Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 7 - Strong All Along

Welcome to 2023 PHF fam! This week I enlisted help from players on the Pride, Whale, and Riveters to break down the week that was.

Welcome to the first ATR of 2023. Some slight changes this week (trying to make this a bit shorter and less of a long game recap). Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone for their help. It’s time to go around the rink!

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Some updates on a few players to start us off. The Minnesota Whitecaps activated forward Meaghan Pezon off of LTIR ahead of their weekend in Buffalo. She is fully recovered from the upper body injury she sustained in warmups a few months back, but curiously didn’t see much ice time in either of the team’s road wins.

The Buffalo Beauts signed goaltender Tera Hofmann for the remainder of the season, which was necessary due to their star netminder Kassidy Sauvé being sidelined with a lower-body injury that has been nagging her since the early stages of the season. Hopefully, Sauvé gets the rest and recovery time she needs while she is on LTIR (long-term injury reserve) to come back 100%.

1.1* The Boston Pride had Lexie Laing with them on a PTO for their games in Connecticut and New Jersey this past weekend. Becca Gilmore was the only rostered player not in uniform for Boston (no update as to why); they went with five defenders for the two games and didn’t miss a beat in the two beatdowns. Metropolitan Riveters forward Sarah Bujold didn’t play on Sunday after taking a hard hit in Saturday night’s game vs. Boston. Our fingers are crossed that she is back next weekend for the Rivs' big series against the Whitecaps.

2* On Friday Amanda Conway sat out, and Sunday it was Tori Sullivan’s turn to watch from the stands as the Connecticut Whale navigate this season with a deep roster that has one more forward than the usual 12 who suit up for a game. I had a great talk with Sullivan throughout Sunday’s game (sorry for bothering you Sully!) and she’s such an easy person to root for. Unfortunately, she got caught in a numbers game in Boston and by the time they moved on from her it was late in the off-season and she was the last player to join the Whale. Here’s hoping she finds her mojo as we head toward the playoffs.

2.1* Going back to Season 4 (I think) a young girl from Pennsylvania started coming to see the Pride with her parents when they played in New Jersey. That feels like a lifetime ago now, with everything that has happened over the past few years. Anyway, it was Jillian Dempsey who gave Reagan a puck when she came off the ice for warmups that day and since then Reagan has returned the favor by giving the Pride players a signed hockey card of herself every year after their games in New Jersey.

That tradition continued this weekend and the Pride players got a new signed card - crazy how much that little girl has grown up! With the schedule the way it was, Boston was only in town for one game and her family stayed over for the second game of the weekend in New Jersey.

As luck would have it the Whale have a few ex-Boston players on their team, so it was a win-win for all. Sullivan saw Reagan before the game and when she was given this year’s signed card, she ran back to the locker room and emerged with a game-used, signed stick to trade for the signed card.

2.2* We hear a lot about growing the game, the right way to do it, and everyone has their own opinions, etc, etc. But when you see things like I just described, over a few years - that, is what it’s all about.

I can’t predict the future, but I know that young girl has a lot of memories that will last a lifetime, and who knows, maybe she’ll be popping water bottles like Dempsey, creating memories, or trading a game-used stick for a signed card for another young girl when she’s playing in the PHF in 15-20 years?

3* My colleague at TIG, Mike Murphy, asked a few players on Sunday about what the increased salaries mean to them and while I’m not going to publish those quotes here and spoil his story, there was one part that I wanted to share which ties into what I was just speaking about above. Connecticut captain Shannon Turner has been with this league, and that franchise, since day one of the NWHL and I felt this part of her answer was important.

“Caitrin…haha…it makes me feel really old but she was like - Shannon I watched you in the NWHL, I was a senior in high school. And I said: DEAR LORD!,” Turner told us while chuckling. “But that is so great that she saw it in high school, played through college and we’re still here and have taken this huge step for you. That’s what it’s all about, that’s why we did it and stuck with it.”

4* Round of applause for the road teams this weekend. They finished a perfect 7-0! Boston, Minnesota, and the Toronto Six each won two games, and Connecticut won once. Per the PHF, this weekend featured the most games ever and also now the most wins by visiting teams as well.

4.1* Toronto’s sweep of the Montreal Force was the first all-Canadian matchup in league history and the two games were both close, exciting contests. The win by the Six on Saturday in a shootout was their first in franchise history (1-3 now) while Montreal fell to 2-1 in the skills showcase that decides games. Connecticut (three wins in Season 1) has the single-season record for shootout wins in a single season.

In their rematch on Sunday, Elaine Chuli finished with a career-high 44 saves and the oft-underrated Emma Woods popped in two goals, including the game-winner late in the second period on a one-timer blast. The win allowed the Six to reclaim the top spot in the standings, leapfrogging Boston. Oh, by the way, keep this on your radar: Boston will visit Toronto during the last weekend of the regular season in what could be a battle for the top seed in the playoffs. Something we saw play out last year when T6 played in Connecticut on the last weekend of Season 7.

5* I haven’t had the time to sit down and watch the Buffalo-Minnesota series just yet, but someone who did watch them gave me some insights as to what happened. The bottom line, Minnesota has found its footing a bit and has put itself in a good position heading into the back half of its schedule. And with Amanda Leveille looking healthy again, they will always have a chance to make some noise.

On the flip side, Buffalo appears to be in trouble. Sure, they’ve played the least amount of games thus far (8), but they often have looked light years behind the rest of the teams in the league. Despite playing the fewest games, they’ve given up more goals than every other team not named Riveters. Whether it’s injuries, bad luck, or changing a majority of the roster for three-four straight seasons - something is funky there. There are talented players there, but most of us when we check the scores and see that they are winning, have little confidence that they can hold on to it; when they’re losing there is even less confidence that they can come back. It’s been tough to watch.

6* There is no official announcement yet but the expectation among those I’ve spoken with is that the playoffs to cap off Season 8 will involve the top-four teams in the standings. No word on the format, but hopefully we see something like this:

Semifinal weekend - two best-of-three series (No. 1 vs. No. 4, No. 2 vs No. 3) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (if necessary).

Isobel Cup Final: best-of-three series (or five) on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, (if necessary) Friday, Saturday.

6.1* For Connecticut defender Allie Munroe, the choice is a simple one. “Last year left a really, really, really bitter taste in my mouth about not having a series. It’s just the fair way to do it,” she told us. “If you lose it's a hard-fought loss, and if you win it's a hard-fought win. We need to do it, I think every player in the league, and every fan, would prefer to have a series. Hopefully, the league wants it, too. Five games, seven games, I would want it as long as possible.”

Other players have also told me that if every team makes the playoffs - which has been the case for a bit too long - what is the point of the regular season? You have to find a way to make the games have a little more meaning, and having a cutoff line for playoff teams and non-playoff teams does exactly that.

7* For the first time since November, the Riveters had home games, and this weekend was interesting with Saturday being a night game and Sunday being a day game. And they had two different opponents to add to the uniqueness of the situation. Saturday’s game had a great atmosphere, with lots of people in the mall and around the rink on all three levels. Sunday was a little different. Earlier start time, some of the surrounding stores weren’t open, sunlight through the glass roof, and just fewer people around overall.

I spoke with a number of players from the visiting Pride and Whale to get their instant reactions to their first visit to the rink at the American Dream.

“It’s different. It was pretty cool though. Really hot, but it was cool to see a lot of different people; seems like they had a lot of fans or people just walking by. It was a good atmosphere. The ice was okay. It was just hot, the hottest rink I’ve ever played in.”Allie Munroe, Connecticut defender.

“We were walking to the rink before the game and seeing all their branding in the mall and the number of people in the mall on a late Saturday afternoon, it was pretty incredible to see. It was definitely warm on the ice, but you deal with different things in different rinks and one of the things here is that it’s warm, but honestly, I felt fine. And the ice was pretty good!”Kali Flanagan, Boston defender.

“This is a tough environment to play in, I don’t like being negative about things. We’re so used to…rinks have walls. Depth perception when you’re looking through the glass, you’re all thrown off and not used to it. A lot of noise you are used to as well. Different lighting with a mixture of natural light and fluorescent lights. It’s a great environment if you’re the home team and maybe that’s part of it; it’s tough to play in this rink and they’re used to it.

It’s their home rink, they love it, and everyone else has to fight through it to have a good game. I’m sure they love it here, they take care of the players and that’s the most important point. Yeah, it was very warm. This is super hot, we weren’t used to it. Upstairs, downstairs. But we’re in a mall, so I don’t know why I didn’t think it would be, but I was kind of shocked haha!”Shannon Turner, Connecticut defender.

“It was an experience. I don’t think I’ve ever played in a mall before, definitely different. But it was good vibes and a great experience. The ice was good, and it was a little hot out there. Some of us felt like we were almost in a zoo in a way, there are three levels and everyone is just staring down at us. You’re just kind of in a bowl.” Loren Gabel, Boston forward.

Other players I spoke with all mentioned how warm it was, and most didn’t mind it. Only one player thought the ice was a little too choppy, or that the pucks were bouncing a bit more at the end of periods, but the consensus I got from players was that the ice was surprisingly good.

8* I had the chance to speak at length with both Gabel and Flanagan for the first time (and some future articles for The Ice Garden) and came away extremely impressed in more ways than one, as well as excited for the future of the PHF with these two mega stars as a part of it. Without giving away too much of what we spoke about, here are some of the top takeaways.

Boston had been after Gabel for a number of years, and this summer other teams also made offers, but Boston was where she wanted to be, as was the PHF. “For me, it was just the structure. Once I graduated from Clarkson, I missed playing in games every weekend, and practicing every day,” she told ATR. “Boston had a lot to offer, and they made offers to me a couple of years in a row, I finally took their offer this year and I’m happy I did, I’ve had a great time here.”

For Flanagan, she wanted to be in Boston for a lot of the same reasons, in addition to her connection with Head Coach Paul Mara, and like Gabel, she is signed for this season and next season with the Pride.

“Having that structure, that week-to-week experience with practices and games, playing for something, all things that go into being a part of a league - they were all attractive to me,” the gold medalist said.

“It was important to me to get that two-year deal,” added Flanagan. “Paul was a big factor in that, Boston is my home, and having that stability of knowing where I’ll be for the next two years, being a part of a good hockey team, a good group of girls and coaching staff - those were all important things to me.”

9* Next time you see the Riveters play a game and Eveliina Mäkinen is starting in goal, watch what she does after she freezes the puck or has the puck and the whistle is blown. She places the puck on the back of the net. Naturally, I had to ask why after I noticed this, and have been fascinated by it and her reply since then. Watch what other goalies do compared to what she does.

“I’ve done it for a long time, I don’t even know when it started. I think it’s annoying when the goalie just tosses the puck on the ice and the referee has to pick it up. I also hate it when you’re holding it, like hey ref where are you, here take the puck. So I take it, put it there, and they don’t have to pick it up from the ground, I don’t have to wait for them, they don’t have to skate after me.”

“I’ve never thought about it,” Mäkinen said through a laugh. “Sometimes I forget that I do it and the refs, they’re all new to me here, no one knows who I am. In Sweden, everybody already knew who I am and that I do that. Here, they are like: where’s the puck, where’s the puck? I laugh and say - sorry, sorry, it’s on the net.”

10* A new episode of PHFuture Considerations is coming your way soon! In our latest Eleni, Mike, and I discuss the league heading into 2023, expansion, playoffs, and more. Plus - we welcome our first-ever Riveters guest, Kennedy Ganser for a great chat.

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 - and hopefully, they are the first of many.

PHFirst goals: Courtney Maud (BUF), Brittyn Fleming (MIN), Brooke Madsen (MIN)

PHFirst points: Gabrielle De Serres (MTL), Madi Nichols (BUF), Ronja Mogren (MIN)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

Taylor Girard is now riding an eight-game point streak after a casual five-point weekend and four-point performance on Sunday. Shorthanded goals, power-play goals, goals off the rush, goals off of face-offs, however, you want ‘em, Girard can score ‘em. She finished the weekend with eight shots on goal and on Sunday she singlehandedly crushed the Riveters’ spirit before the game was even five minutes old. She has been a woman on a mission after being shut out in the season’s opening game, and just scratching the surface of how good she is going to be at this level.

Notable Quotables

“We were smirking at each other a little bit. Katie Burt is my best friend and we’ve played together for a lot of years - at Boston College, and obviously with the Pride last year. I think that’s the first time I ever played against her. So yeah, for sure the first time I’ve scored against her, too! We were laughing about it at the end of the game. Before the game, she said ‘don’t you dare score on me’, and then, of course, it happened. She’s my best friend and it was definitely weird to play against her. I’m really happy for her that she’s here (with the Riveters), she loves it here and it’s good for her to be playing.” - Kali Flanagan on her first game ever against her former teammate.

“We’re definitely trying to stay positive, there are a lot of games left and we’re trying to make a playoff push here. We’re focused on regrouping, what our week is going to look like, how we feel physically and mentally, and making sure we’re all ready to go - we have a quick turnaround with Minnesota here next weekend. We can’t afford to drop many more games.” — Riveters forward Leah Marino after a tough weekend.

“Now that I know that he can come into the mall, Theo will absolutely be here for the next trip. He stayed home today; with the chaos of coming here for the first time, I said - let’s not. But he definitely will be here for round two in February. So look out for him, he’ll be ready, and in the stands.” — Whale captain Shannon Turner says her dog Theo, an avid supporter who has been to many games, will attend the next Connecticut game in NJ.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Loren Gabel (BOS) 5 points (1g-4a), 10 SoG, 4 face-off wins

Gabel finished the weekend tied for the league lead in points and as the league leader in assists after she helped guide the Pride to another weekend sweep. This time they did it in two different cities on back-to-back nights, and with ease. And Gabel was at the center of it all. Her vision, swagger, and playmaking ability were on full display as Boston made it look easy vs the Whale and Rivs.

** Emma Woods (T6) 3 points (2g-1a), GWG, 7 SoG

With a lot of attention paid to Brittany Howard and Shiann Darkangelo - and rightfully so - sometimes the well-balanced Woods gets overlooked. But I won’t do that here - she was dynamite for the Six this weekend, again, and finds herself tied for third for the PHF scoring race. Her goals on Sunday started and ended the party for Toronto as they continue another strong season.

*** Taylor Girard (CTW) 5 points (2g-3a), PPG, SHG, 8 SoG, one blocked shot

Not only is Girard a dominant player for the Whale, but she often does her damage early in the game before her opponents have even broken a sweat. Her ability to score shorthanded has made her perhaps the league’s most dangerous player because there is no situation where she is afraid to do or try anything. There is a list of players who are worth the price of admission and Girard is on that shortlist.

Did You Know?

The Buffalo Beauts are the only team in the PHF yet to play a road game this season. They’ll do that this upcoming weekend when they head to Boston for two games, and then after a day off, they’ll be in Connecticut for two make-up games from November. The Beauts have only four home games left.

Through her first nine PHF games, Loren Gabel has amassed 18 points (8g-10a) and is leading the PHF in points-per-game (2.0). Over her last four games, she has 13 points (5g-8a) and they’re all multi-point games.