Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 2 - the Sound of Winter

Four big games last weekend! We hear from Emma Woods, Venla Hovi, Taylor Accursi, Anna Kilponen, Carly Jackson, and Allison Attea to help us recap it all!

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Hear that? It’s like the sound of winter, and skates cutting through the ice in an empty rink. For the first time this upcoming weekend in Season 8, we will have games on consecutive weekends. By the way, with only four games on the schedule last weekend, it was nice to have them spread out so nice so we could watch them all, right?! Crazy concept, I know. What a great weekend of games that treated us to some fast, fun, and furious hockey from Friday ’til Sunday. I think as each week goes by the action is going to ramp up a notch and this upcoming weekend should be no different.

I’ll shut up now. A lot happened and I spoke with a lot of people over the last seven days so let's get to it. Thanks to all of our readers at The Ice Garden, everyone who has reached out to me privately, or in person, to thank me for what I do, and thanks as always to my teammates at TIG, and the players and coaches throughout the PHF. Without you all, I would never be able to pull this off. The holiday season can be tough for a lot of folks, myself included, so I hope everyone out there, no matter where you are, has a great Thanksgiving.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Before the second week of games started on Friday night the weekend series between the Buffalo Beauts/Connecticut Whale was postponed due to the massive storm that passed through and lingered in western New York. Even if the Beauts had somehow made it out of Buffalo, heading back home could have been dangerous as well. With a seven-team league, there will be multiple opportunities for the games to be made up down the line.

1.1* Silver lining of the postponement is now perhaps the games will air on ESPN+, like all games should be, and not on Livebarn where the games in Milford would have been. There has been no confirmation yet but I think we assume that the made-up series will now take place in Simsbury where the Whale’s home games will be this season.

The negative in all of this is that the Beauts will have to wait until Dec. 10-11 to play their third-fourth games of the season. Just like last season, their early season schedule includes way too long of a gap. For the Whale, they’ve still only played one game and will be back on the ice on Dec. 3-4 when they visit the Montreal Force. Connecticut’s home opener will now be on Friday, Dec. 9 when the Minnesota Whitecaps come to town for a two-game set.

2* Prior to the cancellation I spoke with Beauts defender Allison Attea - the lone Buffalonian on their roster for the PHF’s 8th Season. She scored her first pro goal in Buffalo’s 3-2 win over Montreal, a nice way for the hometown kid to kick off her second season in Beauts blue.

“I was 100% in to play for the Beauts for another season. My first season, I loved it - the team, the coaching staff, and just playing in my hometown has been such a special experience for me,” Attea said via phone last week. “When they contacted me and said they were interested in having me back for a second year there was no doubt in my mind that I would take that opportunity.”

“It’s been a very memorable experience (playing at home in front of my family). My senior year in college (Holy Cross) was a covid year and my parents weren’t able to make it to any games/no spectators,” said the 19th overall pick in the 2021 Draft. “Being able to have my parents, friends I grew up with, former coaches in the stands and supporting me as a Buffalo Beaut - it has been a really special experience.”

2.1* Attea’s goal was one of five scored by Buffalo defenders during their opening weekend, so I asked if that was a point of emphasis - having the D shoot as much as possible.

“A lot of our drills will have the D walking to the middle of the blueline and shooting (from there). Aiming for a stick or shooting for the net if there is a good screen. I think we showed that in our games this past weekend.”

So were you shooting to score at that moment, or are you looking for a tipped shot in front of the net?

“Usually, I’m shooting for a deflection or redirection, but at that moment there wasn’t anyone in front and I was just hoping to get the puck in the net,” she said with a laugh.

3* On Saturday I was able to attend my first game of the regular season, taking in the Metropolitan Riveters' home opener against the Toronto Six. Hockey first, then I’ll get to the other stuff. The game was really good. A little rugged and inconsistent with some of the calls on both teams, but overall it was a fun game that featured nine goals and a few lead changes as well.

Riveters forward Sarah Bujold was a mega-star. I mean, she did it all. Breakaway goal (shorthanded), a power-play goal, a primary assist, firing shots from every conceivable angle (six shots on goal). The Rivs have been desperate for some consistent scoring from players other than nos. 14 and 10, and they may have found it in Bujold, who popped in two more goals the next day!

Wily vets Madison Packer and Kelly Babstock also had two goals in Saturday’s game that saw the Riveters rally from being down 2-1 about midway through regulation and run away with a 6-3 win that also saw them chase Elaine Chuli from the Six crease. While Packer’s final goal was deposited into an empty net, the Rivs beat Chuli five times on only 18 shots. Something that their Head Coach also picked up on.

3.1* “Our offense putting up six goals and not having a lot of shots, that was our best defense today. There are things we really need to clean up for tomorrow - that’s pretty evident,” Venla Hovi said after her first win as Riveters coach (she’s also the first Finn to win a game as a Head Coach in PHF history), “and we have to stay away from the box, that is something I mentioned. We need to play better on our angles and put our sticks on the puck and not take penalties.”

“If you score six goals, most likely you’ll win. It always gives them confidence. We have a lot of players coming from overseas and they may not be used to this pace yet, (but I think) they have the ability to play (this way), they might not know it yet themselves. So being able to beat a good team like Toronto (should) give them a little more confidence.”

4* On the other side of things, Toronto had this game in their hands and they sorta let it slip away. Too many penalties for sure, and five of them were of the body-checking variety. Again, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the calls made, but those are things that teams have to battle through. At the end of the game, each team had taken six minors and each team had one power-play goal.

But between the middle of the second period and the opening minute of the third period, the Riveters scored four consecutive goals. “I thought our first few shifts were good, and we had momentum going in our direction. A little bit of inconsistency with the refereeing, but those are things you have to deal with,” Toronto’s Head Coach Geraldine Heaney told ATR after the game.

“Their goalie played well, but we missed a couple of wide-open nets. She played the puck a couple of times and her back was to us, open net, and she stops it without looking. Those are the lucky bounces that they got and unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize on them,” added Heaney. “That’s part of the game, we talked about it, we just have to fight through it.”

“The Riveters sacrifice a lot, block a lot of shots, and collapse in front of their goalie; they made it hard for us to get our shots through.”

4.1* The next day Toronto rebounded nicely, never trailing in the game, and turned a 2-2 game after two periods into a 5-2 victory. The Six may have lost some offense this off-season, but they added some too in Brittany Howard and Leah Lum (2 goals each this weekend) who are proving to be great signings already. Oh and don’t forget they have scoring dynamos like Emma Woods as well - all she did was score a goal in each game and finished the weekend with four points.

“We knew this team was going to be physical, they always are, it’s (always) a gritty game when you play against the Riveters. We want to come up to their level and hopefully play a little bit of a cleaner game tomorrow,” Woods told us after Saturday’s game. “They’re always a gritty team. Little stuff behind the play, it is what it is - and it’s fun to play those games. But that is definitely their type of game.”

4.2* In Sunday’s game Carly Jackson started her first game for the Six (after making her debut in Saturday’s third period), and made 25 saves to pick up her first win for her new squad. Late in the second period, we saw a bit of controversy as Jackson made a save while her team was shorthanded and then had four bodies crash her crease simultaneously. The referee ruled that the puck had entered the net, but on the broadcast, we never saw an angle that confirmed this.

The play went to video review and after an uncomfortably long look at it from various angles, it was deemed to be a good goal. Unfortunately, we aren’t at a place yet where the PHF has cameras in the back of the net or in the corners of the rink consistently, and sometimes because of that, there will be situations like this from time to time.

“It never crossed the goal line, even when I was pushed into the net. So that was a hard one to swallow,” Jackson told me via text Sunday night. “But the puck doesn’t lie - so I was pretty happy when we scored three in the third!!”

4.3* I’d like to offer my condolences to Sarah Steele (who played 24 games for the Six during their first two seasons) and her family. Her brother Michael recently passed away, and I can’t imagine what the family is going through. I’ll keep your family in my thoughts.

5* Okay, now to the other stuff. It was definitely a different experience seeing a real and not an exhibition game in a shopping mall. As I’ve said here, and in other places - numerous times, it wouldn’t have been my first choice - but it wasn’t my choice and I hope it works out. The players enjoy it, and that’s enough for me because their voices and desires are way more important than mine.

There was definitely an uptick in signage in the mall, and multiple signs pointing toward the rink with the Riveters’ logo on them. The schedule is also on one of the walls leading to the rink. They did a great job of being organized for the media - a sign-in sheet, press passes, a work area with ample space, seating, and electrical outlets. Plenty of staff around to help those who needed anything/had questions. The seating around ice level/against the glass had a rope behind them and staff around to help fans who paid, but you also had the option of not paying and just standing behind those chairs to catch a glimpse of the action.

There was merchandise for sale, which was awesome. But there were sweatshirts with the Riveters logo and the words ‘Women’s Pro Hockey’ underneath. I mean, wasn’t this the whole point of changing the NWHL to the PHF? There was New York Islanders and New York Rangers merchandise directly next to the Rivs merch, and it didn’t say ‘Men’s Pro Hockey’ under their logos…

On the glass itself, there were snowflake stickers (we are about a month or so away from Dec. 25), not particularly ideal - no doubt. But it’s also a mall, and the holidays are coming, and the next Riveters home game isn’t until Jan. 7 so maybe they’ll be gone by then. There were definitely more people there than I anticipated, or maybe the usual family and friends were spread out more than they would be in a usual rink? Sunday’s game, by all accounts, was a lighter crowd but there was also an NFL game next to the mall, and the second Rivs-Six game started at noon (the mall opens at 11 am).

Saturday’s game (and Sunday too) was tough with the sunlight. After pregame warmups, I actually walked back to my car to get my clip-on sunglasses because it was so bright, and with a cloudless sky the sunlight was unrelenting and beaming through the glass ceiling into our faces on that side of the rink. If it bothered me I would assume it may have bothered a player or two as well. You can see some pictures from the day on my Twitter and we’ll discuss the experience on the next PHFuture Considerations podcast (possibly recording between games this Saturday).

Watching the broadcast on Sunday was pretty tough, to be honest. The camera angles are less than stellar, and at times it seemed as if this was their first time shooting a hockey game. Too often the puck was along the near wall and we had no idea what was happening because the camera is unable to pan down at that angle. Let’s keep in mind that broadcasting a game wasn’t likely a part of the plan when the mall and rink were designed.

5.1* Here’s what the players I spoke with had to say about the experience.

Emma Woods: “There are definitely a lot of factors involved and things you have to adjust to. It was hot, and that kind of gets you in the game a little bit. A lot of distractions, but at the end of the day we have to focus on what is going on on the ice. I think when you’re in the game you don’t even notice that you’re playing in a mall.”

Anna Kilponen: “We had a good energy going all game long. I love playing here at home, and it was a good crowd too! It’s fun to play and score goals. You get used to it, and like you said once you’re on the ice you are just focused on the game. It’s all about hockey.”

Carly Jackson: “It is such an interesting setup, fun place though, and a lot of eyes on the ice, which is cool.”

6* In the other weekend series one team welcomed back (to the league and their team) a few players you may have heard of. Ahead of the games in Minnesota, the Boston Pride signed forwards Lexie Laing and Taylor Accursi and defender Taylor Turnquist to PTOs for the weekend with forwards Loren Gabel, Becca Gilmore, and Élizabeth Giguère on duty for Team USA and Team Canada.

Turnquist and Laing each played for and won the Isobel Cup with the Pride in 2021 and both played last season for the Whitecaps. Accursi is Buffalo’s all-time leader in goals, points, and points in a single season. All three appeared in both games as Boston burned six of their available ten PTOs for the season. It will be interesting to see if one or more of them sign for the remainder of the season. If I had to guess, without asking around yet, I’d say the most likely would be Turnquist as the Pride only have five active defenders with Lauren Kelly on Long Term IR.

6.1* In the games, Boston triumphed twice, 2-0 in the series opener, then 5-4 in overtime the next day - keeping them undefeated on the season and the Whitecaps winless. Of the new trio, only Laing registered a point (an assist on the GWG Friday).

On Friday, the Pride kept the majority of Minnesota’s chances to the outside or interrupted passes trying to set up a teammate. Saturday was a bit of a different game. The Whitecaps blew 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but then showed real spirit when they rallied to tie the game at 4-4 after Boston scored three straight goals to take a 4-2 lead.

Minnesota gained their second point of the season, but also found their second overtime loss in four games when Sammy Davis abruptly ended the game 58 seconds into the extra frame. Davis started the scoring Saturday for her team, but bigger than either goal (for me) was the slap shot by Olivia Knowles that she blocked by absorbing the puck into her body with about three minutes left in regulation. The Pride are all-in again this season, and probably have one of the deepest team’s in the league on paper. But when scoring stars like Davis are blocking shots like that - they are gonna be really tough to beat.

7* The Pride are out here collecting Taylors like Thanos collected Infinity Stones! Perhaps Friday’s game was the first time in history that a team played four players with the same first name? Taylor Wenczkowski, Taylor Turnquist, Taylor Accursi, and Taylor House all have different nicknames thankfully as no. 95 told us Tuesday night.

“There were four! When in doubt, just say ‘Taylor’ and you’re good,” a laughing Accursi told ATR via phone on Tuesday night. “Before we even ran into any issue Coach was like ‘hey Taylor’, obviously referring to me - is there a nickname you prefer? So I said you can just call me Curs; he thought that was perfect, so that was what he stuck with for me for the weekend. Everyone has nicknames more or less, I think Turnquist was the only Taylor going by Taylor, but everyone else had a nickname I believe.”

7.1* Accursi is one of many players in the PHF that has always gone out of her way to make time for me (which she knows I immensely appreciate) so I returned to favor because I felt it was important to hear where she is at and what the future holds for her in this space. The PHF is a better place when it has people like her as a part of it. While I’m still confused as to why the Beauts wouldn’t bring back their captain/all-time leading scorer, and why Toronto or Montreal seem to have zero interest in her services - I was ecstatic to see her suit up for Boston this past weekend.

“What does the team need? I’m just happy to be here. That was definitely different, but better than nothing, for sure,” Accursi told me about the whirlwind week she had - flying to Boston on Tuesday to practice a few days with the team before they headed to Minnesota for the two-game set. She was also playing an unfamiliar role. Obviously usually she is looked to for offense, but this weekend it was more just focusing on the little aspects and details of the game and giving the Pride’s top players a breather. So how did things end between the two sides?

“I spoke with Coach (Paul) Mara and (GM) Maddie (Rigsby) - they said we appreciate you coming out and helping us while we were shorthanded, and in the future, if we have any injuries or we are short again, we will definitely be calling you. That’s where we left off, open-ended almost, and I figured as much. These teams all have full rosters (at this point).”

“My mentality this whole time, once I found out (late in the summer) that I wouldn’t be back in Buffalo, is when I’m on the ice to just enjoy it as much as I can,” Accursi went on to explain. “I definitely miss that feeling of being a part of a team. Obviously, I have a team at work, but being so used to the way Buffalo did things and seeing how differently Boston does things, it was great; and I was grateful for the opportunity. I’m definitely open to more of them (down the road).”

7.2* She didn’t add to her career point total, which is currently 13th all-time (53) but she did have a big blocked shot late in Saturday’s game (yeah we’ll forgive that turnover since you blocked the shot). “At the end of the day, they were able to get two wins, so that’s great. And I was on for zero goals against, and that’s even better,” Accursi added with a chuckle. “Love when that happens!”

“If I get an opportunity in a more regular role somewhere, my game is going to get back to where I left off. I’m 2-0 now this season and maybe I’ll get a chance to add to that later in the season.”

8* The amazing shutout streak of Boston’s Corinne Schroeder continued this weekend as she notched her third consecutive donut in Friday’s win. Her streak ended the next day at a total of 183:15 which is truly remarkable, talk about being locked in to start the season! Perhaps more impressively - as if three shutouts in a row wasn’t impressive enough - is that each shutout came against a different team (Whale, Riveters, Whitecaps).

8.1* On the flip side it’s hard to believe the Whitecaps are still winless. They’ve been close, but ultimately they need more offense to help out Amanda Leveille. More than a handful of their players are still looking for their first point of the season and that is really holding them back right now; Leveille has a point before eight of her teammates. They’ll have a chance to right the ship when they welcome the Riveters to town in two weeks.

9* Only two sets of games again this weekend and they’re both fantastic matchups with their own storyline. The Montreal Force will play their first home games when they host the Riveters - I can’t wait to see the atmosphere and excitement there (and hopefully those red-wine-colored jerseys!). Then our first BIG games of the season take place in Boston when the Pride and Six tangle in a battle between the top-two teams in the standings. Toronto probably still has a sour taste in their mouths with how last season ended.

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: Kati Tabin (T6), Sarah Bujold (MET), Anna Klein (MIN)

PHFirst points: Sarah Bujold (MET), Anna Kilponen (MET), Fanni Garát-Gasparics (MET), Anna Klein (MIN), Aneta Tejralová (BOS), Lexi Templeman (T6)

PHFirst win: Rachel McQuigge (MET), Venla Hovi (MET)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

This is the part where I try to explain more about how dominant Sarah Bujold was this weekend against Toronto. Her final stat line for the weekend: 2 power-play goals, 2 shorthanded goals, 1 assist, 10 shots on goal, two penalty minutes, 8-3 on face-offs.

Both of her goals on Saturday broke a tie to give the Riveters a lead, and on Sunday each of her goals tied the game for her team. Her five points this season are tied for second in the PHF scoring race behind Toronto’s Brittany Howard. I know it’s early but I have been thoroughly impressed with Bujold in all three games - she’s clearly been the team’s best player.

Notable Quotable

“I still have a love for the game, if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t keep playing. I also have a lot of pride for the Toronto Six. I’ve been here since the first year and there are things that we want to accomplish with this organization. As long as I want to keep playing hockey I’m going to stay here until we can accomplish those. I think we built a pretty good team this year and each season we are building off of the last. I’m excited to see what we can do this year.” — Toronto’s Emma Woods on why she returned for a third season with the Six.

Notable Quotable II

“Yeah, I got the puck after the game. It’s currently on my dresser. Toni (Matzka) and Maddie (Truax) are my two roommates and they also got their first PHF goals this weekend too, so that was a lot of fun coming back here and talking about it all. It was just really exciting for all of us.” — Beauts defender Allison Attea has a lot of first-pro goal pucks in her house currently.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Sarah Bujold (MET): 5 points (4g-1a), 2 PPG, 2 SHG, 10 SoG

Is this the onset of Bujold’s ascent to superstardom and becoming the face of the Rivs? Seeing her skills on display Saturday was a nice treat for fans who attended the home opener and likely walked away very impressed. I know I was. Then she did it again on Sunday.

** Emma Woods (T6): 4 points (2g-2a), PPG, 9 SoG

Over the course of the short history of the T6, a lot of the focus (and rightly so) has been on Shiann Darkangelo, Elaine Chuli, and Mikyla Grant Mentis. But maybe we should all be paying more attention to the Uber-talented Woods, who is also an OG T6. She was phenomenal in both games and if she continues to skate alongside super rookie Brittany Howard they could prove to be as formidable as any duo in the PHF.

*** Sammy Davis (BOS) 2 points (2g), GWG, 11 SoG, 3 blocks

The no. 1 pick in the 2020 Draft not only netted the first game-winner of her professional career but as I detailed earlier the shot that she absorbed to help preserve the tie and send the game to overtime was ginormous. I’m sure that Davis, a two-time Cup winner already had the respect of her peers, but that unselfish, team-first, sacrifice of her body likely added to that.

Did You Know?

Currently, the top-three scorers in the league all play for the Six. Brittany Howard (6 pts), Emma Woods (5 pts), Leah Lum (5 pts). Tereza Vanizova (4 pts) is tied for fifth.

Boston’s penalty kill remains perfect, now 7-for-7 through four games this season with Toronto’s dangerous offense coming to town this weekend.