Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 3 - Reconsider Everything

We saw four wild games this weekend, and lots of goals. Hear from McKenna Brand, and Emma Keenan too, as we go around the rink.

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Everything you think you know about the PHF - reconsider everything!! Another wild weekend of hockey is in the books and wow, was that some great theater or what? A little bit of a change to start here - oftentimes I spend way too much time trying to compose this part of the column and I made an executive decision to scrap it. Thanks, everyone for reading The Ice Garden and following along with us. I appreciate you all.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* How cool was it to see a packed house in Montreal for their home opener? Hats off to all the fans who showed up to support the PHF’s newest franchise and hats off to Jade Downie-Landry who had the most memorable home-ice debut possible with a hat trick and two assists in the Force’s 5-3 win. The game was 2-2 heading into the final period when JDL and Ann-Sophie Bettez worked their magic in the offensive zone and combined for three goals and four points over the final 20 minutes to clinch their first victory on Canadian ice.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Force heading into the season and I have been pleasantly surprised and impressed with how they’ve been able to battle two of the PHF’s most established teams - the Buffalo Beauts and Metropolitan Riveters - to a draw. In each of their two-weekend series, they’ve won the front end but dropped the back half, something I’m sure they’ve noticed as well. But they’ve been, heh, a force to be reckoned with in the early going here, and teams aren't going to get easy wins vs. Montreal.

After four games, thirteen players have recorded at least one point for the Force. Included on that list is Brooke Stacey - she recorded her first points in the league since she had an assist in that Pride-Beauts faux series in the bubble. You remember the ‘bubble’, the one that eventually saw covid run rampant throughout 70% of the league’s players and coaches and its former commissioner deemed ‘a success’, right?

1.1* Oh, by the way, the PHF kind of announced late Friday night that Montreal forward Sarah Lefort was suspended for one game stemming from an incident back on opening weekend (Nov. 6) against Buffalo. There was no press release, or announcement really, it was in the middle of their weekend preview. Even a one-line statement on their social media channels would have gotten the message across.

2* Just like Montreal, the Riveters have been able to earn a split in each of their last two series. But on Sunday they earned it by the slimmest of margins when Kelly Babstock capped off a memorable weekend with the game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation. Babstock, who has skated for three PHF franchises over seven seasons, played in her 100th game in the league (regular season + postseason) on Saturday and picked up two points (1g-1a) and three penalties during the weekend. Three of her eight goals with the Rivs over the past two seasons have been game-winners.

The Rivs moved Babstock to center this season, and the move has paid off greatly for them thus far. Sure she took three penalties on Saturday, but on Sunday when they needed a big goal with 51 seconds left in regulation she was in the right spot, on the ice, and helped her team to a big win and a much easier trip home as well.

2.1* We can’t talk about the Riveters earning a split in Montreal without highlighting the play of Evelina Mäkinen on Sunday. She hadn’t seen live game action in a while (dating back to preseason) while Rachel McQuigge carried the load for the first four games of the regular season. She faced nine shots in each period, finished the game with 25 saves, and most of them were of the stellar variety. Mäkinen was one of the stars of the game and should definitely have earned herself another start in one of the two upcoming games in Minnesota.

It’s early, but it appears that the Riveters have found a duo in the nets that will allow them to compete with the other teams for the first time in a long time - and they also have scoring depth! Through their five games, Madison Packer has three goals (one into an empty net), and Kendall Cornine has only one assist and the Riveters have been able to go 2-2-0 after being blanked in Boston on opening weekend. Newcomers Sarah Bujold (5g/8p), Fanni Garát-Gasparics (2g/4p), and Anna Kilponen (3a) have helped to ease the burden of the Rivs returning stars.

4* I’ve said it a lot prior to the season - I felt the Six had a lot to prove this season. They’ve shown us that they are a formidable team during the first two years of their existence, but they’ve also fallen flat in elimination games (both against Boston) in each of the past two years. Color me impressed after this weekend.

Last season during their trip to Boston they were ultra-competitive in the opening game of the series, a 2-1 shootout loss, and then lost 8-2 in stunning fashion the next day. This past weekend they lost a 3-2 overtime game on Saturday night, and then after jumping out to a 3-0 lead on Sunday they saw the Pride roar back and even the game 3-3 early in the second period.

But Toronto looked adversity straight in the face, stared it down, and then potted four goals over the final 24 minutes of the game to finish the weekend with a big four points in the standings and a humongous-big character-building win. Brittany Howard (2 goals) and Leah Lum (1g-1a) - two of their big off-season acquisitions to help offset the loss of Mikyla Grant-Mentis to Buffalo in free agency - were big parts of the win, as were Michela Cava (2 goals) and former Pride forward and two-time Isobel Cup champion Tereza Vanišová (2 assists). All four of the players I mentioned weren’t on the Six at the end of last season, and all will be key as they pursue their first Cup and try to get over that Boston hump.

5* As I mentioned, the Boston Pride won the Saturday half of their matchup with Toronto, their fifth straight win to start the season and showing everyone that they are just as formidable as ever. With the collection of stars on their roster (Dempsey, Thunstrom, Fratkin, Gabel, Flanagan), and whichever all-world goalie is playing that night, it can be easy to overlook certain players like, I don’t know maybe McKenna Brand. You know, the same McKenna Brand that won the game in overtime that night.

Now in her fifth season with the Pride, Brand has seen and experienced it all with Boston. And despite the loss to the Six the next day, she believes they can benefit from a game like that. “We obviously don’t want to give up seven goals in a game,” no. 17 told us via phone on Tuesday. “But I don’t think we were going to go 24-0 so I’d rather have that learning curve or teaching moment early on so we can work out the kinks that we had in that game.”

5.1* I don’t know how many times y’all watched her overtime winner that I posted above the previous paragraph, but I watched it more than two hands worth, and every time I do I’m impressed by some other part of it. Brand showed off her hockey IQ, her instincts, and her ability to attack a play - all in the blink of an eye. Naturally, I had to ask her about the play - and her first goal of the season.

“We had the same trio out there that we had in our overtime win in Minnesota - Sammy (Davis), Aneta (Tejralová), and myself - and that gave us some confidence going into that situation, that shift; we were successful before. The trio before us, I don’t think they let Toronto change any of their three players and we changed one at a time,” explained Brand. “Sammy did a really good job to win a couple of puck battles in the corner and then I think she shot it wide into the other corner. I just picked it up and I don’t know, I just saw a lane to the net - I’ve watched it over a few times and I don’t know how I had such a lane but, I just saw it and took it.”

“(Head Coach) Paul (Mara) was telling us all day to shoot high, but I decided to shoot low and it went in,” she added with a chuckle. “I was super-relieved. Getting that first goal (of the season) out of the way is like getting the monkey off your back, and yeah, scoring in overtime, that always feels good too.”

We talked a little more about the play and she conceded that it was probably her instincts that took over to attack that lane that opened up in between the three tired Toronto defenders, and also it unfolded in slow motion for her as well.

“A little bit. I think for me, I sensed that the lane was there and just took it. But watching it back you see it and it’s kinda weird that it happened the way it did,” added Brand. “In the moment, you just take it. I think Sammy was shaded to the wide side and pulling one of the defenders toward her, and Aneta was on the blue line so they probably thought I may drop pass it to her.”

6* Maybe a bit lost in the wild scoring affair on Sunday that saw each team score three consecutive goals at least once (Toronto did it twice!), was the fact that Pride forward Allie Thunstrom scored the 50th career regular-season goal. She now has 72 points (50g-22a) in 70 regular season games; Thunstrom has yet to miss a game in 4 and 1/4 seasons. The great ones are always humble, and Thunstrom had no idea about the milestone until someone told her.

I can say with strong certainty that certain gaps in the schedule over the years have helped Thunstrom, who has been hurting more times than I can remember. There were times that if the Whitecaps, or now Pride, didn’t have an off-weekend she would not have been able to play. Kudos to a fantastic player, and better person, on a remarkable milestone of not only longevity but also top-end skill.

7* Oh, by the way, we recorded a new episode of the PHFuture Considerations Podcast this weekend in between the two games on Saturday. It’s nice when there is time to do something like that because the games are scheduled at the same exact time!

Eleni, Mike, and I discussed what had transpired so far this season, new players making an impact for their respective teams and around the league, what we’re thankful for, and of course, you’ll want to stay tuned for Eleni’s Corny List. Plus, we’re joined by former Minnesota Whitecaps goaltender and all-around awesome person Allie Morse! She told us about growing up in Minnesota watching the Whitecaps and then eventually joining them, whether or not the state could support two PHF teams, and a whole lot more.

You can find our pod anywhere you prefer to listen to them by simply searching for The Ice Garden. Leave us a comment, maybe even a five-star review if you’re in the mood! Hopefully, we can squeeze one or two more in before the start of the new year!

8* Rumor has it that the Connecticut Whale will be playing a game this upcoming weekend. Are they a new team or something? Never heard of ‘em. This Saturday and Sunday the Pod will travel north of the border for a two-game set with the Force. Also in action, this weekend will be the Riveters, who are continuing their seven-game road trip with two games against the Minnesota Whitecaps. The Rivs road trip still has stops left in Toronto (two games) and Connecticut (one game) before they flip the calendar to 2023 and host four straight games in January.

8.1* For the love of whichever deity you believe in, can we stop having games scheduled to start at the same time? I find it extremely hard to believe that the only available time slots last Sunday in Montreal and Boston were at 2:00 pm. Start one at 1:30 or 2:30. Boom, fixed. For the next two weekends the games are staggered, but after that - not so much. Stop making your fans choose between which games they would like to watch, and please maximize the number of games that they can view live and in real-time.

9* The Whale and Buffalo Beauts had yet another weekend off but here’s something from my pre-season chat with Connecticut defender Emma Keenan who played for Buffalo last season. Despite the postponed games against her old mates she already experienced playing against them in an October preseason game.

“(It was) a little weird. At one point I looked up and was slightly confused; I saw the Beauts jersey forechecking against me. For a second, I was caught off guard,” she recalled while laughing, “then I’m like no, no, no! They have a lot of new players, but it was nice to catch up with the ones I know after the game. On the ice, it’s all business, but it’s good to see them afterward.”

The rescheduled games are TBD, and Buffalo hosts Connecticut on March 4-5. She admitted the transition and matchup was easier being that she got that game against Buffalo out of the way in preseason.

“It fires you up, right,” Keenan went on to say. “You want to beat your former team. That just adds to the fun of showing up for the game and competing. But yeah, it did feel good to play them early on - and get that win.”

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: Fanni Garát-Gasparics (MET), Becca Gilmore (BOS), Christine Deaudelin (MTL), Dominika Lásková (T6), Lexi Templeman (T6)

PHFirst points: Sarah Forster (MET), Taylor House (BOS), Becca Gilmore (BOS), Minttu Tuominen (MET), Taylor Baker (MTL), Samantha Isbell (MTL), Courtney Gardiner (T6)

PHFirst win: Evelina Mäkinen (MET)

PHFirst hat trick: Jade Downie-Landry (MTL)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

Last season at this time Jade Downie-Landry was playing at McGill University. Today, JDL finds herself tied with three other players atop the PHF scoring race with 8 points (4g-4a) following her monster, five-point performance on Saturday. For any player who scores a hat trick it’s a memorable moment or game, but to do it in a new franchise’s inaugural home game? That’s just banana pants crazy.

Two of her three goals gave the Force the lead in the game, and she capped off the day with an empty-net goal late in regulation. The five-point game is tied for the second-best single-game output in league history behind only Grant-Mentis’ six-point outburst last season with Toronto.

Notable Quotable

“I’ve always been one that likes to be in and around the net. There were a couple of chances where I was able to set up my linemates, and I had a few chances, a few whacks to get one by Lev but wasn’t able to. All in all, as the weekend progressed, the dust started to fall off me and I started to feel better.” — Taylor Accursi after her two-game PTO with the Boston Pride two weekends ago.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Jade Downie-Landry (MTL): 5 points (3g-2a), PPG, 9 SoG, 23-16 on face-offs

JDL was all over the ice this weekend and has proven to be a part of one of the PHF’s most formidable duos alongside Ann-Sophie Bettez. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I love that she plays with a little spice on the ice and I’m looking forward to seeing what she will do the rest of the season, as well as seeing her in person when Montreal comes to town.

** McKenna Brand (BOS): 2 points (1g-1a), OT GWG, 5 SoG, 3 Blocked Shots

With so much talent in Boston sometimes folks forget just how talented Brand is and every now and then she reminds everyone. That is exactly what she did on Saturday night when she weaved and danced through every Toronto player on the ice and ended the overtime with her ninth career game-winning goal.

*** Fanni Garát-Gasparics (MET): 2 goals, PPG, SHG, 5 SoG, 1 Blocked Shot

On Saturday, Garát-Gasparics scored the first-ever PHF goal in Montreal (on the power play) to give her team an early lead in a game they would eventually lose. On Sunday, she gave us one of the best highlight-reel goals of the early season with a shorthanded breakaway that tied the game late in the first period. Her speed has added a new dimension to the Rivs and it was on full display this weekend.

Did You Know?

Toronto picked up their first-ever win in Boston on Sunday in their 7-3 triumph. One of their biggest off-season additions - Tereza Vanišová - now has six points (1g-5a) in her first six games with the Six. That is four more points than she had in seven games with Boston two seasons ago.

Metropolitan Riveters forward Kelly Babstock played in her 100th game (playoff + regular season) on Saturday in Montreal and needs to play in seven more games to reach 100 during the regular season. In 93 regular season games, she now has 80 points (35g-45a). Babstock sat out during Season 5 but has played in every other season (S1-3 w/Connecticut, S4 w/Buffalo, S6-8 w/Rivs). For you trivia buffs out there - she also signed with Toronto, but never played for them and was traded to the Riveters prior to Season 5).