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2022 PHF Semifinal Preview: Whale vs Whitecaps

Will the Whale advance or will Minnesota upset the regular season champs?

Michelle Jay

The Minnesota Whitecaps and the Connecticut Whale will kick off the Isobel Cup semifinals today at 1:00 p.m. ET. The Whale enter today’s game as the clear favorite after earning honors as the regular season champions but the experienced Whitecaps are only a few years removed from lifting the Isobel Cup — something Connecticut has never done.

The Whitecaps earned a spot in today’s semis as a result of defeating the Riveters 4-1 on Friday night. They finished the regular season with a 6-13-1 record compared to Connecticut’s record of 15-3-2.

Season Series

The Whale swept the regular season series and held Minnesota to two goals or less in all four meetings. One interesting stat from the series is Minnesota averaging just 22.25 SF/GP — the Whale averaged 34.0 SF/GP. The Whitecaps must do better in the shot share than that today. To their credit, they appeared to get the best of the Riveters in that department on Friday. But the Whale are not the Riveters.

Players to Watch

Amanda Leveille

Leveille stopped 32 of the 33 shots she faced against the Riveters on Friday night in her first action since early February. The Whitecaps have hinted that Lev’s injury was serious and that she has only been able to return to the return recently, but that didn’t stop her from being fabulous on Friday night. She’s going to need to be even more brilliant today. If Minnesota pulls off the upset today, Leveille will be the one who makes it happen.

Audra Morrison

Morrison’s line — her linemates are Jonna Curtis and Taylor Turnquist — was fantastic on Friday against the Rivs. She and Curtis both finished the game with three helpers and Turnquist scored the opening goal. Morrison had a surprisingly slow start to the 2021-22 regular season, but scored 9 goals in 12 games after the New Year. She’s red hot right now. One way or another, she is going to leave her mark on this game.

Kennedy Marchment

Marchment is a contender for both the Newcomer of the Year and MVP as a result of smashing Whale franchise records and winning the 2021-22 PHF scoring title with 33 points in the regular season. All eyes will be on her and the Whale’s top line, which has star rookie Taylor Girard and veteran Alyssa Wohlfeiler on her wings. Marchment is a gamebreaking talent who has been remarkably consistent this year. It would be a shock if she didn’t get into the scoresheet tonight. How do the Whitecaps stop her? I’m not sure that they can.

Shannon Turner

There is no player on the ice who wants to learn the weight of the Isobel Cup more than the Connecticut Whale’s captain. There may be no higher praise for Turner’s game than how seamlessly she fit into this new-look Whale. She is built to shine in this team’s systems and thrives on a team that dominates in the shot share with her ability to move the puck in all three zones. When the Whale don’t have the puck, Turner will do everything she can to win it back, including stopping shots with every part of her body.

How the Whitecaps win

Stop me if you have heard this one before — the Whitecaps’ path to victory will be paved by the play of Amanda Leveille and the team’s speedy wingers. On paper, the Whale are a deeper team but Minnesota has the edge in the goal crease and has plenty of scoring depth of its own. This one might come down to one big play on the rush by Allie Thunstrom or Jonna Curtis. Alternatively, it might come down to several clutch saves made by Leveille that Abbie Ives fails to answer.

How the Whale win

When the Whale are at their best, they overwhelm opposing teams with their depth and puck possession and that is exactly what they need to do to Minnesota. If the Whale have the puck for most of the game Minnesota’s speed can’t help them. Putting Sydney Baldwin and the Whitecaps on the power play is something they need to avoid. Pay close attention to the Cailey Hutchison line, which always plays with a bit of an edge, to wear the Whitecaps down while staying out of the box. That could be a big story in this one. Connecticut has to play passionate, pain-in-the-ass hockey without taking trips to the penalty box.

Prediction

I have gone on record saying it’s a bad idea to bet against Leveille. Now, I still think that’s true, but I have also said that I think this is Connecticut’s year. I am going with the Whale in this one. On paper, I think they’re the better, more complete team.

Minnesota (and Leveille) will be a tough test for the Whale, but Connecticut just has too many weapons. They create chances and score goals in so many ways. I expect them to do more of the same today and come out of this one with a 4-2 or 5-2 win, if they pot an empty-netter.