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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 1/Wake Your Mind Up

Wake your mind up, and clear your eyes up, the PHF’s 8th Season is underway! We recap all the action, plus hear from Tera Hofmann & Jenna Rheault!

Michelle Jay/Boston Pride

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Wake your mind up, clear your eyes up, the PHF’s 8th Season is underway, and hooo boy did we have a weekend filled with some fantabulous games — 29 total goals scored, two shutouts, an eight-round shootout, and an overtime thriller! My only minor complaint is the simultaneous start times on Saturday night prevented us from watching Montreal’s debut or Boston’s banner raising; I mean, one of those games couldn’t have started at 6:30 or 7:30? Why make viewers choose? Why not maximize the viewership?

Anyways, lots to get to obviously, so I’ll shut up now! Thanks to all of our readers at The Ice Garden, everyone who has reached out to me privately to thank me for what I do, and thanks as always to my teammates at TIG, and the players and coaches throughout the PHF.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Have to start with the champs this week, yah? The two-time defending Isobel Cup winners, none other than the Boston Pride, got their eighth season off to a roaring start (see what I did there) playing both games with one less skater than their opponents and blanking both of them while barely blinking. Saturday they raised their third Isobel Cup banner and then promptly triumphed over the Connecticut Whale (again) - in impressive fashion and by a 4-0 score.

Michelle Jay/Boston Pride

It wasn’t the usual suspects this time though, as the Pack was powered by newcomers Corinne Schroeder (36 saves), Loren Gabel (2 goals), and Élizabeth Giguère (GWG, assist). None of those three were in the league last season, but this is likely just the start of their ascension to stardom here.

Less than 24 hours later they pounded 47 (!) shots on goal against the Metropolitan Riveters - who had Saturday off - and their quintet of defenders limited their opponents to just 27 shots. Captain Jillian Dempsey’s Earlybird first-period goal turned out to be all the Pride would need on this day, and Giguère added the insurance marker early in the second.

1.1* Because of Lauren Kelly’s preseason injury Boston is currently playing with only five defenders, but at least for the opening weekend, it didn’t matter as their defense corps was large and in charge. Jenna Rheault, Kali Flanagan, Kaleigh Fratkin, Olivia Zafuto, and Aneta Tejralová were all stout and helped the Pride to a perfect penalty kill this weekend (2-for-2) and they blocked a total of eight shots.

2* Last year around this time I reached out to Rheault to get her perspective and insights about the Pride raising another banner and the new team they had assembled, so I figured why not make it an annual thing and reach out to the two-time Cup winner again.

Here’s Rheault’s reply when I asked what it meant to her to see yet another banner raised. “It’s such a special moment; to have Tori (Sullivan) and Mal (Souliotis) there (who are now playing for Connecticut), and the girls who aren’t playing this season - it was just such a great moment to have us all back together again,” said the defender who just started her fourth season as a pro.

“Such a proud moment,” she continued, “we worked so hard last season and there were some bumps in the road along the way, but we pulled together at the end of it and everyone saw the character that we had within this locker room last year. Also, having a sold-out crowd there for us was incredible and just added to the overall great feeling.”

And then when the puck drops…

“It’s a great moment to celebrate, but then it’s back to work, and let’s try to do the same thing (again) this year.”

NWHL Isobel Cup Playoffs - Championship Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

2.1* I also asked Rheault about being a part of the five-defender rotation, and if Taylor House (who has played defense before) could be an option. “Taylor helped us out against Harvard when Lauren suffered her injury, she played defense the rest of that game and was phenomenal. But she played forward for the entirety of the opening weekend. It’s a little tough having only five D now but I think we’ve gelled really well. We have veterans back there, leaders, and a really good group.”

It also means more ice time for that quintet, which no player is ever going to complain about. “Absolutely, you can’t complain about getting more ice time,” she said with a laugh. “But we are missing a huge piece of our D with Lauren out. We’re all heartbroken for her and about the situation. She’s been a great teammate off the ice and bringing us some energy in the locker room, so we’re super thankful that she’s along for the ride with us.”

3* During Sunday’s Riveters-Boston game it dawned on me that both of the starting goalies were playing collegiately last year at this time - Schroeder for Quinnipiac and Rachel McQuigge for Princeton. Over the history of the league, we’ve seen very few tendies last as long as Amanda Leveille, but it was hard not to be impressed with those two young netminders and wonder if this could be the first of several battles we see over the next two, three, four years? Yes, please! More on McQuigge a bit later on.

4* Welcome to the PHF, Montreal Force! If the majority of their games are as exciting as their weekend debut in Buffalo well then we are in for a fun season from the newbies. All four of their goals in regulation on Saturday came in quick succession - two in 18 seconds in the first period to take a 2-1 lead, and two in the third period in nine seconds to take a 4-3 lead. They gave the fans the full experience in their debut. Scored four goals, played in overtime, participated in an eight-round shootout and picked up their first win (5-4).

I haven’t seen a lot of their players in action much before this weekend, but I thought their goalies were phenomenal, and I was hella impressed with Jade Downie-Landry especially. For PHF fans, she reminded me of a Breanne Wilson-Bennett type player - one of those that fans love on their team but hate to play against. She was just causing havoc all over the ice in both games and was not afraid to mix it up. You know what, I like that. I like that. More spiciness please and thank you. *JDL finished the weekend with three points (1g-2a), four SoG, four blocks, 16-14 in the face-off circles, and two penalties.

5* On Sunday the Beauts gave the Force another first, their first loss - as Tera Hofmann stepped into the Buffalo crease and turned the PTO (Professional Tryout contract) she signed Friday into a 31-save win. Hofmann has seen limited action over the past three seasons (one start in each season and some other pieces of games) and has been very solid each time she’s been called upon.

It was no different when she made her debut in Beauts’ blue, and when it mattered most - in the third period - she was at her best, stopping 16 of the 17 Montreal shots she faced.

“They definitely had a lot of sustained zone time in the third period, which was exhausting, to say the least. But I think we did such a good job of being gritty in our own zone,” Hofmann told ATR via phone Monday night, “we struggled a bit to get the puck out and keep it out, but at the same time we were being hard on the puck along the wall and we were picking up sticks in front (of my crease). My defense was great listening to me about where I wanted them to be, and that all goes back to knowing each other and how to communicate with one another.”

5.1* Hofmann mentioned that she felt the preseason games, and team-bonding activities that the organization set up for a team that welcomed ten players to the franchise for the first time was a big reason why they were able to stick together through the ebbs and flows throughout the weekend, and head into a bye week with good feelings.

“Montreal was hungry, they wanted it so bad and you could see we were going to have to grind out that win,” added Hofmann. “That just speaks to the heart we have on this team and we were able to push through that together as a team.”

6* In the first game of the entire PHF season we were treated to a thrilling overtime game that saw the Toronto Six hold off the Minnesota Whitecaps by a score of 3-2. The two teams would also play another 3-2 game, also won by Toronto (without overtime) the next day. Newcomer Brittany Howard scored the first goal of Season 8, staking Toronto to a 1-0 lead late in the opening period on a power play. It was Howard who also ended the game just 54 seconds into overtime, keeping the Six’s home record flawless.

Lori Bolliger

“Brittany has that spark,” defender Alexis Woloschuk told the media after the game. “It’s awesome to see. Obviously, any time your friend does big things, you love to support them and love to see it. I’m super happy for her with the hot start she’s had so far, and hopefully, it keeps going!”

Howard finished with three points in her debut, and her five shots on goal were tied with two of her teammates for a game-high. Another newcomer for Toronto, Leah Lum, wasn’t rewarded with a point in the opener, but like Howard, she also had five shots on goal and was a threat nearly every time she was on the ice with her two Czech linemates. Lum cashed in in game two, scoring on one of her four shots on goal, and Howard was dynamic again, scoring on one of her six shots.

6.1* On the other side, Natalie Snodgrass had a great debut for the Whitecaps and registered two points (1g-1a) in her first game as a pro and added an assist the following day to make her one of eight players to record at least three points during opening weekend. Snodgrass and Jonna Albers (1g-1a) could be a dynamic duo to keep our eyes on this season.

In between the ten goals during the two games in Toronto we were treated to a matchup between two of the top goaltenders in the PHF. Amanda Leveille (56 saves) and Elaine Chuli (50) looked to be in midseason form and following their performances both of their teams should feel supremely confident as we move along this season.

7* Unfortunately the Year of the Whale will have to wait a few weeks to get things started as Connecticut was blanked four-nil in their rematch of the 2022 Isobel Cup Final. Having watched the replay of that game, they didn't play a bad game, and pretty much went blow-for-blow with the Pride. The Whale just didn’t bury their chances and Boston did; Connecticut managed 36 shots to Boston’s 41. Also, five penalties are a bit too much to take when playing in the champs’ house.

The penalty killers and Abbie Ives did well, but as was the case in the Final, the game really got away from the Whale during a short stretch of the third period. Last time it was two goals in 18 seconds, on Saturday, it was three goals against in 56 seconds (two of which came ten seconds apart). This was still a 1-0 game with nine minutes left in regulation. Connecticut has seven games to go before its next shot vs. Boston on Dec. 18.

8* Like Connecticut, the Riveters only played one game this weekend and just like their geographical rivals, they will have to wait a bit longer to score their first goal of the season. Despite the lack of offensive production, I thought the Rivs played a decent game. First and foremost, they have to be a little tighter defensively. I lost count of how many times Boston was able to split their defense - via stretch pass or just plain speed - and get clean looks at the net.

If not for the heroic performance of Rachel McQuigge (who was making her pro debut, on the road, against the two-time defending champions, behind a team that was playing its first real game together), what would the score have been? 4-0? 6-0? 7-0? The former Princeton netminder was brilliant and turned aside 45 of Boston’s 47 shots, and made at least 14 saves in all three periods. Hopefully, she had a nice steak dinner on the bus ride home!

Michelle Jay/Boston Pride

Other notable standouts for them were the three-zone performance of forward Sarah Bujold (6 shots on goal, 3 takeaways, 9 face-off wins), and defender Reagan Rust (who’s been with the team for about five minutes) blocked four shots and was active/noticeable all day.

9* Speaking of the Riveters, this season I’ve partnered with Leah Marino and I’ve pledged to donate to her charity of choice (Sports Matter/www.sportsmatter.org) for every point ($5), blocked shot ($1), & SoG ($1) she registers this season. Here’s hoping she breaks my piggy bank and has a great season. If you’d like to join me and match the donation at the end of the season, everyone is welcome to.

10* With the season underway here is my all-unsigned team: Goalie: Katie Burt, Defense: Chelsey Rosenthal, Kristen Barbara, Forward: Taylor Accursi, Audra Morrison, Emily Fluke. Extras: Brooke Wolejko (G), Taylor Turnquist (D/F), Lexie Laing (F)

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! I know this is my former editor’s favorite part! 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: Brittany Howard (T6), Sidney Morin (MIN), Natalie Snodgrass (MIN), Antonia Matzka (BUF), Ann-Sophie Bettez (MTL), Jade Downie-Landry (MTL), Whitney Dove (BUF), Maddie Truax (BUF), Sarah Left (MTL), Kim Deschênes (MTL), Élizabeth Giguère (BOS), Loren Gabel (BOS), Leah Lum (T6), Liz Schepers (MIN), Allison Attea (BUF), Deziray De Sousa (MTL), Kristina Shanahan (MTL)

Michelle Jay/Boston Pride

PHFirst points: Brittany Howard (T6), Sidney Morin (MIN), Natalie Snodgrass (MIN), Antonia Matzka (BUF), Ann-Sophie Bettez (MTL), Jade Downie-Landry (MTL), Whitney Dove (BUF), Maddie Truax (BUF), Sarah Left (MTL), Kim Deschênes (MTL), Élizabeth Giguère (BOS), Loren Gabel (BOS), Leah Lum (T6), Liz Schepers (MIN), Allison Attea (BUF), Deziray De Sousa (MTL), Kristina Shanahan (MTL), Dominika Laskova (T6), Kati Tabin (T6), Catherine Daoust (MTL), Christine Deaudelin (MTL), Courtney Maud (BUF), Kaity Howarth (MTL), Alexandra Labelle (MTL), Sydney Brodt (MIN), Nadine Edney (T6), Summer-Rae Dobson (BUF), Taylor Baker (MTL)

PHFirst start: Corinne Schroder (BOS), Rachel McQuigge (MET), Tricia Deguire (MTL), Marie-Soleil Deschênes (MTL)

PHFirst win: Corinne Schroder (BOS), Tricia Deguire (MTL)

PHFirst Shutout: Corinne Schroder (BOS)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

The Boston Pride fired a combined 88 shots against their two opponents this weekend. They scored six goals and didn’t give up any. Was there any other real choice? While every other team had something to celebrate this past weekend, the Pride sent two of their Founding Four besties home without having celebrated a goal. And everyone is off next weekend, too. So they’ll have to wait a bit longer to get going.

Notable Quotable

“I didn’t really know many of them. But my guess, knowing the type of place Montreal is, I thought they would come out gritty and with a lot of offense (this weekend), which they did. That’s just from my knowledge of the type of players that come from Montreal in my experience over the years. They absolutely lived up to that. They came out spicy, and were really, really hungry for a win.” — Buffalo netminder Tera Hofmann’s on how familiar she was with the players on Montreal’s roster heading into her start on Sunday.

Notable Quotable II

“I think the additions we had, the newbies on the team, are really bringing their A-game; especially this past weekend. We have some powerhouse forwards, and we also have a brick wall of a goalie, plus some defenders who can play both sides of the puck very well. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this season. Like any team, we’re looking to get better. This past weekend we obviously won both games, but there are still a lot of improvements to be made. For me, that’s an exciting thing to think about, haha, because we obviously played well, but we can play even better. Which is kind of scary. We have a really, really great group of girls this year and this is going to be special.” — Boston defender Jenna Rheault’s reply when asked if this edition of the Pride might be better than last season’s.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Corinne Schroeder (BOS): 63 saves, 2 wins, 2 shutouts

Have we ever seen a debut like Schroeder’s this weekend? Back-to-back wins in a debut are impressive, but back-to-back shutouts - that is just mind-bottling. That should quiet down the peanut gallery who shouted out that Boston made a big mistake choosing Schroeder over Katie Burt.

** Brittany Howard (T6): 4 points (3g-1a), GWG, PPG, 11 SoG

I very easily could have had Howard as my first star. She made so many dynamic plays, and oftentimes found those soft or open areas of ice behind or away from the Minnesota defenders. She potted the first goal of the entire PHF season and then ended that game in overtime to cap off a three-point day. On Sunday she added another goal to help the Six complete the sweep.

*** Tera Hofmann (BUF): 31 saves, 1 win

After signing a PTO on Friday, Hofmann (who was with the Beauts as a practice player) stepped into the crease on Sunday trying to help her team avoid an 0-2 start to Season 8. She turned aside 16-of-17 Montreal’s shots in the third period, clinching her second pro win, and first since Jan. 24, 2021, in Lake Placid.

Did You Know?

The Toronto Six are 12-0-0 all-time in home games since they joined the PHF in Season 6. *Not counted is the season in Lake Placid where they finished 2-0-1 as a designated home team.

The Buffalo Beauts scored seven goals this weekend in their two games against Montreal and five of those seven goals came from their blueline. Perhaps we should start calling Whitney Dove (2), Allison Attea, Maddie Truax, and Antonia Matzka the Buffalo Blue (Line) Bombers.