Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 9

This week we look at Boston’s historic (in a bad way) weekend, hear from Beauts’ rookie Emilie Harley, and find out what players do on their off weekends.

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for your openness, time, and most importantly your assists 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* We saw a sweep in Boston this weekend, but it wasn’t the usual sweep we see around those parts. The Pride were beaten in back-to-back home games at the hands of the Connecticut Whale (3-2 and 6-1). Sunday’s game was the worst home loss in franchise history, topping the two instances where they lost by four goals - Jan. 20, 2018, vs. the Metropolitan Riveters (5-1), Feb. 18, 2018, vs. the Buffalo Beauts (6-2). Sunday’s loss also matched the franchise’s worst margin of defeat and now sits alongside a 5-0 loss at Buffalo on Jan. 5, 2019.

The Pride had never lost back-to-back home games on consecutive days until this weekend, so we think it’s kind of a big deal. It can’t be easy when you’re the defending champions and you see the other teams loading up to get better around you. It’s natural to think that you have to adapt and evolve. The majority of the championship squad was kept together but they did add a few new pieces in the off-season, and in-season, too.

Adding a third goalie was a choice, as was adding two top-tier defenders with fantastic resumes. No doubt that Katie Burt is a great goalie, but bringing her in, takes ice time away from Lovisa Selander, who won 18 of her first 19 pro starts for you and backstopped the team to its second Isobel Cup title. She’s played in only five games this season. The second of those blue line additions came midseason and was US Olympian and gold medal winner Kali Flanagan.

The Flanagan signing was the one that really feels (from the outside looking in) it messed up the balance of what was working well. Since she signed the team has gone 3-3 and will return to the ice in late February losers of three straight, all at home. They re-signed 2021 Isobel Cup winner Meg Rickard, but only on a PTO for two games against the Riveters. The team hasn’t announced it yet but defender Abby Cook, who was signed before the season is no longer with them - has to be a salary-cap casualty, right? And they had Mary Parker, a veteran of 46 games with the Pride (and like Rickard a member of the 2021 Cup-winning squad) play in both games this past weekend. We assume she is signed for the rest of the season but there was no announcement of any kind.

They will be fascinating to watch down the stretch of the regular season because they haven’t consistently looked like the Pride we’re used to seeing pre-pandemic. But also in the back of my mind, it feels like they could just flip the switch and start to dominate again. They have a few weeks off to figure out where everyone slots in best, and I for one, would not bet against Head Coach Paul Mara figuring it all out.

2* Honestly, it didn’t matter who was on the ice for Boston against the Whale’s top trio of Taylor Girard, Alyssa Wohlfeiler, and Kennedy Marchment this past weekend. That trio was dominant on just about shift, continuously hemming the Pride in their own zone for long stretches of time. They scored on breakaways, deflections, redirections and at the end of the weekend, they combined for nine points (5g-4a) and 22 shots on goal.

2.1* Perhaps the best part for Connecticut fans is this: the team had seven different goal scorers on the nine goals they scored this weekend. When the top line went off for a breather, the Janine Weber-Emma Vlasic-Amanda Conway trio went to work and all they did was rip off a total of ten points (3g-7a) against the defending champs. When they came off it was some combination of Emily Fluke and Cailey Hutchison with Janka Hlinka or Catherine Crawley grinding and wearing down the Pride even more.

Oh, by the way, Sunday they signed forward Melissa Samoskevich to mix in on that third line and she finally made her regular-season debut (zero points, two shots on goal) after skating in their lone playoff game last March. Her addition adds some great depth to a team that is clicking on all cylinders and winners of eight straight games, matching a franchise record.

The Whale are alone in first place now, and with three wins in their final six games, they can match the franchise record for wins in a single season (13). But, we won’t see them for about a month with their next game not scheduled until March 5. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong but I believe this is the latest in a season that Connecticut has been in first place.

Coach Colton Orr confirmed to us last month that defender Kati Tabin is no longer with the team/hasn’t been with them since the new year started, so as of now they have seven defenders, three goaltenders, and 12 forwards.

3* The Beauts have taken their lumps this season and Sunday they finally snapped two long streaks. The 6-2 win was the franchise’s first-ever in Minnesota (1-6) and their first win since Nov. 20, 2021, snapping an eight-game losing streak. They have a lot of work to do to catch up to the pack of teams in front of them in the standings, but Sunday was a good start. IF they can win back-to-back home games in regulation against the Riveters this upcoming weekend, they would leapfrog their rivals in the standings.

The win was two parts impressive for me because they were without co-captain Taylor Accursi and the fact that they had six different goal scorers. Six times this season they only mustered one goal in a game, including the three that preceded Sunday’s runaway win, so it was nice to see contributions up and down the lineup. Five players (Emma Keenan, Dominique Kremer, Emilie Harley, Jenna Suokko, Missy Segall) had at least two points and eleven players had one point in the Beauts first win of 2022.

3*1 No word on what was exactly said, but Buffalo GM Nate Oliver did have a long, straightforward talk with the entire team on Sunday morning before the game. Looking at how the game played out I’d say the message was received!

4* What we really wanna know is - what was the mood like around the Beauts after the game and on the way home? “The energy was really positive, it was like a weight was finally lifted - we’re re-energized and focused on starting a winning streak,” Harley told us on Monday night. “Sunday’s game really reinforced that we have what it takes, as far as having the players and the skill to win, but we have to be disciplined and execute our game plan. Especially starting with playing strong defense.”

“When we’re not on the ice we all dance and joke around; and it was really just nice to be reminded what a win feels like - and we all want to continue feeling that,” added the blueliner who has six points (3g-3a) in her first 11 games after being selected second overall in the 2021 Draft. “It’s a different opponent for us this (upcoming) weekend and we all talked about making sure we contribute what we do best individually while continuing to fix little mistakes - that’s how we’ll be successful. Now, we really want a win in front of the fans in Buffalo.”

After a long losing streak, Harley confirmed that the Beauts trek back home from the midwest was a lot more fun than some of the other road trips this season. “Especially after a win by a good margin, having lots of different people get points, breaking records, accomplishing milestones - all of that makes long flights and a late-night much easier to bear.”

5* It took probably longer than they wanted it to, but I think the Minnesota Whitecaps finally woke up from their early-season doldrums (four straight to start against Boston will do that to ya). Since the calendar flipped to 2022 they are now 3-1 and may have had a shot at 4-0 if they had started Amanda Leveille instead of giving Jenna Brenneman her first pro start. Who knows how things would have played out on Sunday though. Just seems odd to not play your best players considering their spot in the standings.

When they woke up on Sunday a regulation win + a Boston regulation loss would have moved the Whitecaps to within two points of third place. Saturday’s 8-1 win against the Beauts was highlighted by their dynamic duo of Allie Thunstrom (3g-1a) and Jonna Curtis (5a), but they also had eight different players show up on the scoresheet - something that hasn’t happened often (enough) this season.

5.1* One of those eight players, Leveille, picked up her first pro assist. We love goalies, and we love to see goalie assists or goals. Hopefully the first of many for Lev. First goalie point we’ve seen around these parts since Mariah Fujimagari (Jan. 2020) and is the fifth in league history (Brittany Ott, Jamie Leonoff in season one), Shannon Szabados (season four).

6* With only four games this weekend that meant that two teams were off - the Metropolitan Riveters and Toronto Six. So I got to thinking, what does a player do on a weekend with PHF games being played that they aren’t playing in? I randomly asked two different players - and got two completely different answers! We call this best-case scenario folks. Couldn’t have planned it better and like Ricky Bobby once said: sometimes things click!

6.1* So what does Riveters defender Rachael Ade do when she isn’t playing, like this past weekend? “I don’t watch the games on my off weekends. I like to use my off time to rest my body and mind, and it helps me to be present in each aspect of my life,” she told us via text. “However, I will watch the games later in the week.”

6.2* How about Six goaltender Tera Hofmann, does she watch when she isn’t playing? “I sure do! And I’m on my way to watch the (Toronto) Marlies play right now, too. Hockey all day, every day,” she replied Saturday afternoon when we asked.

7* Both players replied ‘all of the above’ when asked if they are watching games to pick up tips or tendencies on their opponents, to support friends, or to support their peers. Hofmann added, “I do review video on my own and also with coaches,” when asked about rewatching her own performances.

8* We recorded a new episode of PHFuture Considerations on Sunday night. While Eleni Demestihas, Mike Murphy, and I talked for a while again (90ish minutes) it wasn’t like we did something as long as Avengers: Endgame. We definitely had a lot to talk about, not only what we saw this past weekend, but also what happened (A LOT) since our first episode. Maybe by the third edition, we will have figured out a proper way to start and end things.

You can find us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts just by searching for The Ice Garden on Thursday!

8.1* One thing we didn’t get to discuss but wanted to was the PHF MVP race. I like to go by what I see with my eyes combined with what the stats tell me. Today on Feb. 8 with a total of 25 games left across the PHF here’s where I stand. My top-4 (in alphabetical order) are Elaine Chuli, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Kennedy Marchment, and Allie Thunstrom.

The Toronto players might eventually take votes away from one another, but both are worthy choices. MGM does something amazing every game, and Chuli has given up nine goals in nine games. Marchment’s addition to Connecticut has been by far the best off-season acquisition by any team. Thunstrom has scored 11 of Minnesota’s 30 goals this season and has points on 14 of the 30.

Currently, the PHF stats page looks like this: Grant-Mentis (points leader), Thunstrom (goals leader), Grant-Mentis (assists leader), Grant-Mentis (points-per-game average), Thunstrom (power-play goals), Thunstrom (shorthanded goals), Grant-Mentis (game-winning goals), Chuli (goals-against average), Chuli (save percentage), Chuli (wins), Chuli (shutouts).

If the season ended today (thank goodness it doesn’t) those probably are the three finalists. But if you told me one of those four was the winner, I wouldn’t argue it either.

9* We’re about six weeks away from the start of the Isobel Cup Playoffs and that announcement of the dates should be coming out soon. Assuming we have no more games postponed due to covid or travel, the semifinals could be held the weekend of March 26-27. Where will the games be held? Home rinks? Neutral site? Stay tuned.

10* Don’t be surprised if we see defender and NWHL OG Kiira Dosdall-Arena suiting up for the Riveters soon, maybe even this weekend in Buffalo. Judging from pictures that we’ve seen she’s been at practice recently. The Rivs defense has been a work in progress since Lake Placid blew up things, so her poise and precision passing, especially on the breakout, could be a welcome (re)addition to the blue line.

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

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

PHFirst Goal: Jenna Suokko (BUF), Taylor Turnquist (MIN), Hannah Bates (CTW)

PHFirst Point: Amanda Leveille (MIN)

PHFirst Start: Jenna Brenneman (MIN)

Quote of the Week

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Taylor Girard (CTW) - the no. 1 overall pick in the most recent draft took over the game after Boston got on the board in Sunday’s game. First, she converted on a 2v1 during 4v4 play to extend Connecticut’s lead to 3-1, and then Girard had the primary assist on the ensuing two goals scored by Wohlfeiler. Through her first 14 games as a pro, Girard now ranks top-ten in the PHF in goals (t-4th), assists (t-3rd), points (t-3rd), GWGs (2nd), and SoG (t-6th).

** Allie Thunstrom (MIN) - after a four-goal weekend vs. the Beauts, Thunstrom finds herself at the top of the goal-scoring leaderboard with 11 in 12 games. Overall she had five points in the two games and was a constant threat on every shift all weekend. I mean who gets a hat trick and two of the goals are shorthanded? Allie Thunstrom, that’s who! Ridiculousness.

*** Jonna Curtis (MIN) - the league’s fourth all-time leading scorer (I know, right?) was handing assists out this weekend like someone handing out Halloween candy. Five (5!) assists on Saturday in Minnesota’s 8-1 romp, followed by a two-point (1g-1a) game now puts Curtis at 71 career points in 53 NW/PHF games - tops among anyone who has worn a Whitecaps uniform. Her five assists tied a single-game NW/PHF record (Amanda Boulier, Amanda Kessel).

Did You Know?

Buffalo defender Elena Orlando played in her 100th NW/PHF game on Sunday, becoming the fourth player to reach that milestone (Jillian Dempsey, Kaleigh Fratkin, Shannon Turner). She played 17 games with the New York Riveters, 72 games with the Connecticut Whale, and has appeared in all 11 games with the Beauts this season. Cheers to our friend who has played through thick and thin, through bruises and bumps, and seven glorious seasons.