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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 6 - Stone Cold Crazy

Happy Holidays PHF fans! This week hear from Kennedy Ganser, Emma Vlasic, Dominique Kremer, and others while you sip some eggnog this weekend!

Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Dominika Lásková, Courtney Maud (L-R). Michael Hetzel/Buffalo Beauts

Happy holidays to everyone out there, hopefully, you all have a safe one. It’s time to go around the rink! No column for the next two weeks, but will have some feature articles before the next PHF games.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* On Friday we were treated to another classic, outdoor game, the third of its kind, when the Buffalo Beauts hosted the Toronto Six. Led by rookie Lexi Templeman and former Beauts’ netminder Carly Jackson it was Toronto who was victorious this time around in a tightly-contested 2-1 game. Jackson, who made 24 saves, improved to 2-0 in outdoor games and picked up the revenge game win against her former employers. Templeman assisted on the game’s opening goal and then netted the game-winning marker when she deposited a rebound past Kassidy Sauvé from the side of the net with 7:50 left in regulation.

The Toronto rookie joined the PHF after winning a National Championship at Ohio State and has shown that championship pedigree with points in five of the last seven games she played in, and her first pro-game-winning goal in the PHF’s annual Buffalo Believes Outdoor Classic. With seven points in her first ten games with the Six, I’d say she is fitting in just fine.

1.1* Just before Templeman’s heroics, Sauvé - who was (in my mind anyway) a surprise starter due to a lingering injury, went down in the crease and struggled to get up. I know players always want to play, but someone within the Beauts organization should have let her sit out until after the New Year. But I understand the desire to have your no. 1 netminder save a season that is already on the brink of slipping away.

Buffalo had an excellent chance to even the game when they went on the power play with just under five minutes left in regulation, a perfect opportunity to salvage at least a point. I don’t think the Beauts even had a shot on goal, nor a body (Anjelica Diffendal maybe if she saw the ice could have done it) in front of Jackson.

The Beauts are now 1-2 in outdoor games. I enjoyed this game a lot (from the comfort of a warm apartment), but I think I liked last season’s a bit better with a late afternoon start. Aesthetically, it just looked cooler with the setting sun in the background and natural light illuminating the rink. Looking forward to seeing it again next season whenever time it starts though, really happy they’ve decided to do these.

2* “It’s super fun. For me personally, last year’s outdoor game was my first time skating outdoors ever,” Buffalo captain Dominique Kremer told ATR about playing in her second outdoor game via phone this week. “Which is beyond weird for people to maybe think about because I’ve been playing hockey for 20 years, but I’ve never skated on a pond or anything like that. The outdoor atmosphere, I just love it, it’s so different and it wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be. I thought it was perfect weather for the game, last year was a bit warmer but this was good for the ice.”

“The most noticeable difference - I remember last year at one point in the second period I think, I was on the blue line and was completely blinded by the sun,” Kremer explained while giggling. “So I prefer to play (these) at night and I think it added to maybe the outdoor feel of it, everyone was hyped, the lights seemed brighter, and the fans seemed louder. Everything just seemed amplified and I really enjoyed it this year - not that I didn’t enjoy it last year!”

2.2* One of the things I love about these games is seeing all of the players with the eye black under their eyes, and how creative they get with it. This year, Toronto’s Dominika Lásková came up with the brilliant idea of using it to make a curly mustache, and, wow, that looked awesome.

Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Dominika Lásková, Courtney Maud (L-R). Michael Hetzel/Buffalo Beauts

3* In the rematch the next day, Buffalo charged out to a 3-1 lead with three second-period goals but right after the midway point of regulation Toronto started their comeback and scored five of the game’s last six goals. The Six got it to 3-3 and the Beauts took a 4-3 lead with 9:29 left, but Toronto exploded for three more goals - led by captain Shiann Darkangelo’s game-winning goal and monster game overall. She finished with four points (three assists), five shots on goal, and was dominant in the face-off circle to the tune of 15 wins/4 losses.

3.1* It was nice to see Mikyla Grant-Mentis finally net her first goal of the season, and third multipoint game for the Beauts but where the hell was Autumn MacDougall? Barely saw her on the ice, especially in the second game of the series. Would love it if we had access to ice times for players. Sauvé’s injury was bad enough that Buffalo brought in practice player Tera Hofmann on a PTO for game two, and she backed up Lovisa Berndtsson. I’m as eager as anyone to see what Sauvé can do for the Beauts, but hopefully, we don’t see her back in uniform until she is completely healthy because that was tough to watch at times.

Mikyla Grant-Mentis of the Buffalo Beauts Michael Hetzel/Buffalo Beauts

3.2* “We won in our second game (of the season) and we were feeling okay, had a win under our belts, and wanted to keep it rolling … and then we had nothing for a month,” Kremer lamented, referencing the Beauts’ second consecutive season where their schedule was far from ideal due to cancellations and postponements. “We’re going to be playing six games in less than two weeks so in that nine-day span we can get 18 points if we win all six and that would jump us up in the standings. It’s all in front of us.”

The PHF has rescheduled Buffalo’s postponed games in Connecticut and now they will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 17 (Milford) and Wednesday, Jan. 18 (Simsbury).

4* The Metropolitan Riveters were one of two teams (Boston) that played only one game this weekend, and they headed into the holiday break on a high note after beating the Connecticut Whale 5-2 to finish their season-high, seven-game road trip with a record of 3-4-0. The Whale jumped out to an early lead via a Taylor Girard shorthanded goal 102 seconds into the game and I think we all thought they might roll to victory. But the game would stay that way until a span of one minute and 23 seconds in the middle of the second period which changed everything.

First, Emilie Harley netted her first goal as a Riveter to even the game. Then Amanda Pelkey and Madison Packer worked a brilliant give-and-go to give them a lead before Kelly Babstock pounced on a rebound that stunned the home team and gave the visitors a two-goal lead. Connecticut would get within a goal when Emma Vlasic scored with just over five minutes left in regulation, but that momentum came to an end two minutes later when Pelkey added her second of the afternoon.

Two big things that caught my attention, first - Evelina Mäkinen was brilliant in net and made a lot of tough, crucial saves after the opening goal. She was dominant for stretches turning aside numerous high-quality chances against Girard, Kennedy Marchment and co.

Kennedy Ganser of the Metropolitan Riveters battles Kennedy Marchment of the Connecticut Whale in the face-off circle. Jonathan Sawn/Connecticut Whale

Second, replacing Kendall Cornine with Kennedy Ganser between Pelkey and Packer on the team’s top line has paid off huge dividends. After a bit of a slow start to her season, Ganser has been noticeable in each of the past three-four games since the switch was made, and rewarded the coaching staff with two assists on Saturday, as well as a solid day in the face-off circles.

4.1* “It’s been great playing with them, and they are pretty easy players to play alongside,” Ganser told ATR about the switch to the Rivs’ top line. “They both have a wealth of experience, so I’m just trying to learn as much as I possibly can from them and stick to things that I excel at. Things seem to be going well for us so far and we’ve started to build some chemistry - we’ve been able to find each other out there and hopefully, that continues into the new year.”

4.2* Vlasic drew back into Connecticut’s lineup after being a healthy scratch in the Whale’s last game and had an immediate impact, even without the goal/first point of the season. “The preparation stays the same for me,” she replied when I asked if anything changes for her after having to sit out for the first time in her pro career. “I know what I need to do out there. Obviously, we’re a deep, competitive team, we have a lot of capable players on this team. It’s a battle every night and you have to be ready when called upon.”

And what happened against the Riveters in her opinion? “I thought the Riveters looked better, from even when we played them in preseason (two months ago). Every team is getting better, and that is something we’ve talked about in our locker room, Vlasic told ATR. “In years past there have been stronger teams and weaker teams (in the PHF), but this year every team is a strong team and any team can beat any team on any given night.”

“You have to bring your A-game, you have to play a full 60-minutes, it’s hard work. The Riveters do that well, they’ve always done that well, and they added some nice pieces. We have to be prepared, no matter who we are playing.”

“I think it was that short span of time that we lost that game in. We made a push obviously at the end but it wasn’t enough,” lamented the fourth-year pro. “It’s a 60-minute game for a reason and I liked how we pushed back in the third, but we have to defend for all 60 minutes. We had a good start, but in that second period - that block of time - that’s where we maybe took our foot off the gas and they got some bounces. I liked how we responded, but it just wasn’t enough.”

5* The next day, with a rested Boston Pride team in town, the Whale responded with a big performance. While it wasn’t always easy, they were able to head into their holiday break with some good juju after a 6-4 win that saw two players net their first career PHF goals for the Whale. Caitrin Lonergan scored her first (two) goal(s) in the opening period to give Connecticut the early lead.

Caitrin Lonergan of the Connecticut Whale scores on Boston’s Corinne Schroeder. Jonathan Sawn/Connecticut Whale

Boston would tie it twice, but Melissa Samoskevich gave the Whale a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the second period with her first pro goal. “Caitrin is always flying,” said Head Coach Colton Orr with a smile. “Her, Samo - they’ve been getting chances and it wasn’t for lack of trying or lack of effort. That line with Katka, Caitrin, and Samo was playing well, but sometimes you have to shake things up to get a different look and I thought it was great for her confidence to put those two in, she is a really good player.”

While they didn’t win the Pride had some pretty notable performances. Loren Gabel continued to show why she was so highly sought after this off-season and added another two gals to her growing total, and defender Olivia Zafuto also added two goals - her first two in the PHF and finished with four points. She saw a little more ice time than she had been with defenders Kali Flanagan and Aneta Terjalová away for the weekend with their National Teams and the way she played, she should get more!

Also, it was nice to see Lauren Kelly, who is on LTIR, at the rink Sunday to support her teammates; as well as a large throng of family members to support the Pride. Do any other parents travel as deep as Boston’s?

5.1* “It was a big response game for us today. We didn’t like the way we played yesterday, we knew we needed to be better,” said Vlasic, “and I think you saw that today in the first period. Obviously, Boston is a good team, they’re going to push back and get their opportunities. Just a huge response from us today; it was good to see. We were moving the puck, using our speed, and we were playing our game. That’s what you saw.”

Part of that speed was Lonergan playing alongside Girard and Marchment on Orr’s top line, something he had previously used during the preseason. After Sunday’s game, we may see more of it. “I think my game is a lot of speed, so I’m just trying to bring that to their line, get them pucks when they’re open - and get open - they’re both great playmakers,” Lonergan told ATR. “(For me) it’s just adapting to them.”

“After this game, I feel like a lot of different lines were scoring, and previously we relied heavily on one line - a lot of Kennedy and Taylor. So seeing a lot of different people on the scoresheet will definitely help us going into next semester. Hopefully, we can continue that,” she added, and is clearly still in college mode!

5.2* In goal, Meeri Räisänen picked up her first win (in this league) since Dec. 2, 2018, when she shutout the Riveters. Both of her wins entering this season were vs. the Rivs, by the way. I think the Whale have two excellent, reliable netminders, and getting Räisänen her first win of the season before the bulk of Connecticut’s reminding games is a great thing.

During her postgame media availability, she mentioned it has taken a little longer than anticipated to readjust to this style of game - smaller rinks, more net mouth traffic, etc, but she is getting there. “This league is very good and every team can beat anyone. I really like that, it’s really competitive,” Räisänen said. “It’s a smaller rink (than I’m used to) and everyone is in the middle. Players here are really good shooters, too, especially off the rush. I just need more games to get used to it, to work on seeing more shots.”

6* Over the first six games in their inaugural season the Montreal Force had alternated wins and losses/were 3-0 on Saturdays and 0-3 on Sundays. That changed on their trip to Minnesota last weekend when they dropped the first game (5-2), but they rebounded to beat the Whitecaps on Sunday (4-1).

In the opening game of the series, Montreal had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Natalie Snodgrass took over the game and scored three consecutive goals to cap off her first pro hat trick. That was the UConn standout’s third multi-point game of the season and with ten points (6g-4a) in ten games she is the Whitecaps’ leading scorer heading into the holiday break; she is also one of seven players in the PHF with a double-digit point total at the break.

Natalie Snodgrass of the Minnesota Whitecaps Sam Silver/Minnesota Whitecaps

6.1* After serving as the backup over their previous three games, Marie-Soleil Deschênes got the Sunday start for the Force - and she was brilliant, making 40 saves with many coming while her team was shorthanded. The only blemish for Deschênes on the day came in the third period when Jonna Albers netted her second goal of the weekend to spoil the shutout bid midway through the third period when Montreal was leading 3-0.

The Force have been a formidable team this season, as evidenced by their 4-4-0 record, and have split each series they’ve played with the Beauts, Riveters, Whale, and Whitecaps. Up next for the newbies - a date with the Toronto Six in an all-Canadian two-game series to kick off 2023. That is going to be a fun weekend!

Brittany Howard of the Toronto Six Lori Bolliger Photography/PHF

7* With everyone off for the next two weekends for the holiday break here are some of the statistical leaders across the PHF. The Toronto Six have the most points (22), the least amount of regulation losses (1), and are tied with the Boston Pride for the most wins (7). The Six have also scored the most goals (38), have the best goal differential (+11), and have the most PiM (96).

The Connecticut Whale have given up the least amount of goals (22), while the Minnesota Whitecaps have the PHF’s best power play (20%, 7-for-34). Boston has the best penalty kill (.931, 24-for-26), and the Riveters have scored the most shorthanded goals (3).

7.1* With 16 points in ten games, Toronto rookie Brittany Howard is leading the scoring race at the break, and she is also the PHF’s leading goal scorer with an impressive 12 in ten games; Howard also leads all skaters with 46 shots on goal and three game-winning goals. Can she challenge Allie Thunstrom’s league record of 24 in a single season? Judging by what we’ve seen so far, the answer is a resounding yes! On the assist front, there is a three-way tie for the league lead of 7 between Jade Downie-Landry (Montreal), Kati Tabin (Toronto), and Patti Marshall (Minnesota).

Minttu Tuominen beats Elaine Chuli in a shootout, clinching a win for the Riveters in Toronto. Lori Bolliger Photography/PHF

Howard and Riveters defender Minttu Tuominen are tied for the league lead in power-play goals (3). Sarah Bujold (Rivs) and Taylor Girard (Connecticut) are tied for the league lead with two shorthanded goals each. Among players who have taken at least 100 face-offs, Kelly Babstock (Rivs) has the best percentage (.592%) and no one has won more draws than Toronto captain Shiann Darkangelo (140). With 13 points in seven games Boston rookie Loren Gabel has the highest point-per-game-average (1.9).

7.2* In goal, no one has more wins (7), shutouts (4), saves (284), or faced more shots (303) than Pride netminder Corinne Schroeder. She also has the best save percentage (.937%) and GAA (2.28). Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille has played the most minutes (596:35) and is the only netminder in the PHF who has played in and started every game for her team. Lev also has an assist that has yet to be officially credited to her.

8* In last week’s ATR we touched on the increased salary cap in the PHF for next season. Another announcement that came down after we published was the confirmation of what we reported back at the beginning of November - that the neutral site game between Montreal and Connecticut will be held in Cranberry, Pennsylvania - a suburb of Pittsburgh - and the practice rink of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. The league held its All-Star Weekend at that same rink in the middle of Season 2, and the Whale have played two ‘home’ games (vs the Beauts and Riveters) there in prior seasons.

In talking with a few players over the weekend they wondered aloud if the move was a precursor to Pittsburgh becoming a city for expansion, as early as next season. We’ve (I’ve) been down this road before, and there was a time when I thought the Whale could move there due to their lack of attendance in whichever Connecticut rink they were in at the time.

8.1* With an increased cap for next season, it wouldn’t shock me if the PHF announces plans for the eighth team at some point before the off-season. I think Pittsburgh would be an excellent spot, and they might even be able to lure the plethora of former Robert Morris University players currently in the PHF as a starting point for building a team. Now, I’m not saying this is definitely happening or anything like that - just something to keep an eye on. Other possibilities that would be intriguing, and have enough local talent to attract, would be (in no particular order) Providence, St. Paul, Michigan, and maybe even Washington, DC.

8.2* Nothing official has been announced yet but the expectation amongst the players I’ve spoken with is that the 2023 Isobel Cup Playoffs will look a bit different than in years past. The assumption is that not every team will be invited to the party, so that will make the final three months a real battle for positioning. Having said that, no one (that I spoke with) knows what the format will look like. Top five teams? Top six? Does the top team get a bye? No one knows, but I hope however it looks like, we have at least a best-of-three series for each round.

@mdphotoandink/PHF

9* We mentioned earlier the Riveters finishing their seven-game road trip to close out the 2022 portion of their schedule. They have just four road games left, and they won’t have to get on a plane for any of them - two games in Buffalo, one in Boston, and one in Connecticut. This also means that they have ten home games left this season, and a chance to really climb in the standings if they can find a way to sweep one of those weekends.

9.1* After what they had to endure this past week, I’m sure the Finnish Riveters - Anna Kilponen, Minttu Tuominen, and Evelina Mäkinen - will be glad to not have to spend much more time in an airport or on a plane when they return for the rest of the PHF season. After leaving North America following their last game, the trio was stuck in Iceland due to weather delays, lost their bags, then found them, and finally arrived in their native land on Thursday afternoon.

10* Last, but not least, we got an update on PTOs for this season. Basically, the league created an exemption for teams if their players were going to miss PHF games to play for their National Teams. As of now, the only team that this has affected is Boston, who had Taylor Turnquist and Lexie Laing in uniform on PTOs for their game in Simsbury. Like I mentioned last time, I have no problem with this as long as the incoming players are being compensated correctly.

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: Caitrin Lonergan (CTW), Olivia Zafuto (BOS), Melissa Samoskevich (CTW), Alexandra Labelle (MTL), Samantha Isbell (MTL)

PHFirst points: Caitrin Lonergan (CTW), Olivia Zafuto (BOS)

PHFirst win: Marie-Soleil Deschênes (MTL)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

Minnesota rookie Natalie Snodgrass had quite possibly the best birthday weekend ever. A hat trick on her 24th birthday, 15 shots towards the net - 14 of which hit the goalie or the back of the net. She had some nice performances early on in her first pro campaign, but she took things to the next level against Montreal. If she has more weekends like this the Whitecaps will be a formidable foe down the stretch.

Notable Quotables

“I don’t think it took me that long to film. Honestly, I just remember being at Worlds and, you get kinda bored. We had team meetings and workouts, but we were stuck by ourselves the rest of the time in our own hotel room. We had a bit of a challenge within the team - who was going to produce some good content, some entertainment. So, I just kind of went with it, I like to have fun. Just a little side project. I don’t really have a favorite celebration, that’s not really my thing.” — Whale forward Lenka Serdar’s reply when I asked about her epic celly video (seen below).

“I couldn’t ask for a better organization to be a part of. Our coaches and management have been phenomenal and we have a lot of experienced players that I’ve been learning a lot from; whether off or on the ice. It’s been a really great fit (for me), and if everything goes as planned I hope to have a long career with the Rivs, to be honest. Our facilities are great, and everything has been fantastic so far. We have a lot of positives to build on heading into the new year and I’m excited to see what 2023 has in store for us.” — Kennedy Ganser is glad she chose to sign with the Riveters this off-season.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Natalie Snodgrass (MIN) 3 points (3g), PPG, GWG, 14 SoG, 2 blocked shots

If you score a hat trick, you’re likely gonna make my three-stars of the week. If you get a hat trick on your birthday, you’re definitely the first star of the weekend! Talk about a memorable day for Snodgrass and celebrating in style. That was really cool to see.

** Evelina Mäkinen (MET) 40 saves, Win

Giving up a goal on the first shot you see, less than two minutes into the game is far from ideal. But Mäkinen rebounded with authority to shut the door continually against a high-powered Connecticut Whale lineup on Saturday afternoon, backstopping her team to an important win at the end of their seven-game road trip. Her finest work came in the middle period where she faced and turned aside 17 shots.

*** Olivia Zafuto (BOS) 4 points (2g-2a), 2 SoG

Entering the game without a point this season Zafuto collected a point on all four of Boston’s goals in the final game before the holiday break. While they were unable to win, she was an impact player and anytime you finish a game with a shooting percentage of 100 - you must be doing something right. Did you see those goals? They were sharks with fricken laser beams. Stay tuned to see if she has the same pregame meal when the Pride return to Connecticut to kick off the 2023 portion of the PHF schedule.

Did You Know?

Toronto goaltender Elaine Chuli picked up her 25th career win in the PHF on Saturday night in Buffalo and is now three wins shy of tying Brittany Ott (28) for the second-most wins in league history. Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille added to her league record with her 56th win on Saturday.

With points in both games this past weekend, Taylor Girard extended her point streak (3g-6a) to six games, the longest active streak in the PHF. She finished last season on a nine-game point streak (6g-8a).