You never quite know what to expect with the first day of postseason, especially at a new place. New rinks, different ice, a different vibe all around — it can all make for some pretty intriguing viewing as someone looking in at the carefully managed chaos. Still, the end game is the same: six teams enter, one team emerges victorious, and already a third of the field has been cut, as the Beauts were shut out by Katie Burt and the Pride and the Riveters lost a spirited matchup to the Whitecaps.
Here are my early observations from Tampa:
- First, AdventHealth Center Ice is a beautiful facility. The stands are somewhat limited, but you’re close to the action, which is awesome. Fans filed in nice and early before warmups for Boston and Buffalo’s game — including a hefty group here to support Grace Kleinbach (a native of Eustis, Fla., a bit north of Orlando). It made for a nice rowdy crowd for the afternoon game.
- I also got to talking with Meghara McManus’s dad, who gave me a healthy bit of ribbing after finding out I wrote primarily about the Beauts (but he’s a good egg). McManus and Marie-Jo Pelletier were teammates and friends at UNH, of course, along with Taylor Wenczkowski (who was snapped giving MJ a very heartfelt hug postgame). There were definitely plenty of parents and relatives in the stands, and more to show up for sure as the Whale and Six take the ice Sunday.
- Speaking of the Whale and Six, many of them were seen roaming the rink taking in the Round One action, including Angela James, Colton Orr, Shannon Turner, Amanda Conway, and Digit Murphy. With a bye heading right into the semis, they were presumably getting some practices in, but it’s always a good idea to scout the competition.
- The Minnesota Whitecaps came into AHCI ready for summer, complete with Hawaiian shirts and beach balls. Not to be outdone, the Beauts’ scratched players had their own summery getups on and were holding their own dance party in the corner (a party Emilie Harley briefly joined in on during first intermission as she headed off the ice).
- As mentioned before, there were quite a few Beauts fans who made the trip down, and seeing the team salute the crowd of them after their loss was extremely sweet. I may be (read: am) biased, but the appreciation this Buffalo team has for their fans and the heart they have on and off the ice is truly awesome, enough for Pelletier to mention again post-game about how much she loves the 2021-22 group:
“We have such a special group in that locker room. Everyone showed up, ready to compete, and it wasn’t the outcome we were looking for this weekend, but I’m super proud of this group and I’m so blessed to have this group of girls... it’s definitely going to be a season that I’m going to remember for a very long time and a group of girls that I’m never going to forget.”
That doesn’t quite sound like an “I might not be coming back next year” (both she and co-captain Taylor Accursi were relatively tight-lipped about that with Accursi just saying she’s “open to any possibility”), but it’s close. I truly hope that’s not the case, but I guess we’ll see.
- The Pride were more than pleased with their performance, with head coach Paul Mara and captain Jillian Dempsey agreeing that was the game they were waiting “pretty much all year” for. Everything clicked at the right time, including their power play (which went 3-for-5 after averaging in the single digits in efficiency all season) and their penalty kill, which went a perfect 100 percent.
Said Mara of the special teams’ success: “We know the talent of our team, we know our power play can be successful. You look at successful teams in the playoffs and regular season and, you know, their [special teams] do extremely well. So we got three power-play goals tonight and did great on the penalty kill, and we’re gonna keep... getting better.”
- As far as comebacks go, perhaps the biggest one this first day was that of Amanda Leveille. After missing the final weeks of the season with a pretty serious upper-body injury, she came back and made 32 of 33 saves in a lights-out performance to take Minnesota to Round 2. She was all smiles post-game, even able to joke about the one that did go in (a redirect off of herself ultimately credited to Kelly Babstock):
“There was a lot of traffic in front of me so I didn’t actually see [the initial shot], but I heard it hit the post, so I spun around, and when I spun around I actually put it in my own net, so I... I scored that one. [Babstock and I] talked after the game, she kind of fist-bumped me, so we helped each other out on that one.”
- Leveille also had plenty of excellent things to say about the team in front of her, which played probably its most complete game in a while. “We’re a lot more patient [with puck possession]... we hang onto it, we don’t just throw it. Our breakout was awesome today, which really limited the Riveters’ chances, and they are really good offensively but we didn’t give them very much ... Being kind of on the sidelines and not being able to [play] and watching the progression of the team has been really fun.”
- Indeed, it certainly felt like the team in front of Leveille wanted to win for her, moreso than perhaps the Rivs wanted to win for Brooke Wolejko, who did admirably but ultimately gave up three goals in the loss with the fourth Minny goal coming on an empty net. Indeed, captain Madison Packer said exactly that when asked her thoughts looking back: “I mean, Minnesota outworked us for a big majority of the game. We had some chances we couldn’t capitalize on, we just couldn’t get the bounces tonight, but I don’t think they’re a better team overall. They played better than us tonight. They deserved to win the game.”