Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 12

This week we spoke with a pair of second overall draft picks - Kayla Friesen & Emilie Harley - during our road trip. Plus, an OG Riv returns, while a former Riv got her 1st pro goal.

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

It was so good to actually be back at a rink again this past weekend! Scheduling and life prevented that from happening for a few months, but I should be at one-two games per weekend until the playoffs start. Once again, thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for your openness, time, and assistance when I piece these columns together. Also, a special thanks to my teammates at TIG and everyone who reads these, shares them, comments about them. I, and we appreciate it.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Immediately after our last column, the PHF dropped a series of rule changes for the remainder of the season. All teams are now eligible to sign up to two players from other pro leagues and spend an additional $10,000 above the $300,000 existing Salary Cap. Rosters also have been increased - from a maximum of 25 to 26, and teams are allowed to dress 18 skaters instead of 17. They have until March 14, which is when rosters will be frozen, and no more free-agent additions and PTO contracts will be allowed.

With expansion on the horizon - both for teams (six to eight) and for the salary cap ($300,000 to $750,000) - my first reaction to the most recent news was that maybe this was a path for possible players on the fence to sort of test the waters or take the PHF for a test drive (play a few weekends and go to Florida at end of March). Interesting strategy if so. Was it designed to lure Olympians? Maybe, maybe not. But I doubt they’re coming. Especially with the likely formation of another league also on the horizon.

At the end of the day, more roster spots and more teams, and more audiences being reached, and so on and so on - it's all good for the growth.

PHF announces roster expansion, salary cap details

1.1* If you read ATR a few weeks back you would’ve known we reported that defender Kiira Dosdall-Arena was on the verge of returning to the Metropolitan Riveters - the team she has played for in each of the past six seasons. On Feb. 24, they made it officially official when they announced she has signed with the Rivs for the remainder of the season. Quite the boost for their blueline as they head towards the 2022 Isobel Cup playoffs in Florida.

Over the past six seasons, Dosdall-Arena has played in 83 regular-season games (4g-22a), eight playoff games (one goal), won an Isobel Cup (2018) and played in an All-Star Game (2020). The Riveters now have eight defenders, 11 forwards, and two goalies on their roster.

The new mom made her season debut against the Toronto Six this past weekend and picked up an assist. Dosdall-Arena has now joined teammate Madison Packer, Connecticut captain Shannon Doyle, Boston captain Jillian Dempsey, Buffalo defender Elena Orlando, and Boston defender Kaleigh Fratkin as the remaining players who have played a game in every NWHL/PHF season.

2* A few weeks ago we asked a couple of players if they watch PHF games on their off weekends. I also posed that same question to Connecticut Whale forward Emma Vlasic last week: “When I can, I’ll watch the other games. Brooke Wolejko was on our team last season, and I’m good friends with her, so I’ll try to watch the Riveters when I can.”

“I watched the Toronto games against Minnesota a few weekends ago. I like to watch hockey - PHF, NHL, or my brother (Alex Vlasic) at the NCAA level - I’m just a fan in general,” said Vlasic. “Whatever game is on I’ll be watching if I can in between our practices.”

3* Real talk: it was weird not being at either of the Riveters’ home games this past weekend. I believe they were the first regular-season Rivs home games that I wasn’t covering in-person dating back to Season 1. Time to start a new streak. A combination of things led to the decision to go to Boston instead for the weekend, and it was a great experience checking another rink off the personal checklist in the PHF/NWHL. I had been to the All-Star Game in Boston just over two years ago but never was there for a real game.

The rink in Boston was packed, which was nice to see and something I haven’t seen at home here in New Jersey (and definitely not in Connecticut) in a few seasons. For the majority of the first period, it seemed like there was a stream of people still coming in. It was cool to see that a lot of the crowd was middle-aged people. Yeah, there were some parents, grandparents, and youth teams there, too. But it was much more of an adult vibe than I’ve seen at NWHL-PHF games in some time; probably since the season the Rivs won the Cup and it was SRO.

Also, a bonus for me after making the trek - the game was great theater. The visiting Beauts sprinted out to a 3-0 lead before the Pride found their bearings, made a goalie change from Lovisa Selander to Katie Burt and roared back to win 4-3, scoring the winner with less than two minutes left in regulation.

3.1* Props to the K-Vink Mafia - they were LOUD and proud on Saturday night and pretty much changed the vibe in the rink as soon as the game started. It was great to see, was all in good fun, and it’s definitely an element that PHF games haven’t had compared to AHL/NHL games I’ve been to. They were fun, but not over the top belligerent or mean to anyone. I loved that they traveled to see the Beauts play on the road. Great suggestion by my podcast co-host Eleni on Twitter: now taking applications for 3-5 rowdy, adult fans, any gender, to be as obnoxious as possible at all Pride home games next season. The next marketing step should be developing adult fan bases that will support the PHF, its players, and spend money!

If you read The Ice Garden on the regular you’d know that my colleague Angelica Rodriguez wrote about this sort of thing recently and you should check it out: The Overlooked Market in Women’s Hockey.

4* Wasn’t able to get this in last week’s column but wanted to make sure I got this out there from Beauts netminder Carly Jackson on why her team has looked like a different group since the calendar flipped to 2022. “We needed to buy into this thing together and that’s what we did. If you watch our last 4-5 games - you see people blocking shots, you see people picking each other up when they make mistakes, and that's really what it's all about,” the second-year pro told us.

“It’s not that we’re playing perfect hockey. The reality is we’re not and we never will, but I think the real difference-maker is that when one of us makes a mistake, there’s another one of us right there to pick them up. That’s a game-changer for this team,” Jackson explained. “It speaks to the culture of this team that we went through that slump and still enjoy being around each other and going to the rink every day.”

The two games in Boston very easily could have been a sweep for the Beauts and they are not going to be an easy out for any team when the scene shifts to Tampa. The two teams could meet in the playoffs and we’ll see a rematch of last weekend’s series on the last weekend of the regular season (March 19-20).

5* Thanks to ESPN+ I was able to rewatch both games of the Rivs-Toronto Six games when I got home. In the first game, I really felt like the momentum flipped towards the Six early in the third period. They gave up a goal to fall behind 3-2 before rallying back with a power-play goal + shorthanded goal in a span of just 2:06. After that, the T6 defense really clamped down and choked out the Rivs’ offense. Toronto never allowed them to get their goalie pulled for an extra attacker. The Riveters went punch-for-punch with the Six as long as they could, but in the end, the more complete team prevailed.

On Sunday, each team had two power-play goals in a penaltypalooza kinda game. Didn’t like a lot of the calls that were made by the refs in this one (13 penalties overall), and didn’t understand some of the calls that weren’t made. Also, how do they not blow the whistle when Elaine Chuli’s blocker glove was kicked off her hand? At the end of it all, Riveters forward Emily Janiga was called for hooking - it looked like more of a slew foot - and it took Toronto all of seven seconds to deposit the game-winning goal into the back of the net.

The Riveters are still getting the production from players we expected, but the rest of it has been hit or miss. They will be dangerous if they get those secondary scorers on the board early in a playoff game.

6* How good do you think the goal on Saturday felt for Toronto Six defender Saroya Tinker? First pro goal, against her former team, after everything that happened last year. The only thing that could have made it better for her - it was the game-winner - but it was a crucial part of their comeback win. By the way - earlier in the season we saw Toronto run away from everyone with little resistance the rest of the games. This past weekend, they showed they can win by coming from behind, or in a back-and-forth type of game.

7* On Saturday Boston’s Kayla Friesen netted her first goal since….the last time I saw her play in person back on Nov. 14. Coincidence? Definitely. The second-year forward missed some time with an undisclosed injury and went six games without a goal until she found the back of the net. Since her return, Friesen has been on a line with McKenna Brand and Christina Putigna and in the first game vs. Buffalo, they really got the comeback going with a pair of goals.

Friesen’s goal brought the Pride back within one goal, and it was noticeable that it gave her an extra pep in her step for the rest of the night. “McKenna made a great play, kinda between the red line and the far blue line to tie that girl up and let the puck just sit there. I was able to pick it up with speed into the zone and I saw Tig (Putigna) coming down the far side - I thought she was gonna shoot once I gave it to her (but she passed it back to me) and I almost missed the puck,” Friesen explained. “But it was a nice give-and-go, it was perfect.”

“I think we’re still trying to figure out what's best for the team (as far as lines and pairs go), and today it finally paid off,” she told me after the game Saturday night. “I know McKenna and I hadn’t scored in a while, so we kinda got the monkey off our back there. We’re starting to click, starting to learn each other’s tendencies, and I think that will be huge for us moving forward.”

8* On the other side of that game on Saturday, Buffalo defender Emilie Harley had given the Beauts a 3-0 lead when she pulled off a snazzy spin move while protecting the puck inside the blue line, and chucked a shot towards the net that may have caught Pride netminder Lovisa Selander off-guard. That goal for Harley ended the night for the Boston goalie and was also the eighth point (4g-4a) of her rookie season.

“Honestly, I was looking for a pass but the opportunity presented itself to shoot,” she told me after the game when I asked what the strategy was on that play. “So I just needed to beat the first stick (in front of me) and get it on the net; I guess I was lucky the goalie wasn’t ready for it.”

The second overall pick in the 2021 NWHL Draft has played in every game (16) this season, is tied for third on the Beauts in points and has only taken one penalty while defending against some of the best-of-the-best every weekend while playing heavy minutes, in all situations. Seeing her play in person for the third time, Harley was impressive again; and once she gains even more confidence in her abilities at this level - Buffalo will have a powerhouse, future Defender of the Year winner on their blueline.

8.1* Stay tuned Beauts and Pride fans - we’ll have more from both Harley and Friesen in feature articles coming soon on The Ice Garden!

9* I’m still blown away that so many people cared enough to listen to our PHFuture Considerations podcast. Truly mind-bottling, thank you so much! Good news for the loyal listeners - we are scheduled to record a new episode on March 3, and likely another right before the Isobel Cup Playoffs get underway at the end of the month. Thank you again.

10* A new contender has emerged!

PHF Goal Scoring Race as March begins (14 total games left).

Allie Thunstrom (Minnesota) 15, four games left

Mikyla Grant-Mentis (Toronto) 11, four games left

Madison Packer (Metropolitan), 10, four games left

Kendall Cornine (Metropolitan), 10, four games left

Jonna Curtis (Minnesota), 9, four games left

Kennedy Marchment (Connecticut), six games left

Thunstrom thundering ahead in goal-scoring race

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! Stick taps - hopefully, the first of many.

PHFirst Goal: Saroya Tinker (T6)

Quote of the Week

“I remember sometime in March right after our season ended, my coach (at RMU) came over to me and said ‘hey the Buffalo Beauts General Manager wants to talk to you, and I think my response was: what?!?’ Haha! I had no idea that anyone even knew my name honestly, so it was pretty exciting.” — Beauts defender Emilie Harley tells us about the start of the process that led to her being the 2nd overall pick in the 2021 NWHL Draft.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Katie Burt (BOS) - she saved Boston’s butt this weekend and was a brick wall against the Beauts, first stopping all 15 shots she faced in relief of Selander on Saturday night, and then denying all 37 Buffalo shots on Sunday afternoon to finish off a perfect weekend. Burt has now inched ahead of Chuli in both save percentage (.960), and GAA (1.31) for tops in the PHF. Did the Pride just find their no. 1 goalie for the month of March?

** Emma Woods (T6) - her shorthanded goal 12 seconds into a Riveters power-play on Saturday was a back-breaker and held up as the GWG in Toronto’s comeback win. The next day she picked up a pair of assists to help the Six complete the sweep; including one on the game-winner that came with less than two minutes in regulation. Woods led her squad with nine shots on goal over the two games.

*** McKenna Brand (BOS) - her tying goal with 51.2 seconds left in the second period on Saturday night was so clutch and a huge momentum boost for Boston as they climbed out of an early 0-3 hole. Hard to believe, but that was Brand’s first goal since the opening weekend against Minnesota (Nov. 6-7). She also added an assist on the goal that preceded hers, helping Kayla Friesen snap her own lengthy goalless streak.

Did You Know?

Per the PHF, the Toronto Six need one more win or a Boston loss to secure a berth in the semifinals. The Whitecaps, Riveters, and Beauts cannot finish in first or second place and will play in the preliminary round on March 25. If the season ended today Boston would play Buffalo, and Minnesota would play Metropolitan.

Of the six PHF teams, Boston’s scoring leader (McKenna Brand, 12 points) is the lowest, which was kinda choking to stumble across. They are preceded by Buffalo (Autumn MacDougall, 13), Metropolitan (Madison Packer, 19), Connecticut (Kennedy Marchment, 19), Minnesota (Jonna Curtis, 21), and Toronto (Mikyla Grant-Mentis, 28).