For the fourth time in five seasons since joining the NWHL/PHF as an expansion team, the Minnesota Whitecaps have advanced to the Isobel Cup Final. With a win on Sunday over the Toronto Six, the Whitecaps would become the second team in the league after the Boston Pride to lift the Cup twice.
Minnesota won the Isobel Cup in overtime in their first season in the league (2018-19). They advanced to the championship game in their second season before the game was canceled due to the pandemic starting. In 2021 (shortened Lake Placid season) they lost to the Pride in the Cup Final and last season they were eliminated in the semifinals by the Connecticut Whale.
The 2022-23 Minnesota Whitecaps
Goaltenders: Jenna Brenneman, Chantal Burke, Amanda Leveille
Defenders: Sydney Baldwin (A), Amanda Boulier, Olivia Knowles, Patti Marshall, Sidney Morin (A), Maddie Rowe, Emma Stauber
Forwards: Jonna Albers (A), Stephanie Anderson, Sydney Brodt (C), Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Brittyn Fleming, Anna Klein, Denisa Křížová, Brooke Madsen, Ronja Mogren, Liz Schepers, Natalie Snodgrass, Taylor Wente
Head Coach: Ronda Engelhardt
Current players with their names on the Isobel Cup:
Amanda Leveille (2017, 2019), Amanda Boulier (2019, 2022), Jonna Albers (2019), Emma Stauber (2019)
This season the Whitecaps lost all four games to the Six (two in Minnesota and two in Toronto), and the all-time season series is led by Toronto 8-1. Minnesota won their inaugural matchup in 2021 via shootout in Lake Placid and the Six have won the last eight matchups; one of those came in overtime this season and twice Toronto has shut them out. This is the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs.
Here are three reasons we think the Whitecaps will win the 2023 Isobel Cup:
1. Amanda Leveille. Truth be told, I could’ve made Lev the answer for all three reasons here - but where's the fun in that?! Remember earlier when I mentioned the Whitecaps advanced to the ICF for the fourth time in five seasons? Well, Amanda Leveille is now in the Cup Final for the sixth time in her seven seasons in the league and is a two-time Cup winner (2017, 2019). The league’s all-time winningest goalie carries a crisp 9-3 postseason record (3 shutouts, 1.57 GAA, .952 save percentage) into this Cup Final.
Oh, Leveille also just dispatched the PHF’s best team this season in Boston by turning aside 77 of the 80 shots she faced. There’s an old saying - never bet against Lev, and we wouldn’t bet against her in this winner-take-all scenario. Perhaps the time off during the season due to injury was helpful in a refreshing way because in the four games since she has been back Leveille has been on point like a razor.
2. Team Defense. Do the Whitecaps have the best defense corps in the PHF? Debatable, but after the way they stymied and shut down the Pride in the semifinals - their defenders are probably currently playing the best they have all season. The pair of Sidney Morin and Emma Stauber played all of the heavy minutes against Boston and while Stauber held down the back end Morin was able to utilize her skill set to be a difference-maker.
The all-Gophers pair of Sydney Baldwin and Patti Marshall played some of their best hockey down the stretch and each plays a key role on the Whitecaps’ special teams units. Last, but not least, the pairing of Amanda Boulier (second player ever - Leveille - to advance to the Cup Final in five straight seasons) and rookie Olivia Knowles has been a great shutdown pair, and blocked five shots combined in the semis.
3. Jonna Albers. If there was an award for best player in the entire playoffs it would/should probably go to Jonna Albers whether or not the Whitecaps win on Sunday. She was the most dominant player in either semifinal series and almost singlehandedly eliminated Boston. Her stat line in the semifinals - five points/four goals in two games, two shorthanded goals, one power-play goal, one game-winning goal, and 13 shots on goal. Not. Too. Shabby.
As one of the smaller players in the PHF, no one can ever question Albers’ desire or heart and she is one of those few players in the league who is well worth the price of admission. She is the fastest player to reach 100 career points in the regular season and now has 14 points (4g-10a) in nine career postseason games - one point away from tying Boston’s Jillian Dempsey’s total of 15 points in 16 games. A safe bet is that she gets there Sunday.