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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 8 - On a Roll

Lots to get to this week, and I recruited Natalie Snodgrass, Sydney Baldwin, Amanda Leveille, and Cat Crawley to help me out!

Sydney Baldwin of the Minnesota Whitecaps Kayla Franz/PHF

Welcome back PHF fam! This past weekend the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps extended their winning streaks to four games, keeping pace with the idle Toronto Six atop the standings. Thanks for tuning in, and thanks to everyone for their help and support with this. It’s time to go around the rink!

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* If you were paying attention to the Boston-Buffalo series this weekend you noticed that there were two unexplained absences -Autumn MacDougall (Beauts) and Becca Gilmore (Pride). ATR has learned that Gilmore is no longer with the Pride because she was unable to make her schedule away from the rink work with her schedule at the rink. No word on if Boston will look to replace her now or later in the season yet. The obvious answer is maybe they just bring back Lexie Laing or Taylor Turnquist - players who won the 2021 Isobel Cup with the Pride and also skated with the team this season on PTOs.

As far as MacDougall is concerned, after barely playing in the Beauts’ series against Minnesota, the third-year forward didn’t play or make the trip with the Beauts to Boston this weekend. On Monday afternoon the team announced that she asked for and was given her release. Our best guess here is that she fell out of favor with the coaching staff. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and whatever happened there obviously couldn’t be fixed. MacDougall is a talented player and I have a feeling she may end up somewhere else before the season ends, but that’s just a gut feeling.

2* Saturday’s Beauts-Pride game got really ugly in the third period. Boston was leading 3-0 heading into the final frame and blitzed the Beauts for five goals in the period. Things really spiraled out of control in the second half of the period, when it was 6-0. Buffalo Head Coach Rhea Coad was penalized not once, but twice, for Verbal Abuse of an Official, and defenders Samantha Fieseler and Dominique Kremer were each given majors for separate incidents.

At the end of the game, there were five Beauts in the penalty box, and two in the locker room. Why weren’t they playing with that passion or frustration earlier in the game, before it was 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, or 6-0? As I said on Twitter as it was unfolding, it was tough to watch. Has the coach lost control? Why haven’t the Beauts been able to be competitive on a consistent basis? Lovisa Berndtsson has played her ass off and deserved better, but that’s hockey sometimes, unfortunately.

It feels like they are in quicksand. One thing goes wrong, and then another, and another, and they keep sinking lower. No doubt they are trying, but are they just overmatched? Is changing the majority of the roster season after season starting to show? I mean, just look at the Riveters - they’re kind of in the same boat. But at least we know what the Rivs’ identity is (more on that in a bit), what is the Beauts’ identity?

3* The PHF announced that Coad (two games), Fieseler, and Kremer (one game each) were suspended at 2:01 pm (ET) on Sunday. Not via email. No mention of it on the league website. On Twitter. The Beauts-Pride game started at 2:00 pm. I’m no genius, but I find it hard to believe that the decision was made just before game time. This isn’t professional. This is like year one stuff, not Season 8. The players, and fans, deserve better. It’s frustrating as hell when I’m at the rink for another game and people are asking me, or messaging me if there was any supplemental discipline coming down from the previous night’s game.

3.1* Another issue - if the league is having a special event, such as a neutral site game in Pittsburgh, why is it at the same time as another game? That’s not a showcase. Why not have all of your fans tuned in to watch it? Like the outdoor game in Buffalo, make it a stand-alone event. That makes less than zero sense to me, and nearly everyone I’ve spoken with as well. I don’t feel like any of these are unreasonable requests. Turns out it was a thrilling game that would have been a great marketing moment or point, but some of us didn’t see it live because we were at or watching another game.

::Looks at camera and shrugs::

4* On behalf of everyone here at The Ice Garden, and all of the PHF family, we want to send out the best wishes to Connecticut defender Mallory Souliotis who suffered a broken femur in the Whale game vs. Montreal in Pittsburgh. Mal is one of the really good ones in our space, and we’re all better for having her as a part of this league. I was crushed to hear the news, but happy to see she is in good spirits after successful surgery.

On Tuesday night in Milford, I asked Connecticut Head Coach Colton Orr if they would be looking to sign another defender, and while he said yes he also noted that it wouldn’t be easy at this time of the season. The internal replacement could end up being Kiira Dosdall-Arena, but she was unavailable for the home games against Buffalo because she is feeling under the weather.

I saw Hanna Beattie at the rink the same night and asked her if anyone with the Whale has contacted her about rejoining the team as a player (she’s currently the Director of Youth Hockey and GameDay Operations for the team). She said no, but also noted that she still skates every Sunday night in a men’s league. So if they did make the call, she would at least be in some sort of shape.

5* After starting the season 0-2-2, the Minnesota Whitecaps have gone 8-2-0 over their last ten games and find themselves firmly in third place in the PHF standings. They won’t play another game until after the All-Star Break, but when they get back on the ice in early February they will do so on a four-game win streak. Minnesota finished off a season sweep of the Riveters this past weekend and finished their road trip 4-0.

6* Leading the way this weekend (and season) were rookie Natalie Snodgrass and the oft-underrated/under-appreciated Jonna Albers. Snodgrass leads the team with 16 points (8g-8a) in 14 games and had three points (1g-2a) in New Jersey, while Albers has 15 points (8g-7a) this season and also had a three-point (1g-2a) weekend. Albers is an elite talent, and she’s shown that again this season. While Snodgrass may be a rookie in this league, that girl can play. And shoot. And score.

Natalie Snodgrass of the Minnesota Whitecaps Kayla Franz/PHF

“As a rookie, I had no idea what to expect or how I would fit in with the competition (in the PHF),” Snodgrass said after the weekend sweep. “I’ve been having a lot of success and I credit that to my linemates Jonna and Liz (Schepers). They’re great and we have a lot of chemistry. It is faster, definitely more physical; which I appreciate. I like playing a physical game and when the refs let us play. Things have been good so far.”

With eight goals and 52 shots on goal in 14 games, I had to ask the rookie sniper about her lethal shot.

“People who have scouted me, the one thing they always say is watch out for her shot. I think they tried to take it away from me, which can be frustrating,” the UConn product told us. “But I definitely take some pride in my shot, and I work on it a lot, and when it hits the net it could be a good thing.”

Similarly to Connecticut’s Taylor Girard, there has been a smooth transition and not much of a learning curve for Snodgrass who was playing for UConn at this time last season. Having seen her play in person three times now, I’ve been really impressed and excited for her future at this level.

One more thing re: Albers, she told me that she’d like to play one more season after this one, so enjoy watching her play while you can PHF fans!

Heading into the season we all wondered how the new-look Whitecaps would look and gel, and they’ve shown that they’re a formidable foe for sure. Defenders Sidney Morin and Patti Marshall already have cracked double-digits in points, and they have seemed to find a good combination of lines and pairs.

Michelle Jay

6.1* “It’s unique that a lot of us (Gophers) are on the defensive end - our goalie and 1/2 of our D. We all kind of play the same way and have that chemistry. It’s fun,” Whitecaps defender Sydney Baldwin told us. “We have a lot of (UMD) Bulldogs, Gophers; but we’re all coming together and this was a big weekend for us.”

“These two wins were huge for us. I think winning both in regulation, and today by a large margin was key,” Baldwin, who had two assists on Saturday, added. “There were definitely times or shifts where our play fluctuated a bit, which is natural in a 60-minute hockey game. But for the most part, we took care of business, played solid defensively, and kept them at or below two goals in both games. That was big for us.”

With a healthy Amanda Leveille in goal, Minnesota will always have a chance in any game they play. After a slow start to the season, everyone seems to be on the same page, and the Whitecaps will be a tough out for anyone in their way during the playoffs.

“Going into this season we had so much turnover, and the Whitecaps had been a very tight-knit group for so long, a lot of the players had been playing since the beginning of the Whitecaps. So it was tough losing some of those players who paved the way for everybody that’s playing today,” Leveille told ATR this weekend.

“Our team this season has a great leadership group and a lot of the players that were brought in already knew each other from growing up in Minnesota, so it never felt like it was a completely new team and no one knew each other. There was a little adjustment on the ice, but off the ice, everyone got along really well from the start; that’s a credit to our leadership group.”

7* Someone asked me what happened to the Riveters after their decent start to the season, and honestly, I don’t have many answers. After a 2-3-0 start, they’ve gone a head-scratching 2-8-0, including four straight home losses to start the new year where they were outscored 17-4. They’ve given up the most goals in the league (51 in 14 games), and are averaging the least amount of goals per game. Two of their four wins have come against Toronto.

“I think we were right with them all game,” Rivs forward Cat Crawley told ATR Saturday night. “We did a really good job of keeping the momentum that we had. We were getting pucks deep, tracking back, getting pucks on net, and trying to get that dirty goal. We have to continue that tomorrow.”

MInttu Tuominen, Sarah Bujold, and Fanni Garát-Gasparics of the Riveters. Kayla Franz/PHF

“Of course we’re frustrated. We have to take our mistakes and learn from them. We’re already thinking about tomorrow’s game, getting a good recovery tonight, and start looking forward to the next shift. We just have to stick to our game plan.”

Over the past few weekends the only strategy/identity they seem to have is this - throw the puck toward the net, start a mosh pit, and hope to find a loose puck that one of their players can put in the back of the net before someone takes a penalty. That’s it. They’ve tried multiple line combinations and defensive pairs, and even moved Reagan Rust to forward, but nothing is working lately. Kendall Cornine entered this season with 41 points/23 goals in 47 games during her pro career. She has two assists in 14 games, no points over the last eight games this season, and has spent time out of the top-two line rotation.

7.1* By the way, that top-two-line rotation didn’t work last season, and it isn’t working this season either. At least three Riveters never saw the ice Sunday. If you keep playing your top players and the other team is rolling four lines, eventually, your team is going to get tired, be ineffective, take penalties, or all of the above.

Fanni Garát-Gasparics and Madison Packer each have no goals over the last five games and one point apiece over the last four. Minttu Tuominen has one point/assist in her last seven games. Amanda Pelkey has no goals and just one point over her last four games.

The offense isn’t there, or consistent. If Kelly Babstock or Sarah Bujold don’t score, who else is? The only recent goals have been via a net-mouth scramble or the extremely rare breakaway. Some players are barely playing, and when they do they have no confidence to do anything because if there’s a mistake they’re stapled to the bench again.

After winning her first start with the team in Toronto, Katie Burt has dropped her last four decisions and given up at least three goals (on no more than 29 shots faced) in five of her six appearances. Like the Beauts, the Rivs seem to be stuck in quicksand. But Buffalo has 13 games remaining as I write this and the Riveters have just ten; eight after this weekend. It will be interesting to see how these games between those two play out in Buffalo.

8* In positive Riveters news, we had Kennedy Ganser on the newest PHFuture Considerations Podcast. We asked her some serious questions like what is her face-off strategy as a smaller player, and how has the transition been after playing in Buffalo last season. And we also found out if her college mascot is the coolest ever and why she wears no. 77.

9* The PHF announced the rosters for the All-Star Showcase in Toronto (Jan. 29) and I had a bunch of issues with how it all shook out. (Just have the event after the season, make it a true All-Star Game, stop copying the NHL, and using their 3v3 mini-game format. Give the fans a true game, not games). Make it a two-day event, and have an awards ceremony (with actual awards) at a banquet hall the night before the game. Just my .02.

PHF ALL-STAR ROSTERS ANNOUNCED

Anyhoo, I assembled a team of All-Star snubs to take on (and take out) the other three teams.

We’re calling ourselves: Team Leftovers

Goalie: Elaine Chuli, Amanda Leveille

Defense: Shannon Turner, Allie Munroe, Jenna Rheault, Sydney Baldwin

Forwards: Claudia Kepler, Janine Weber, McKenna Brand, Brooke Stacey, Kennedy Ganser, Sammy Davis

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! I know this is my former editor’s favorite part! Hopefully, everyone was able to get some kind of puck or plaque for their achievements, stick taps to you all - hopefully, they are the first of many.

PHFirst goals: Brigitte Laganière (MTL), Sarah Forster (MET)

PHFirst points: Ebba Berglund (MET)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

Allie Thunstrom had a monster weekend against the Beauts - four goals, six points, 17 shots on goal; oh, and an overtime game-winning goal. She now has 19 goals vs. Buffalo in her career in 19 games! That’s insane in the membrane, bananapants crazy and you can bet the Beauts are glad they don’t have to face her anymore this season.

Notable Quotables

“I think so…but to be honest, I don’t really mind it. I like flying under the radar. When you are, not there’s a lot of pressure, so it’s fine (with me). As long as I continue to perform then I’m fine. It is what it is. I just love to play the game. I’ll speak up sometimes when needed but I’m not a big rah-rah style person. That’s just not my personality, really.” — Whitecaps forward Jonna Albers’ reply when asked if she minds being overlooked as an elite player in the PHF.

“When I get the opportunity to shoot, I love to do so. This year we have a lot of offensive D, players getting involved in the play. I’m figuring out what’s needed from me this year (as we go along) but I take a lot of pride in playing in the D zone. But yeah, I like to get involved offensively when push comes to shove.” — Whitecaps defender Sydney Baldwin can use her shot as a weapon, but has also been excellent defensively this season.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Allie Thunstrom (BOS) 6 points (4g-2a), SHG, GWG, 17 SoG

After a casual four-point Saturday night during Boston’s blowout win, Thunstrom was the driving force in Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win and had both goals. I didn’t ask but I think Lovisa Berndtsson may have nightmares about facing Boston’s speedster after the onslaught of shots and breakaways she faced from no. 9.

** Ann-Sophie Bettez (MTL) 4 points (3g-1a), PPG, 9 SoG, 1 blocked shot

Montreal’s captain not only had a hat trick, the fifth in the PHF this season, but each of her goals tied the game and came just minutes after the Whale had taken a lead. Bettez has been as good as expected this season and the Force’s top line has been a problem for opponents.

*** Jonna Albers (MIN) 3 points (1g-2a), GWG, 7 SoG

On Saturday the speedy Albers’ goal early in the third period proved to be the game-winner when she snapped a shot past the Rivs’ netminder. The following day she had the primary assist, setting up both of her linemates for important goals. She may be small, but she is mighty.

Did You Know?

Jonna Albers is now five points away from becoming the third player in league history (Jillian Dempsey, Madison Packer) to crack the 100-point mark. Here’s hoping she hits the milestone at home in Minnesota in front of friends and family. Behind Albers in points: Kelly Babstock (86), McKenna Brand (84), Kaleigh Fratkin (82), and Allie Thunstrom (78). Important to note that Albers has played in fewer games than every other player I just mentioned.

Looking at the schedule, Montreal will be the first team to finish their 24 games during the first weekend in March against the Riveters in New Jersey. The following weekend (Mar. 10-12) the remaining six teams will square off and finish their regular seasons: Beauts at Riveters, Whale at Whitecaps, and Boston at Toronto. Some of those games could have meaning regarding playoff positioning, or if a team is in or out.