, your time, and especially your assists when I piece these columns together. Also, a special thanks to everyone who reads these, shares them, comments about them. I, and we, appreciate it.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* This past weekend in Buffalo we saw the Minnesota Whitecaps sweep the Beauts in their home rink, and it was also the first time the two teams tangled since prior to the start of the pandemic. For goaltender Amanda Leveille — who starred with the Beauts for two seasons and won an Isobel Cup (2017) there — it was the first time she started a game against her former franchise since Feb. 22, 2020. That feels like a lifetime ago, and the Beauts look completely different these days - only four players (Taylor Accursi, Marie-Jo Pelletier, Cassidy MacPherson, and Erin Gehen) that played that day are still with the team.

Michelle Jay

I got to thinking: how does a netminder, specifically Lev, prepare for a bunch of shooters that she hasn’t been on the ice against yet? “It definitely was a long time between this past weekend and the last time we played them. But as a group, we wanted to prepare for our games this weekend a little differently than the other games we played this season,” Leveille said via text Monday morning.

“We watched some video clips of our past series and went into the Buffalo series with the mindset of becoming a new team in the new year. We were led by our captains - who held us all accountable to our individual goals, and kept us all positive.”

“Speaking for myself, I respect all the players in our league and recognize anyone can score on any given night,” added Leveille. “No shifts off!”

After her two-win weekend, the winningest goaltender in NW/PHF history improved to 10-2-0 all-time against her former team, including the 2-1 overtime win in the 2019 Isobel Cup Final. In 79 regular-season games, Lev is now 48-20-6 (eight shutouts), and in eight playoff games, she is 6-2 with two shutouts.

2* How about the Saturdays that Allie Thunstrom and Jillian Dempsey had? Both were involved in multiple goals and plays that resulted in their respective teams triumphing. That was four days after the duo was in Florida representing the PHF at the ECHL All-Star Classic. Truly amazing performances, maybe the ECHL and PHF should have another cross-over again sometime in the future.

3* On Saturday, four hours before she hit the ice with her Boston Pride teammates, Kaleigh Fratkin posted on social media that earlier in the month her dad passed away. It was poetic that it was Fratkin who sealed the 3-1 win with an empty-net goal, with 13 seconds left. As someone who has lost their father as well, I know the pain that she is going through, and no words will change that, but it will help her get through a tough period in life.

Having never met Mr. Fratkin, I won’t sit here and try to tell you what kind of person he was, just read Kaleigh’s post below, and if you’d like to, you can make a donation in his name at heroshockey.com/donate/.

4* In Saturday’s Riveters game in Boston captain Madison Packer reached the 100-point plateau (regular season + playoffs) with an assist on Emily Janiga’s goal. Quite the accomplishment for Packer, who briefly retired after the second NWHL season. Multiple All-Star appearances, an Isobel Cup (2018), captain, and face of the franchise. As I said on Twitter that night, just like when you think of Boston you think of Jillian Dempsey, and when you think of Connecticut you think of Shannon Turner, when you think Riveters hockey, you think of Packer. Selfishly, here’s hoping we see another 100 points! Congrats on a great accomplishment.

5* Whitecaps rookie defender Patti Marshall had herself a Saturday to remember in Buffalo, picking up three primary assists in the 3-1 win that snapped their five-game losing skid. Not only was she great offensively, but in her own end, she was phenomenal blocking shots and clearing the zone during penalty kills or when the Beauts had gained some momentum.

“Patty is just a straight-up solid defender,” said fellow former Gopher Mandy Leveille on Marshall’s presence on the Whitecaps. “She makes the game so much easier for everyone on the Whitecaps, as she does all of the little things right. She is a great player and a better teammate.”

Her shot on the eventual game-winning goal was in the perfect spot for Ashleigh Brykaliuk to artfully deflect past Carly Jackson early in the third period - and that play changed the tone and momentum of the game. It also gave Minnesota a rare lead, something they hope to change going forward.

6* Wasn’t able to squeeze this in last week’s ATR but it’s worth noting this - something that may have been overlooked when it was announced during the extended holiday break. On Jan. 5 the PHF announced a new multi-year agreement with Warrior to be their official hockey equipment provider. This was prior to the announcement of the huge investment by the Board of Governors, but it’s a pretty big deal and one less thing that professional players don’t have to (or shouldn’t have to) worry about.

The agreement is for the remainder of the current season and next season, with a third-year option. Warrior makes sticks, helmets, gloves, pants, and goalie gear, and going forward PHF players will be using the latest products from Warrior’s Covert and Alpha product line, and the Ritual line of goal equipment and sticks.

Also, Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan will be a featured athlete in Warrior’s marketing in 2022. That’s great for her and here’s hoping that other players will be receiving similar opportunities in the future.

7* Unfortunately after I hyped it up so much in last week’s column, the PHF had to postpone the series between the Whale and Six due to covid. There were two options that they could have gone with to reschedule them: move the series to the weekend of Feb.19-20 or move it to the current last weekend of the season, Mar.19-20.

The first option seemed unlikely, with Toronto scheduled to play Buffalo outdoors on Feb. 21. Instead, they went with the second option and will play the games at the end of the season. Those games will likely have a significant impact on not only the standings, but also home playoff games, and good (or bad) vibes heading into the postseason.

8* With the All-Star Game on deck obviously the standings won’t change this weekend, but once that is over and done with it will be a sprint to the Isobel Cup Playoffs. First place Toronto (9-1-1, 28 points) has nine games remaining, with trips to Buffalo (outdoor game), New Jersey, and Connecticut, and home games against Minnesota and Boston. Second place Connecticut (8-3-1, 25 points) has eight games remaining, the least of any team with road trips to Boston and Minnesota, and home games vs. Buffalo and Toronto.

Michelle Jay

Third place Boston (7-3-0, 18 points) has half of their schedule left to play with its next four games at home (Connecticut, Buffalo), before ending the season with six straight on the road (at New Jersey, Toronto, and Buffalo).

Like the Pride, the tied-for-fourth-place Riveters (3-6-1, 10 points) and Whitecaps (3-6-1, 10 points) still have half of their schedule left after the All-Star break. Minnesota will host Buffalo, visit Toronto, host the Riveters and Whale, before ending the season in New Jersey vs. the Rivs.

Metropolitan will play its next four games on the road (Buffalo, Minnesota) before returning home for the final six games (Toronto, Boston, Minnesota). Buffalo (1-8-0, 2 points) obviously has a lot of ground to make up, but they have 11 games to do it. They’ll have one scheduled weekend off between Feb. 5 and the end of the season. The Beauts will visit Minnesota before hosting the Riveters ahead of the outdoor game against Toronto. After that, they play four straight on the road (Boston, Connecticut) before hosting the Pride on the final weekend of the regular season.

We haven’t heard anything official as far as playoffs, or the format, but rumor has it there will be a play-in game on March 24 and the semifinals would take place that the succeeding weekend. So what we can assume is that if you’re a PHF team, you want to secure one of those top-3 spots in the standings.

9* In Sunday’s game against the Riveters Tori Sullivan netted her first goal since 2020 (pre-pandemic) for the Pride. While that may have weighed on other players, we didn’t get that impression when speaking with the winger a week ago. She laughed it off when I asked if she knew how long it had been (24 games/January 20, 2020).

“One thing about me is that I don’t determine if I played a good game by scoring a goal or getting an assist. As long as I’m doing my job and making the passes I’m supposed to make, and in the end, we’re winning - that’s my mindset. If I get a good bounce here or there, that’s great and I can contribute even more,” Sullivan told us.

Pat McCarthy

“But as long as I’m doing the little things right, that is what is most important to me. Our practices are so much fun because we’re going up against the best of the best, every time we step on the ice. Everyone has their role on the team and I feel fortunate that I’m in a lucky spot here.”

I’m not asking for an official assist on the scoresheet, but our conversation (which will be featured in a 5 Questions in 5 Minutes article soon) obviously spurred her on and motivated Sullivan to score that goal! Obviously.

10* Shameless self-promotion here: so last week at The Ice Garden my colleagues Eleni Demestihas, Mike Murphy, and I were given the opportunity to co-host a podcast. It won’t be every week but you can find the PHFuture Considerations podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts. In our debut voyage, we discussed the influx of money and belief in the players from the Board of Governors and we gave our thoughts on the six teams for the rest of the season. Give us a listen and let us know what you think!

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! Stick taps to you all - hopefully, they are the first of many.

PHFirst Goal: Claudia Kepler (BUF)

PHFirst Point: Claudia Kepler (BUF)

Quote of the Week

“Coach Ronda (Engelhardt) was pissed at me for letting in that goal so she yanked me, haha. Just kidding. They left me in to get a shutout, but then I lost it so they wanted to get Jenna (Brenneman) some ice-time; she’s an amazing teammate!” — Whitecaps goaltender Amanda Leveille on why she didn’t finish the game on Sunday.

Michelle Jay/NWHL

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Whitecaps’ Special Teams (MIN) - On Saturday, the penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4 and the power play was 1-for-6. That one PPG was the game-winner snapping a 1-1 tie early in the third period during a 5-on-3. Sunday they were even better! The first three goals in the game: power play, power play, shorthanded. The penalty kill was 7-for-7, and the power play finished 2-for-7.

** Allie Thunstrom (MIN) - decent weekend for no. 9, two goals Saturday, two goals Sunday (plus an assist). After a three-point season-opening game it's been a struggle at times for Thunstrom (one point/goal in seven games) but it's a new year and a new Thunstrom. All of a sudden she is ninth in the PHF in points (nine) and tied for second in goals (seven).

*** Brooke Wolejko (MET) - after a weekend filled with 71 saves and a split of the series in Boston against the champs, is it safe to assume that Wolejko has taken the reins as the Riveters no. 1 netminder? I would say yes. She could have had two wins, or at least gotten her team an overtime point if not for a wild end to Saturday’s game.

Did You Know?

The Boston Pride signed forward Meg Rickard, a member of their 2021 Isobel Cup-winning squad, to a PTO for this past weekend against the Riveters. Also, a team spokesperson confirmed to us that defender Kati Tabin is no longer with the Connecticut Whale. I reached out, but haven’t heard back yet with confirmation of how long Rickard’s PTO is for. Perhaps it is just until forward Evelina Raselli returns from competing for Team Switzerland at the 2022 Winter Olympics.