Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 1

Welcome to Around the Rink!

Welcome to Around the Rink!

I’m really excited to start this column and think it’ll be the best way to share some of the cool stories that won’t make it into an article, but I’d still like to convey them to you over the course of the PHF season. As well as issues (on and off the ice) that may come up, rumors, something spicy that someone said, things of that ilk.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Here’s a funny story from Whitecaps’ star Allie Thunstrom, relayed to us prior to the season starting: about a week or two after practices started Minnesota’s new assistant coach Amber Heglund gathered the squad and asked them what is their ‘why’. Why do they play? The players were told to take some time with it, really think about it, write it on an index card and give it to her in a day or two.

So after everyone hands in their cards. Guess how many players said: to win the Isobel Cup? Not a single player. Not one! Naturally, Heglund’s initial reaction was — what the fork in the wide world of sports?! Do y’all not want to win?!?

As Thunstrom put it: “It’s ALWAYS the goal. But it’s not the WHY. We’re not happy if we don’t win, and we’re hungry to win. But there are so many bigger reasons. That’s why we work our butts off every single practice. We want to win every minute. Of every game.”

The NWHL single-season goal-scoring champion was so proud of her list, proud of her WHY, it was a very sentimental list after all. As were her teammates I bet. And then everyone is getting yelled at! Oh, to be a fly on the wall of a locker room.

“The (thought of winning the) Isobel Cup doesn’t keep me up at night,” added Thunstrom, who scored two goals on opening night in Boston. “Leaving the game better than I found it and giving kids someone or something to look forward to that’s tangible is something I think about a lot.”

Finally, Thunstrom may have had one of the best typos ever when recounting this story to us: The Isobel Cop! I definitely, probably snort-laughed when I realized it; also if there was an Isobel Cop -maybe the Cup would still have handles! Ba-dum tishhh.

2* Former Riveters’ forward Meghan Fardelman (Season 1) suited up for the Boston Pride in their preseason finale against the Toronto Six on Oct. 30. She also had her headshot taken with the squad. Will we see the Kansas-native again this season or was this just a one-off?

“I think you’ll see her again, but no official decision has been made on that front. She can still play,” a team representative said.

3* Current Riveters’ forward Mallory Rushton made a bit of history this off-season when she became the first woman to serve as a coach or assistant coach with an MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) team on April 23. Covid and border restrictions left the Amherst Ramblers with only one assistant coach left to run the bench. Rushton, a Nova Scotia native, has known people with the Ramblers her whole life, attended their games, and even dreamt of playing for them. Never imagined she’d be behind the bench one day though. It was an easy-as-pie decision when they reached out, knowing she had returned home from New Jersey and finished her quarantine.

“I honestly haven’t thought about it,” Rushton told me recently after a Riveters practice when I asked if she sees a coaching career once her playing days end. “That experience (back home) was a bit different than your typical youth hockey coaching. It was incredible, and I loved it. The only downfall was that we didn’t get to finish the season.” Eye-opening was another adjective she used (in a positive way), and as a current youth coach has been able to apply some of what she picked up there to her current gig.

The experience should have lasted longer, but unfortunately, the Ramblers had their postseason ended by covid before it even started, just like her Riveters did in February. Rushton has been coaching for two years now here in the Garden State with the NJ Colonials (last season u14, this season u10), so it wasn’t too foreign of an experience when she stepped behind the bench back home. As a silver lining, she’s been able to bond with her players about having their respective previous seasons wrecked by covid.

It also was probably pretty dang cool for her Colonials players to be able to see her play two PHF games in their home rink, Mennen Arena, this past weekend. If you can see it, you can be it.

4* In the season-opening game in New Jersey, Whale forward Emily Fluke was given a game-misconduct penalty 6:02 into the third period after connecting with a punch to Kelly Babstock’s cage following a play along the boards that saw Fluke getting smeared into the glass. Babstock received two minutes for ‘head contact’.

After the game Fluke told us that she was disappointed in herself for losing her cool in the moment. To be honest, can you blame her? We all know Babstock plays with an edge and isn’t afraid at all to get physical. Having watched it live I thought the hit was bad, but also, we all know you can’t throw hands. In my opinion, and I’m not a ref, maybe four minutes for each would have been sufficient. I will add that I don’t think it looks as bad slowed down on replay (seen below), but it was dangerous. How can any head contact penalty only be worth two minutes, but a love tap on the cage is worth getting tossed + suspended?

Fluke was suspended for Sunday’s game, but it’s my understanding that there is no way for her to appeal it. Would a Director of the Player’s Association be able to appeal this if there was one? Shrug.

“Shouldn’t have gotten myself into this situation in the first place,” Fluke lamented. “We beat ourselves today and we know that. We still think we’re the better team and we’ll prove that tomorrow. I don’t think we lost, we beat ourselves.”

To Connecticut’s credit, they survived it all and pulled out a thrilling 6-5 win without her on the ice in their rematch.

4.1* When the PHF suspended Fluke they announced it on Twitter. No press release. No email. No mention of it on their website. That’s unacceptable as a professional federation or league. I’ll have more thoughts on this aspect of things trending in the wrong way in next week’s column. I don’t want to get revved up again and take away from all that was good from the players on the ice during opening weekend.

5* As of now, the crown jewel of the PHF’s seventh season will be an Outdoor Game in Buffalo on Feb. 21, 2022, at - the same locale of the first foray into the great outdoors - Buffalo RiverWorks. This time instead of facing their Tri-State rival in the Riveters, they will play their closest geographic rival, the Toronto Six.

The last game featured a total of 13 goals between the two teams and an unforgettable, legendary four-goal performance by Beauts captain Taylor Accursi. So yeah, you better tune in to see what they’re gonna do this time.

During PHF Media Day I asked some of the Six players if they were looking forward to/excited about the game and here’s what they said.

“I’m excited, pumped. I’ve actually never played in an official outdoor game,” said Emma Woods. “Our girls are gonna be amped up for that and I’m sure our coaches are too. It will be fun for sure.”

Fellow Ontario native Lindsay Eastwood has played on ponds growing up, “It will be an awesome event. I’m sure this rink will be nicer than the local pond,” she said while grinning and added, “I’ll make sure I wear two pairs of socks that day if it’s cold out.”

Linds, it’s Buffalo. In February. It’s gonna be cold! Maybe double up on the doubling up.

6* Speaking of the schedule, a few players are confused/unhappy with how it is structured this season. Minnesota’s first four games are: at Boston, at Boston, vs. Boston, vs. Boston. Now, there is a week off in between for the Whitecaps, while the Pride will be at Connecticut for a pair of games, but I think we’d all like to see those matchups spread out a bit more.

The Riveters play eight straight on the road - spanning all of January and three weeks of February. The Beauts play two road games (in nearby Toronto) between Dec.18 and their home finale on Feb. 21., with home stands of four and five games around the Toronto trip.

We get it, with six teams and shared rinks sometimes ice-time isn’t always cooperative for everyone. But when the federation expands, and they will, we’d like to see a more balanced schedule for all. And more games. 20 seems too few.

This is just me thinking out loud, but maybe if the position of Director of the Player’s Association wasn’t vacant during the off-season it could have played out differently. Though I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure of how the scheduling is done. I am full of ideas though, and I know my colleagues are, too.

If we have seven teams how about 30 games next season, with each team playing their six opponents five times? Surely something those running the PHF will likely consider as we move forward.

7* The PHF schedule does have a free weekend where all six teams are off during a two-week gap between games on Jan. 23 and Feb. 5. Might we see an All-Star Game announced? Perhaps. Commissioner Ty Tumminia hinted during her season-opening availability to TIG that discussions are ongoing and that they hope to announce something at some point.

But as of press time, we haven’t heard anything concrete on that front. Another option perhaps - hold it following the completion of the Isobel Cup Final, as the NFL does with its Pro Bowl. We’ll see.

Let’s say they do hold one this season. Instead of having a Skills Competition with only players present at All-Star Weekend participating, here’s another suggestion, and this is one I voiced in years past with both the NW & NHL.

7.1* Each team holds a skills competition weekend (when they are off) and charge half-price admission. Some NHL teams do this (Winnipeg is one I recall for certain). Let’s find out who the fastest skater is on the Six, who has the hardest shot on the Beauts, who is the most accurate shooter on the Rivs, etc. Then invite those winners to All-Star Weekend, so we can have a true Hardest Shot, Fastest Skater, and Accurate Shooter champion. If they’re already selected, great. If not, make sure they are there.

It’s another way to have some fun with the fans, who haven’t been able to attend games from March 2019-November 2021, and yeah, maybe make a little money. Have a raffle with the winner receiving a team-signed stick or something. Let their personalities shine. Let’s see Madison Packer sniping shots with a backward hat on, or Emma Woods doing a lap with a cape flapping in the wind behind her.

8* Boston had themselves a banner weekend to start Season 7 - both raising the banner for their 2021 Isobel Cup and sweeping a two-game set against their opponent in that Cup Final, the Minnesota Whitecaps. Pride defender Jenna Rheault, who recovered from a broken wrist in Lake Placid to play in the playoffs two months later, gave us some insight into what the weekend was like at Warrior Ice Arena.

“Raising that banner was an incredible moment, especially doing it in front of a sold-out crowd. After everything we’ve been through, and it had been so long since we have gotten to see our fans,” said Rheault via phone on Tuesday night. “That moment was great. Being able to hear them cheering us; we know they’ve been there supporting us this whole journey, but to hear actually hear them again was exciting.”

“It was also really nice to have some familiar faces join us for that. Karilyn Pilch, Meg Rickard, Mary Parker, Bri Mastel…it was a really great surprise,” she added. “The team that won that Cup was unbelievable and will be hard to remake. It closes that chapter and allows us to focus on this season and the group that we have now.”

If you saw the game Saturday, it looked like they closed that chapter fairly quickly and moved onto this season with the quickness of, well a pack of lions. The Pride jumped out to a 4-0 lead and led 6-1 before winning 6-4.

“We came out with a ton of energy, were really excited and the banner had a lot to do with that. As well as the fans and our preparation, our readiness to play,” Rheault explained. “It’s great to win with big numbers, but winning 1-0 the next day really showed our resilience.”

“We lost that third period (Saturday) technically (outscored 4-2). We moved on from it, scored one goal Sunday, and then defended really well the rest of the day.”

So just how gruff was Coach Paul Mara after that third period?

“He came in (to the locker room) calm, cool, and collected like he always is,” she said with a giggle. “But he said hey - that third period, that’s not how we play. Let’s turn it around tomorrow and play how we can.”

They sure did that.

9* Welcome Back Part I - On Sunday Mariah Fujimagari picked up her first win in nearly two full years (Nov. 24, 2019) when she backstopped a Beauts 4-3 victory against the Whitecaps. It’s been a long and winding road for Fujimagari to get here (who was the NW’s EBUG in Lake Placid), and she earned the W after falling in an 0-3 hole before The Pod furiously rallied for a 6-5 victory.

Welcome Back Part II - Also on Sunday, Katie Burt picked up her first pro win since Feb. 24, 2019, in Sunday’s Pride-Whitecaps game. Burt wasn’t a part of the NWHL the last two seasons, instead plying her trade with the PWHPA, but her 27 saves on Sunday were good enough for her first PHF shutout & 12th pro win.

10* Last but certainly not least, Taylor Girard (Quinnipiac University) was thought highly enough of by the Whale that they traded with Buffalo to secure the no. 1 overall pick in the 2021 Draft to nab her. “I wouldn’t say I feel a lot of pressure,” she said when asked if she feels like she has to prove herself worthy of being chosen first overall, “I guess there’s a little bit. I want to score goals, I want to be that person that is relied upon (for offense) and make this team happy that they chose me. Honestly, it was an unreal feeling to be chosen first.”

After a month worth of practices her teammates have been impressed. Here’s Emma Vlasic’s scouting report after seeing the top pick up close and on the ice:

“She is a good player, really big, maybe our tallest player and she uses her size to her advantage. Taylor is really good with the puck and I think her shot is one of the hardest that I’ve seen. She’s clever offensively and I think that will help us produce more offense. I’ve been impressed, she definitely has added some size and speed to our lineup.”

Goaltender Fujimagari has seen Girard for over a month at Whale practices too and here’s her perspective. “Taylor is a big part of our depth this season. It’s all about the details with her, if you watch her - away from the puck - it's just her lifting up sticks, having good body position, she has great hockey IQ. She’s adjusted so quickly from college. Taylor’s really going to leave her mark (on the PHF) and I’m excited she’s on the Whale,” Fujimagari added with a laugh.

I’m not nearly as smart as Emma or Fuji, but, after seeing her twice this past weekend, I was also impressed. More so with how she responded in game two after a tough debut 24 hours earlier where not much went right for the Pod. You immediately notice how tall she is on the ice, no doubt, but she’s got some creativity and skill in that 5’ 10” frame.

10.1* “You have to make decisions quicker (here, as opposed to college) but you also have a little more time - as weird as that sounds,” Girard told TIG minutes after the Whale clinched their first win of the season. “You just have to be aware of who is with you on the ice.”

“I felt a lot more comfortable (Sunday). Yesterday we were shorthanded a lot, and it’s hard to get into a rhythm. We battled a little harder today and got to play more 5v5 than yesterday.”

Girard potted her first goal as a pro in the third period - giving Connecticut a 6-3 lead - and it ended up holding up as the game-winning goal. She also added an assist, her first pro point, earlier in the period when the Whale took the lead for good.

“It all started with how we broke out of our zone,” she said, recalling the play that led to her own goal. “Wolfy made a great drop pass to me and I was all alone. Luckily it went in; just an awesome feeling to get my first professional goal.”

Not only did Alyssa Wohlfeiler get the assist on the goal, but she also retrieved the puck out of the net for her teammate. Not sure if that counts as another assist on the scoresheet though!

“After I scored she skated over to me and yelled, ‘Oh My God! Yes!’ And then, ‘I’ll be right back!’” Girard recalled, unable to hide her smile through her mask. Chances are it will be the first of many goals she registers for the Pod.

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! 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. Lots of honors are to be expected on opening weekend so let’s get to it.

PHFirst goals: Taylor Girard (CTW), Evelina Raselli (BOS), Haley Frade (MET), Leah Marino (T6), Michela Cava (T6), Nora Maclaine (MET), Taylor Marchin (CTW), Missy Segall (BUF).

PHFirst points: Catherine Crawley (CTW), Taylor Girard (CTW), Allie Munroe (CTW), Cassidy Vinkle (BUF), Evelina Raselli (BOS), Kennedy Marchment (CTW), Leah Marino (T6), Michela Cava (T6), Missy Segall (BUF), Nora Maclaine (MET), Taylor Day (T6), Emma Keenan (BUF), Taylor Davison (T6), Jenna Suokko (BUF), Ashleigh Brykaliuk (MIN), Hannah Bates (CTW), Kristen Barbara (MET).

PHFirst shutout: Katie Burt (BOS).

PHFirst win: Mark Joslin (TOR).

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

To a team or player who shows no mercy

Boston showed no mercy in firing a total of 70 shots on goal over the two-game sweep against Minnesota this week. No Isobel Cup hangover so far for the Pride who will have the busiest opening month of all of the six teams in the federation. Four players recorded double-digit shot totals this weekend, three of them wear the black and gold: McKenna Brand (11), Taylor Wenczkowski (11), Christina Putigna (10).

Quote of the Week

“When’s the last time the Whale scored six straight goals?! I’ll tell you when - never! - Hanna Beattie’s father to me during the third period of the second Whale-Rivs game of the weekend.

The early front runner for the quote of the year, and Mr. Beattie was right by the way! Sunday was the first time in franchise history that Connecticut scored six consecutive goals in one game.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Alyssa Wohlfeiler (CTW) - not only did she score the first goal in PHF history, but the following day she posted three points (2g-1a) amidst Connecticut’s string of six consecutive goals in their 6-5 triumph over the Riveters.

** McKenna Brand (BOS) - the perennial Team USA snub potted a goal in the opener and then added another one on Sunday - the lone goal (shorthanded) in a 1-0 victory, completing a sweep of Minnesota. GET UP SHORTY! Her 11 shots on goal are tied for the league lead after the opening weekend.

*** Taylor Accursi (BUF) - after not being able to play in last season’s wannabe bubble due to her obligations as an Ontario police officer, the Blonde Bomber scored a goal on Saturday to become the Beauts franchise leader in points with 43 (27g-16a).

Did You Know?

Boston’s captain Jillian Dempsey became the first player in NW/PHF history to record 50 career regular-season goals this weekend. Dempsey, a two-time Isobel Cup champion, also became the first player to appear in 100 regular-season games.