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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 11

There was a lot going on this weekend! Ty Tumminia is stepping down, 3 big games, and we spoke with Emma Vlasic & Carly Jackson!

Anjelica Diffendal #24 of the Buffalo Beauts battles for position with Christine Chao #26 of the Toronto Six in the first period during the Buffalo Believes Classic at Buffalo Riverworks on February 21, 2022 in Buffalo, New York.
Justin Berl

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

I honestly can’t believe I’ve been able to pull this off for the entire PHF season so far. It has been a lot of (fun) work, and I hope everyone has enjoyed these. Thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for your openness, time, and most importantly your assists when I piece these columns together. Especially over the past two months when I haven’t been able to be at any rinks. Also, a special thanks to my teammates at TIG and everyone who reads these, shares them, comments about them. I, and we appreciate it.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Humongous big news dropped smack dab in the middle of Saturday’s Metropolitan Riveters-Minnesota Whitecaps game when Jeff Marek reported on Hockey Night in Canada that PHF commissioner Ty Tumminia will not be seeking an extension of her contract when it ends at the end of the season. On Sunday, the PHF confirmed the news with a statement that said a search for her replacement is already underway.

Tumminia was named interim commissioner in October 2020, had the interim tag removed in August 2021, and will step down from the position following the completion of the PHF playoffs (March 25-28). Under her guidance, the league was able to (haphazardly) pull off a semi-season in Lake Placid, had their three, 2021 postseason games on NBCSN, got this season’s games on ESPN+, and the 2022 Isobel Cup Final on ESPN2 and TSN2, among many other great sponsorship deals and investments.

“I take a lot of pride in what we’ve been able to do as a team in a short amount of time, and I’m grateful to the Board of Governors for the opportunity, to my PHF staff, team leadership, and most importantly the athletes for believing in me,” Tumminia said in a press release. “I’m here to focus on finishing what we started in Season 7 and make the Isobel Cup Playoffs one to remember. The foundation for growth and a sustainable business model is here, and I look forward to welcoming somebody new to come in and take things to the next level.”

Michelle Jay/NWHL

Overall, she took the league, or federation, to a new level, and is leaving things better than when she took over. As there always is in life there were ups and downs, but the ups outweighed the downs, in my mind anyway. The timing of it all is a little confusing and you have to think the PHF didn’t necessarily want this news to drop in the middle of one of their games.

The Ice Garden has heard from multiple sources that Tumminia won’t be the only one leaving her position when she does, so expect a full new staff to be in place (hopefully) by the start of the off-season.

What’s next? Who knows, but never a dull moment, right?

2* Once again the Buffalo Beauts gave us quite a show in the Buffalo Believes Outdoor Classic. Last time (in December 2019) it was Taylor Accursi ripping out the hearts of the Metropolitan Riveters with a four-goal performance. On Monday, it was Carly Jackson turning into a virtual brick wall and silencing all 36 shots she faced from the Toronto Six, halting their eight-game winning streak.

Justin Berl

The final was 3-0, but the Beauts netted two empty-net goals in the final 62 seconds, so it was really a 1-0 game thanks to Claudia Kepler’s early second-period tally. But one goal was all Jackson needed to ensure that Buffalo would pick up their third win in their last four games. Make no mistake, the Beauts will be just as dangerous as any of the other five teams when they get to Tampa for the playoffs at the end of March.

“First things first - the jerseys are my favorite that I’ve ever worn. Of all-time,” proclaimed Jackson 24 hours later. “I hope they become our thirds because they’re pretty sweet! Today we were practicing and talking about how much fun we had yesterday; we had a blast. A day later I’m still excited. It was so much fun, and honestly, I wish we could play outdoors all the time!”

The Beauts and Six got ideal weather for the afternoon outdoor game, and the broadcast was fantastic; plus the background scenery with the sun setting, and snow on the ground was the cherry on top. Here’s hoping we get at least one of these per season. Don’t overdo it, but one per season would be sufficient. Whether it’s in Buffalo again (I wouldn’t be opposed to it being there annually), or elsewhere.

2.1* With a rare off Sunday before they played outdoors on Monday, the Buffalo Beauts got in a little team bonding by splitting into two teams of nine players each at an Escape Room. So we had to get some details from CJ.

“I loved it. We did this one based on the Saw movies and when we went in the room one of our teammates became a victim like in the movies,” explained Jackson. “So she was stuck in this chair, blindfolded and we had to figure out how to get her out. The main villain is talking over the loudspeaker, the room would go completely dark at times, so it was all pretty cool. There were some scary parts where we were like oh my god - how do we do this?!?”

“It was fun to work together at something different than what we are used to,” she added. “We had a blast, and I think we got out of the room in the final minute! The blood was pumping, and we were trying to figure out the last puzzle! But then we got out and ate a bunch of pizza.”

So CJ, who was stuck in the chair?!?

“It was Kennedy Ganser. So, in like the first ten minutes, she ended up in this chair with a bag over her head and a key on a chain around her neck. The employee there asked us who was the bravest of us and we picked Gans,” Jackson said with a giggle, “so she had to go in the chair. It was a really cool day.”

Jackson also confirmed that the blond hair is staying until the end of the season and that it ‘was the TSN Turning Point for us’ this season.

3* A few days before the PHF took it outdoors the Toronto Six announced that they have signed forward Breanne Wilson-Bennett for the remainder of the season; she didn’t play in the outdoor game. In Lake Placid, she played in all six regular-season games (2g-2a), and also had two points (1g-1a) in Toronto’s lone playoff game.

With Wilson-Bennett back in the mix, the Six now have 11 players on the current roster who skated for the franchise in its inaugural season. The way Toronto has been rolling past their opponents this season truly has been amazing. Keep in mind - new coaching staff, half of the players didn’t play for the team last season.

“I think it comes down to the team chemistry. Everyone has gotten on board with what’s going on here, and have stayed together through all of the different ups and downs that we’ve been through,” captain Shiann Darkangelo said recently. “Last year was something different, basically practicing for half a year and then playing a couple of games. I feel like getting to know each player and everyone buying into the system - whether it's the president, the coaches, the leaders on the team - it has all worked out really well. Everyone is committed, it's been fun.”

4* Minnesota started its third goalie of the season on Sunday when Julie Friend made her season debut for the Whitecaps. When’s the last time that happened Mike Murphy? Jenna Brenneman started the day before and picked up her first pro win with a 29-save, 5-2 triumph over the Riveters.

With Amanda Leveille out of action indefinitely, it’s up to Friend and Brenneman now to handle the workload. Brenneman was supposed to start on Sunday, but TIG has learned she was dealing with a lower-body injury so Friend got the start. The good news for Minnesota is that they have a week off to figure things out before returning to the ice to host the Connecticut Whale (March 5-6).

5* Hey, remember the Connecticut Whale? Since Jan. 17 they’ve played a grand total of two games (a sweep in Boston) and won’t play another game until they visit Minnesota at the start of March. So what’ve they been up to? I checked in with Emma Vlasic on Monday to see what’s going on in Whaleville.

Practice, practice, and more practice. Connecticut has been practicing on the weekends to simulate a normal schedule as much as they can during the long break. With Toronto’s loss to Buffalo, the Whale are now owners of the PHF’s longest active winning streak - eight games.

“It is kinda weird, and obviously we were in first place there for a little while until Toronto played some more games,” Vlasic told us of being off for so long while on a long winning streak. “We knew at the beginning of the season we’d have this kind of break in February, but it’s tough when the other teams are playing, and as you said, we’re on a winning streak. We’re excited to get up to Minnesota (in two weeks) and get back into the swing of things.”

5.1* Are the Whale trying to finish as high as they can in the standings? Or are they more focused on playing well as the season ends? A bit of both, as Vlasic explained.

“I think you definitely want to finish as high as you can, and with six games left - each game is worth three points - a lot can happen. We know that and other teams know that as well,” said the two-time All-Star. “In practice, we emphasize the little things, and we’re trying to get better every day. You obviously want to finish as high as you can, but playing the right way is an important piece to that I think.”

“When you get to the playoffs, it’s single-game elimination and you want to put yourself in the best possible position for those games. The month of March is going to be a sprint to the finish and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re excited to go to Florida and be a part of the postseason there.”

6* Congrats to Riveters captain Madison Packer who played in her 100th regular-season game on Saturday, and then on Sunday picked up her 50th career goal and 100th career point after a three-point game in the Rivs’ 7-4 triumph. After nearly retiring following her second NWHL season, Packer has become the face of the Rivs franchise and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Now if I had to bet, I’d guess that she doesn’t play in another 100 games (unless we end up with a continuously expanding regular-season schedule), but I also don’t think she is anywhere close to stepping away from the game she loves just yet.

7* It was great to see Theresa Knutson rewarded with a hat trick in Sunday’s Riveters runaway 7-4 win. TK has shown she can score at this level (on this continent, or overseas), and with a little more confidence (and ice-time) we are starting to see her become more assertive on the ice. She has six points (4g-2a) over the last four Rivs games and her shots on goal totals are continuing to rise after nine in two games this weekend. With 47 SoG this season she is now third on the team. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad shot.

8* Breaking news: Allie Thunstrom is fast. And pretty good at scoring goals. She’s now up to 15 this season after another multi-goal weekend, and 44 during her NW/PHF career - 11 shy of Jillian Dempsey’s all-time record of 55. After starting the season like a mere mortal, Thunstrom has since catapulted ahead of every player in the PHF with eight goals over her last six games. In the last full season (2019-20) she potted 24 goals in 24 games. This season she has four games left, can she net five more goals to go 20-in-20-games? Wouldn’t put it past her!

Dating back to last season’s playoff games, Thunstrom has now scored 19 goals over her last 18 games. In seven of those games, she’s scored at least two goals. We’re not even counting the goal she scored in the ECHL All-Star Classic, or the one she tallied at the PHF All-Star Showcase. Like Alan said after leaving the pawnshop in the Hangover 3: White-Hot Heat Bro!

9* The goal-scoring race is heating up as we head into the final month of the season. Thunstrom has been unconscious as of late - but has the least remaining games left (four). Toronto’s Mikyla Grant-Mentis is second with 10 goals, followed by a three-way tie between Thunstrom’s teammate Jonna Curtis, Kendall Cornine from the Riveters, and Connecticut’s Kennedy Marchment - all at nine goals apiece.

10* Stick taps to former Toronto Six netminder Samantha Ridgewell who recently picked up her first win (and a cool player of the game helmet!) for HV71. On Feb. 20 she surrendered the first two goals of the game but finished with 17 saves in the victory for HV71 as the SDHL resumed its season. Best of luck to her going forward.

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

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

PHFirst Point: Allie Olnowich (MET)

PHFirst Win: Jenna Brenneman (MIN)

PHFirst Shutout: Carly Jackson (BUF)

Quote of the Week

“I think we’ve always had faith in one another, in the team, and we felt that a lot at the beginning of the season. We had quite a few close games even though the scheduling was a little bit tough on us. It was hard to maintain that belief when we got blown out a couple of weekends in a row. Yesterday’s win (over Toronto) solidified for us and not only proved to us as a team, but also anybody following along - that there is so much parity in this league and anybody can win on any given night. It was really fun to prove that. The T6 are such a good team and to be able to shut them down was just awesome. That is fuel to our fire and proof that we can beat anybody.” — Buffalo goalie Carly Jackson in the aftermath of the Beauts 3-0 win over Toronto.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Carly Jackson (BUF) - after a brilliant, 36-save shutout against the PHF’s top team, who else but CJ could be my first star of the week? Her workload increased as the sun was setting, but each period she got better. A ten-save first period was followed by an 11-save second period, and in the third period, she turned aside all 15 shots she faced. Honorable mention to the PK units in front of her, as they combined to stifle three Toronto power plays.

** Theresa Knutson (MET) - her first goal on Sunday gave the Rivs an early 2-0 lead. By the time she netted her second goal (on the power play), it was the second of four consecutive markers by the visiting team. But it was the third goal (which was a fricken snipe) that not only capped off the hat trick but also swung the momentum back in the Riveters’ favor as it came right after the Whitecaps had a goal disallowed.

*** Ashleigh Brykaliuk (MIN) - after a five-point (1g-4a) weekend I had to include the former UMD star this weekend. The goal she scored on Sunday was a Goal of the Year candidate as far as I’m concerned. Brykaliuk has really started to heat up as of late and is now on a three-game point streak (1g-5a) and this weekend she was excellent in the face-off circles winning 38 of the 61 draws she took.

Did You Know?

  • Buffalo co-captain Taylor Accursi (27g-20a) is the next active player closing in on 50 career points.
  • Minnesota alternate captain Allie Thunstrom (44) is the next active player closing in on 50 career goals.
  • Minnesota alternate captain Jonna Curtis (45) is the next active player closing in on 50 career assists.