Congratulations PHF fans! You made it to September, and we are closer to the start of Season 8 than we are to the end of Season 7. When does Season 8 start? We don’t know exactly yet - Release the Schedule! - but the six, err, seven teams are getting ready to compete for the Isobel Cup and their rosters for the upcoming season are nearly completed - whether they announced all of their signings or not.
It may only be the first weekend of September, but I have been thinking about each of the seven teams ahead of the season, and expectations, and found (and also tried to limit myself to) one burning question or topic for each squad at the onset of their training camps.
We’ve seen expansion teams do well in this league before - the Whitecaps won the Cup in their first NWHL season, and the Toronto Six has been atop or near the top of the standings during their first two seasons. So should we expect the same from the Force?
Le tour de Force : la Force de Montréal cible jouer dans sept communautés québécoises pendant leur saison inaugurale.— PHF (@PHF) August 31, 2022
The Montreal Force aim to play in seven communities across Québec during their inaugural season. pic.twitter.com/zOGXljKTdq
Well as of now, they don’t even have a coach, which should be remedied sooner rather than later! They also don’t have a home rink, as in they don’t have a consistent home rink they’ll be playing in. Is it an advantage or disadvantage that they will play their games in seven different rinks from the one that they will train in and practice in? Time will tell I guess.
The roster is obviously loaded with talent: Ann-Sophie Bettez, Brooke Stacey, Kristina Shanahan, Alyssa Holmes, etc., no one is questioning that. But how quickly will they be able to get on the same page and come together as a group? That will be the biggest question I have about the PHF’s newest franchise when they begin their inaugural season.
In their first two seasons, the Six have a stellar regular season record of 20-4-2. However, in the playoffs, they have a fugly record of 0-2, and they were outscored 11-3.
So here’s where I’m at - and a lot of their fans probably are too - they could go 20-0-0 this season, but we’re all just waiting to see how they perform in the playoffs. As of press time, Toronto has seven players signed who have been a part of the franchise since day one - so you know that the sting from those two playoff losses is still strong for them.
They will have eight or nine new players on the team, and hopefully, they can help erase those bad memories and create some better ones. I feel pretty confident that they’ll be a competitive bunch again this season. How will they perform in the postseason? That’s the biggest question I have when looking at the Six roster.
Now entering their fifth season in the league, the Whitecaps are looking to return to the Isobel Cup Final - a game they took part in during their first three seasons. Last season they were besieged by injuries and finished with their most disappointing season to date. Perhaps because of those two factors, or some other reason we haven’t figured out yet, this season’s edition of the team will look a lot different.
There are still a few holdovers left - and outstanding ones like the oft-underrated Jonna Curtis and the best goalie in PHF history, Amanda Leveille. But there are a lot of new, talented players in the mix now like Sidney Morin, Olivia Knowles, Liz Schepers, Natalie Snodgrass, and Denisa Křížová.
Minnesota will have a new look behind the bench as well with Ronda Engelhardt taking over as the full-time Head Coach after splitting the duties with the legendary Jack Brodt the past four seasons. The biggest questions here are - can they play well enough in front of Lev, and limit the number of shots she faces, while also creating a new identity without names like Brodt, Thunstrom, and Morrison around?
After earning a trip to the Isobel Cup Final during their first four seasons, the Beauts have scuffled near the bottom of the standings during the previous three seasons. Buffalo had maybe the most interesting off-season as they retooled their roster (again), in hopes of climbing out of the PHF’s basement.
With top-flight additions like Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Kassidy Sauvè, and returning pillars Autumn MacDougall, Cassidy MacPherson, and Dominique Kremer, the Beauts are primed for a big season. The tandem of Sauvè and (a healthy) Lovisa Berndtsson in net should see fewer shots with a better offense in front of them than we’ve seen in western New York the past three years and they should be one of the best tandems in the league.
I have two big questions as I look at their roster today. How high can they climb in the standings and can they win a playoff game, or two? The talent is there, now they just have to find a way to translate that into wins.
The Rivs have been mired in mediocrity since winning their first and only Isobel Cup back in Season 3. Their first three seasons showed the evolution and growth of the franchise, culminating with the Cup win. But since then? It’s been a sandwich of failure and disappointment. Mediocrity.
I absolutely love this! He did amazing job. Again! https://t.co/DOHh7WfbOp— Eveliina Mäkinen (@EveliinaSuonpaa) September 5, 2022
They’re hoping that all changes in Season 8. With the least amount of returning players (only three), there could be a lot of growing pains and ‘hello my name is’ name tags to start the season. It’s obviously a talented roster with loads of international talent - on the ice and behind the bench. Hard to believe: only captain Madison Packer remains on the roster from the team that raised the Cup back in March of 2018.
But what is a realistic expectation at this point for a team that has seven new players (who previously played in the league) and eight newcomers to the PHF? Much like the Beauts, the Riveters are looking to climb the standings and much like the Whitecaps, the Rivs are hoping to create a new identity (again). Who are they? That’s my biggest question I guess.
The Whale is the lone remaining Founding Four team that has yet to win an Isobel Cup, but last season they came oh, soclose. This season is Cup or bust for that group, a group that will largely look the same when they take the ice for Season 8. I believe they will have about 13 returners once we get to the start of training camps, which could be the most in the PHF.
Added to that talented group are a few familiar faces, forward Kateřina Mrázová and goaltender Meeri Räisänen - who both played for the team in Season 4, and gritty defender Emma Keenan - who played for Buffalo last season and won an NCAA title alongside fellow new Whale forward Caitrin Lonegan.
There is a lot to like about this group in Connecticut. They’ve taken the long (and winding) road to get to this point after seven seasons, and will likely be my pick to win it all this season. The biggest question I have is this: will there be any hangover from last season’s excruciating loss to Boston? It seemed like it was their destiny to win and send captain Shannon Turner into retirement as a champion, can they ramp it up all over again starting from zero and get all the way back to the ICF again?
With three Cups in seven seasons, the Pride are clearly the cream of the crop in the PHF. I’m not going to sit here and ask if they can withstand being the hunted, or taking every team’s best shot. They’ve proven that time and again. They reloaded already: adding one of the PHF’s most talented skaters in Allie Thunstrom AND added two of the best collegiate players in Corinne Schroeder and Élizabeth Giguère, AND one of Czechia’s best players in defender Aneta Tejralová.
Oh, that’s in addition to re-signing budding stars Kali Flanagan, Taylor Wenczkowski, Sammy Davis, Christina Putigna, and McKenna Brand. And so on, and so on. The Pride haven’t revealed their entire roster, but I do believe I know who most (if not all) of them will be.
(You should be reading Around the Rink in the PHF on this very website!)
That leaves only one question: Can they make history, again, and Three-peat? Sounds like Season 8 is going to be Must-See TV to me.