Welcome back to Around the Rink!
Cheers to a great season! Next time we meet, we will know who won the Isobel Cup in Season 7. Unreal how time flies. Once again, thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for your openness, time, and assistance when I piece these columns together. 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!
1* Saturday’s Connecticut Whale-Toronto Six game had everything (please read that in Stefon’s voice from SNL)! Multiple lead changes, crazy skilled goals, rugged battles in front of both creases, end-to-end action, a league-initiated video review that reversed a No Goal call on the ice and credited Toronto with a goal, and an overtime that resulted in a 5-4 win for the visitors. Whew! Thanks to the players for making my last in-person game this season so memorable. I billed it as the clash of the titans and it certainly exceeded my expectations.
Sunday’s game wasn’t as close and as much good puck luck, as the Six had on Saturday, they had none of it on Sunday as the Whale routed them 5-0. After Saturday’s game I chatted with Whale Head Coach Colton Orr as I was waiting for the players to emerge from the locker room, and honestly was a bit surprised at him seemingly being in a good mood after a tough OT loss. He was obviously confident in what his team was capable of, and his team rewarded him for that confidence with their performance on Sunday.
2* Taylor Girard was the number one overall pick in the 2021 NWHL Draft and this season she showed us all why. After seeing her play in person for the fifth time this season, I feel pretty confident in saying that she is just scratching the surface of her potential. So the other teams better be on notice. And I cannot wait to see what else she can do if this is how good she is at age 23!
Rookie sensation Taylor Girard ties things up! pic.twitter.com/0e9KN6swtM— PHF (@PHF) March 19, 2022
For a taller player, her foot speed is deceptively fast for her opponents I’m assuming because I saw her blow past smaller players on a regular basis. Girard is also very savvy at finding those soft areas of the ice and before you know it she is wide open and collecting a pass to chuck at the net. The Whale have struck gold with her addition and good luck to the teams that will be trying to shut down her line with Kennedy Marchment and Alyssa Wohlfeiler.
3* It was good to see a bunch of the players on the Whale that I haven’t been able to cross paths with since earlier in the season. One thing that Connecticut’s roster is filled with is good players who are great people. Girard, Mariah Fujimagari, Cailey Hutchison, Shannon Turner, Emma Vlasic, Rebecca Morse, and so on. I really appreciate how each of the players I spoke with (on and off the record) were disappointed that they wouldn’t be seeing me in Florida - words will never do justice to how much that meant to me.
3.1* “I think we’re still getting better and better every game. Today was a hard-fought battle for both teams and the game was a little tighter than we’re used to,” Morse told me after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss. “We want to play in these meaningful games at the end of the season and to be peaking at the right time. A little disappointed that we lost today, but we have another shot at them tomorrow. We’ll be better tomorrow and we’re looking forward to going to Tampa.”
How excited is she to head to Florida for the playoffs?
“I never played hockey in Florida! That will be a first for me. I’ve never really played a hockey game in that kind of climate. It will be different, but in a good way.”
4* Toronto forward Natalie Marcuzzi was in the mix a lot on Saturday. In the face-off circles, in front of the net, against the walls - she was pesky. And she had one of her team’s five goals in the back-and-forth contest on Saturday.
So what did she see on the scoring play? “I remember T-Woods (Taylor Woods) from the point tried to hit my stick (with the puck) and she made a really great shot-pass. I tried my best to do it (the pass) justice and hammer it home. There were a lot of battles in front (of the nets) today and I tried to get myself in there. The more shots we get on net puts our team in a great position.”
Marcuzzi slides it through the five-hole to put Toronto back in the lead! pic.twitter.com/yu5oFuI4CK— PHF (@PHF) March 19, 2022
So do you enjoy these kinds of games? Because it sure looked like you were thriving today? Marcuzzi laughed and replied, “It’s fun to battle, this team battles hard and we’re good at it.”
5* I asked Toronto Head Coach Mark Joslin if this season has exceeded his expectations and how he became familiar with the group.
“Once I got to know the girls - I did a lot of video stuff so I did know a lot of them on the ice before the season started and then I got to know them off the ice - I saw the character and the chemistry we had built early in the year I knew we were going to be successful because they are a tight-knit group and are responsive to (assistant coach) Angela James and myself. I’m extremely happy with our team's chemistry.”
He added that Amy Curlew, who was unavailable for the last two weekends of the season for personal reasons, will be in Florida and should be in the lineup.
6* If you read this column you know I had a lot of praise for the Six’s late-season addition of Breanne Wilson-Bennett last week. She’s been dynamite, a point-per-game player, and maybe one of the biggest pain in the butts in the PHF. So naturally, I had to ask Coach Joslin about how her presence has impacted the team over the final few weeks.
I always say you can’t score from the box. But somehow Breanne Wilson-Bennett was given a penalty, and then after a review - initiated by the league per Toronto’s HC - she was credited with a goal after, a scramble in front of the net. She was listening in on the conversation pic.twitter.com/lb49R9oooV— Dan Rice (@DRiceHockey) March 20, 2022
“It’s intangible what she brings (to our lineup). She competes more than anyone on our team and plays the right way. Like you said, she may be one of the smaller players on the ice, but she plays BIG,” Joslin said with a smile. “The other girls feed off of her energy, her attention to detail. She’s a coach now at Division I Union, so with that coaching experience, she also brings that to the table as far as helping Angela and I. All around she has been an incredible pickup for us.”
7* After a recent home game I asked Riveters captain Madison Packer about how she plays a much bigger game than one would think when you see her off the ice and out of uniform, and if that she has noticed the next wave of players have the size but don’t necessarily always play with enough confidence to dominate a game like she often does.
“My teammate Kendall Cornine, I tell Kenny all the time - if you put on 15 lbs. in the offseason; you’re a great hockey player now, imagine how great you’d be if you don’t get knocked off the puck,” Packer told ATR. “I’m bigger and stronger now; good strong. People see me off the ice after seeing me on the ice and they say: that’s who that is? As the league has gotten better I’ve had to do more to stay relevant and it's worked out for me for the better. I think the younger kids as they kind of get their feet wet in the league realize that you don’t have to be strong in college, but when you take all of the best players from college and put them on the ice here, together, its the best of the best. You have to be strong out there.”
8* The Rivs and Whitecaps will renew their rivalry in Friday’s quarterfinal nightcap. And just like the other game on Friday, it will be a rematch of the matchups we saw in the league’s final weekends. Translation: no secrets. I asked the Riveters Head Coach Ivo Mocek if he likes it that way rather than playing a team they haven’t played in a few months.
“I don’t think it really matters to us, to be honest. At least we had this weekend to see again the full potential of what they can do and where they are dangerous,” Mocek said. “Their speed is just unmatched in this league. It’s good for us to have some fresh film to look over and clip to show the players during the week and work on those things.”
And what do the Rivs have to do to win three games in Florida?
“Definitely the consistency (has to be there), when it comes to not just defense, but the offense too. Today you saw that, we scored 4 goals out of, yes hard work, but we almost made it look easy. I feel like a lot of times we have good, quality scoring opportunities, and - we just don’t score. Consistency as far as scoring. Consistency as far as defensive decision-making,” he added.
“Once we get that, I’ve been telling the players - after our home games against Toronto, and Boston - we have glimpses of a championship team - when we are on. We need to be on for the entirety of a game. To win three games, us being consistent is going to be the key for us to play to our full potential.”
9* Where is the Minnesota Whitecaps' confidence level at heading into the playoffs? “We have the confidence where we know that we can beat any team if we bring it all on the ice and play three good periods. We just have to execute,” defender Chelsey Brodt Rosenthal told me.
“If we want to win (the Cup) we’re going to have to win three in a row in Florida,” added Meaghan Pezon. “Don’t let our record fool you. We’re a good team and if we can get rolling at the right time here I think we’ll be a tough out in the playoffs.”
Minnesota has never lost to the Riveters in the playoffs, so is that an advantage for them? “Every time we play them it’s always close. Those 1-0 games could’ve gone either way. I don’t know how they feel, but I know we know we can beat them,” Pezon said, “but we have to be on our game, 1-0 wins are scary!”
10* PHFuture Considerations episode 4 is now live, and in this episode, we had not one, but two special guests - Minnesota’s Meaghan Pezon and Boston’s Taylor Wenczkowski. Can't thank them enough for joining us and talking with us for a bit ahead of the playoffs. You can click the link below to listen or search ‘The Ice Garden’ wherever you listen to podcasts.
It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time
Welcome to the Federation! Stick taps - hopefully, the first of many.
PHFirst Goal: Taylor Wasylk (BUF)
Quote of the Week
“Not taking anything away from the other three teams, but Boston, Connecticut, and us - we all play the right way, and because of the challenge of one and done the pressure is on. The pressure is on us because we’ve been the top team all season. Lots of things can go against you - bad luck, bad calls, a bounce off of us into the net like what happened to them in overtime today. We have to play the right way; we’ll dress more bodies in Florida which will take some of the load off of our top players. We’ll be ready to go, but it will be anything but easy; I can tell you that.” — Toronto Head Coach Mark Joslin on the eve of the 2022 Playoffs.
Quote of the Week Part II
Back-to-back OT game-winners from #Beauts rookies— Nathaniel A. Oliver (@NathanielAOlivr) March 20, 2022
… But they told me 2021 wasn’t a deep draft year…
My 3-Stars of the Week
* Taylor Girard (CTW) - she had a goal in each game this weekend and heads into the playoffs on a seven-game point streak (5g-7a). In Sunday’s clincher, it was Girard’s goal that started the Pod Party. Her four game-winning goals are tied with teammate/linemate Kennedy Marchment for second in the PHF. Talk about being worthy of the no. 1 overall pick!
** Kennedy Ganser (BUF) - after a slow start to her pro career Ganser has been one of the Beauts’ best forwards in the second half of the season. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Boston Pride. Her three-point (2g-1a) weekend helped Buffalo sweep the visitors. On Saturday she netted the winner in overtime, and on Sunday her power-play goal opened the scoring before she assisted on the winner in OT.
*** Amanda Conway (CTW) - she was seemingly all over the ice this weekend against the Six and finished the two games with four points (3g-1a) with a shooting percentage of 100. This was the culmination of a really nice season for Conway, who the Whale took in the 4th round in the 2020 NWHL Draft. She now has 22 points (12g-10a) in 22 career regular-season games.
Did You Know?
Got this neat note from Buffalo Beauts forward Grace Klienbach’s father Eric recently and wanted to pass it along: 16 years ago Klienbach, Rachael Ade (Riveters), and Delaney Belinskas (Pride) were on the same team (Team Florida) for a season. That year they played in Nationals in San Jose, California.
All three will be back in Florida on Friday for the start of the 2022 Isobel Cup Playoffs.
The 2021-22 PHF Leaderboard (via PHF website)
Points: Kennedy Marchment (CTW) 33
Goals: Allie Thunstrom (MIN) 18
Assists: Kennedy Marchment (CTW) 20
Points Per Game: Kennedy Marchment 1.7
Game-Winning Goals: Mikyla Grant-Mentis (T6) 6
Shots on Goal: Thunstrom/Grant-Mentis 93
Shooting Percentage (minimum 20 SoG): Amanda Conway (CTW) 21%
Power Play Goals: Rebecca Russo (MET) 5
Shorthanded Goals: Allie Thunstrom (MIN) 3
Face-Offs Won: Emily Janiga (MET)/Kendall Cornine (MET) 238
Face-Off Percentage (minimum 200 taken): Evelina Raselli (BOS) .609%
Penalties in Minutes: Kaleigh Fratkin (BOS) 34
Players who played in at least 15 games and didn’t take a penalty: Amy Curlew (T6), Emily Fluke (CTW), Kaycie Anderson (CTW), Missy Segall (BUF), Taylor Day (T6)
Wins: Elaine Chuli (T6) 16
Saves: Carly Jackson (BUF) 455
Shots Faced: Carly Jackson (BUF) 504
Minutes Played: Elaine Chuli (T6) 988:45
Shutouts: Katie Burt (BOS) 3
Goals-Against Average: Katie Burt (BOS) 1.41
Save Percentage: Katie Burt (BOS) .958
Assists: Amanda Leveille (MIN) 1
Wins: Toronto Six 16
Points: Connecticut Whale 47
Overtime Wins: Toronto Six, Buffalo Beauts 3
Goals For: Connecticut Whale 74
Goal Differential: Connecticut Whale +30
Penalties in Minutes: Minnesota Whitecaps 202
Power Play Goals: Metropolitan Riveters 14
Power Play Percentage: Toronto Six 22%
Power Play Opportunities: Metropolitan Riveters 86
Shorthanded Goals: Minnesota Whitecaps 5
Penalty Kill Percentage: Toronto Six 94%
Times Shorthanded: Metropolitan Riveters 87