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Six in Five: Just a quick question...

Is Toronto genuinely better at home? Could the crease belong to Carly Jackson? Did Toronto win Free agency? Is it REALLY a good idea to play at the mall?

Toronto Six player Leah Lum celebrates a goal in front of two of her teammates and two Riveters player. She has her right arm in the air and her right leg raised as she is about to skate past the bench Nathan Fernandes/Toronto Six

After an opening weekend sweep followed by a week off, the Toronto Six headed to New Jersey to play the Metropolitan Riveters. Both games were high-flying and high scoring. The Rivs came out on top on Saturday, while the Six fought back on Sunday to split the weekend series.

1. Game Summaries

November 19

The Riveters started the game with a statement. Kendall Cornine headed to the penalty box early in the first and Toronto’s powerplay got to work. They were able to hang onto the puck in the Rivs’ end for the majority of the two minutes, but with about 30 seconds remaining, the defense lost a puck battle in the neutral zone. The puck got chipped ahead and Sarah Bujold went racing after it, leading to a breakaway chance that ended up beating Elaine Chuli.

The Toronto Six had a response in the first period. Kati Tabin took a shot from the point, an effective screen from the Six meant that Rachel McQuigge barely saw it coming and the game was tied 1-1. Brittany Howard tried to claim the second period for Toronto, putting them up 2-1 a little under halfway through the period. Metropolitan responded, and then responded again, and again. Goals from Kelly Babstock, Sarah Bujold, and Madison Packer, all within five minutes of each other, put the Riveters up 4-2 heading into the third. Kelly Babstock made it 5-2 in the first minute of the third.

A power-play goal from Emma Woods made it 5-3, but the Six couldn’t manage to claw their way back. An empty net goal sealed the deal and the Six took their first L of the season, 6-2.

“At the beginning, we got a couple of power plays, and all of a sudden, it just turned,” said head coach Geraldine Heaney. “There were too many penalties. Some selfish penalties, some not. We have to stay out of the penalty box, put the puck in the net, and bury our chances. We did not bury any chances. We had our chances, but didn’t bury them.”

November 20

Sunday was a different story for the Six. They had their chances and finished on enough of them to win the game 5-2. Leah Lum scored the first goal of the game, assisted by Tereza Vanišová. Metropolitan responded with yet another short-handed goal from Sarah Bujold to tie the game 1-1 going into the second.

It was back and forth in the second frame, Vanišová put Toronto up 2-1. Sarah Bujold made her case as something of a special teams specialist, and converted on a power play.

With the game tied heading into the third, Toronto’s offense got to work. Leah Lum picked up her second goal of the game at 7:02 to make it 3-2. Brittany Howard added some insurance 20 seconds later making it 4-2. Emma Woods sealed the deal with six minutes to go, cementing the 5-2 win.

Carly Jackson made her Toronto Six debut and earned her first win with the team. She made 25 saves on 27 shots for a .926 SV%.

2. Did Toronto win free agency?

Of the eight goals that the Six scored over the weekend, six of them came from fresh faces.

Toronto was able to rebuild its roster, perhaps more effectively than any other team in the PHF. They gained more than they lost, which is impressive considering they lost Mikyla Grant-Mentis.

We all knew that Brittany Howard was going to be good for Toronto, but just how good she’s been early in the season is impressive.

“Brittany Howard is obviously a very offensive player on this team, and one that we rely on a lot,” said Heaney. “She is very hard on herself and expects a lot of herself, which is not a bad thing.”

Heaney praised her strong start to the season, four goals in five games. By the end of the season, Heaney hopes to see her play more of a 200-foot game, but for now, everyone’s happy with the offense.

Leah Lum and Tereza Vanišová are also sneaky good signings on the Six’s part. Lum has created a lot of chances thus far, and on Sunday, she was able to capitalize on them. Vanišová is finally getting a chance to shine over the course of a full PHF season. She was a playoff hero for the Boston Pride in 2020-21, but she’s showing that she’s also showing that she can make it work in a regular, season with Toronto.

3. Could Carly Jackson stake a claim?

Carly Jackson played 75 minutes this weekend. Chuli was pulled with 15 minutes remaining in the third period on Saturday. Jackson faced four shots and stopped all of them. The next day, Jackson continued to look strong, allowing two goals but locking it down in the third to earn Toronto a win.

Elaine Chuli has been a brick wall for the Six, but there have always been questions about just how many games one goaltender, no matter how elite, can play before it starts to negatively impact their performance, especially with the PHF season consisting of so many back-to-backs. The Six have needed a good second option to Chuli, and Jackson is starting to make the case early on that they’re exactly what the Six have been looking for. If Jackson stays on form, there’s no reason why she can’t split the schedule with Chuli.

4. Is Toronto a different team on the road?

Toronto has never lost a game in their own building. That was true last season, and it remains true at the beginning of this one. Whether it’s because their game suits the bigger ice at home, or because they’re tired from the travel, Toronto has a pattern of being noticeably off in the first game of an away weekend; and it’s continued into this season.

They make more simple mistakes on the first game of a back-to-back on the road than they do any other time. The fact that Sarah Bujold was able to score not one, but two short-handed goals over the weekend is cause for a bit of concern.

5. Is it an American Dream or a Broadcasters Nightmare?

This has less to do with the Toronto Six, and more to do with the experience of actually watching them play hockey. It kind of sucked this weekend.

The Riveters have made the rink at the American Dream mall in New Jersey their home. The idea is to bring hockey into the community rather than bringing the community to the Rivs. Not everyone was the biggest fan of the idea, but American Dream provides a lot of amenities that enhance the experience for the players, so I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The rink at American Dream might make for a good experience for players, and even fans at the game, but it makes for a terrible viewing experience. The angles were off to the extent that players just kind of disappeared if they got close enough to the near side in the neutral zone. The skylight above the ice made for some great lighting at the beginning of the game, but it changed so much that the ice looked orange at some points of the weekend, and it was too dark to see at others.

The rinks that PHF teams play in aren’t generally set up for professional quality broadcasts. The camera operators at Toronto Six home games literally work from the stands, trying not to hit anyone as fans dart past them to get to their seats. Even then, though, at least the worst that happens is someone’s head gets in a shot.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any kind of quick fix for the broadcast problems at American Dream, which seems like bad news for Riveters fans.

+1 Coming Up…

The Toronto Six are back in action this weekend, taking on the undefeated Boston Pride on the road. Games will be on ESPN+ in the United States and TSN Direct in Canada.