From rivals to teammates: Pride players build on history of playing against each other

Though the rivalries might not be quite over, if team practices are any example.

“When you’re playing against your friends, you’re not really friends for those two hours. But at the end of the day, you support each other.” - Mallory Souliotis, defender for the Boston Pride.

What is a Rival? A Rival is a Competitor. An Opponent or challenger. An Adversary or foe. An Enemy. A Nemesis. An Antagonist. Someone who is standing in the way of you gaining superiority in the same field.

Many players on the Boston Pride weren’t always so buddy-buddy back in the day. Before they joined The Pack many of them played against each other growing up, in college, or in some cases while in the NWHL.

Souliotis played at Yale University for four years before she joined the Pride. Everyone knows that Yale is a huge rival of Harvard University, so that made for some interesting games against her now teammate Lexie Laing, who starred at Harvard.

But, as she explains, they knew each other prior to college, so for them it’s pretty neat to be wearing the same uniform again.

“There’s something in the water when it’s a Harvard-Yale game! It doesn’t matter what sport, doesn’t matter what game in the season it is,” Souliotis told The Ice Garden. “It’s always a high-energy, high-intensity game, and all in all they were a lot of fun. Even if sometimes they were a little lopsided, not necessarily in my favor.”

“Lexie, Lauren Kelly, and I grew up playing club hockey together for several years, and Lexie and I went to high school together too. Growing up playing on a club team and then facing off against my teammates from club teams in prep school was always super fun,” she explained.

“To carry that over into college, playing against them - it was awesome to see them succeed at the college level. But I’m super grateful that they’re on my side now because they are some super talented and just awesome people. Really great players too! It was always fun to play against each other.”

Just because they are all on the same team now doesn’t mean that things don’t get heated during practices in Boston. With Laing being a forward and Souliotis being a defender, it makes for some interesting (friendly) battles when they go against each other on the ice during drills.

“We like to have a lot of forwards vs defense competition [in our Boston Pride practices]. Whether it’s mini-games or just forwards trying to score goals on 3-on-2’s and stuff like that. We love the little competitions in practice. Paul [Mara, head coach] and Heath [Gordon, assistant coach] love to instill that competitiveness in practice to get everyone pushing each other. Obviously it really translated onto the ice and how we performed this past season and I’m sure we will be bringing it again next season.”

It sure did translate on the ice as the Pride set something like a bazillion records en route to a 23-1-0 record where they dominated the NWHL in nearly every statistical category.

“There are definitely some good chirps that start flying around closer to Beanpot time between all of the Boston schools, and the Harvard and Yale girls have their own rivalry - it’s funny to watch it all unfold,” added McKenna Brand, who played at Northeastern before going pro. “It kinda raises the competition levels when we play mini-games during practice too!”

For defender Kaleigh Fratkin, she had the (dis?) pleasure of playing against a lot of her current teammates in both college, and in the NWHL before she joined the Boston Pride. Fratkin, who has been with the league since its inception, played for the Connecticut Whale in Season 1 and for the Metropolitan Riveters in Season 2 before she eventually found her hockey home with the Pride.

One of the biggest thorns in her side was none other than Jillian Dempsey. Whether it was in college or in the pros, the two always seemed to be battling and butting heads against one another on the ice. But now as teammates, they both couldn’t be happier and have formed a solid friendship.

“When we got on the same side, got to finally be teammates it was hilarious, and it’s something we joke about all the time now. She’ll say to me: ‘Fratty I hated playing against you, but I love you on my team.’”

The feeling is mutual for Fratkin, who will be entering her sixth season in the league and fourth season with the Pride. “Demps…I always played on the opposite side of her until I came to Boston. The two of us have this running joke about how we hated playing against one another,” she said with a chuckle.

“Even when I played for the Whale or the Riveters, we just hated playing against one another. We had this kind of competitiveness that when we were on the ice we did not like each other and that was kind of well-known between the two of us.”

“I played against Lexi Bender when I was at Boston University and BC was such a big rival for us, they were always such a good team. I remember playing against her very clearly. Their defensive corps was so good when we played against them. Then you finally become teammates, and you kinda forget about the fact that they were once your bitter rivals. Now they are some of my best friends, so it’s kind of funny how it all works out.”

Fratkin confirmed what Souliotis told us about how some of the practices for the Pride have become epic. Especially on Wednesdays. Because those rivalries that may have been extinguished once they joined The Pack, are still smoldering under the surface once they hit the ice for those Wednesday night on-ice sessions.

“Practice gets really heated! At our Wednesday practices, there are two ice sheets and one is a smaller one. Wednesday nights are a battle. We have about 15-minute warmups for our goalies and then the rest of the hour would be full-on mini-games, 3-on-3. You think 3-on-3, oh that should be fun; you would think it’s a bloodbath!” Fratkin exclaimed.

“There are times where it would be myself, Lexi, and Bri Mastel who would get matched up against the “Gold Line,” which is McKenna, Demps, and Tee [Christina Putigna]. It would be a bloodbath for an hour!” she said while laughing. “You don’t want them to score, and if we would score they would get ticked off that we were beating them. It just turned into a super, ultra-competitive thing.”

“But it’s also hilarious at the same time and I think it just pushes everyone to be better. There’s always a lot of fun and chirping going on with us. It’s just a free-for-all! Every now and then our coaches would remind us that ‘We have a game this weekend, so let’s not be stupid here.’ If Lexi would score, you know, maybe go bar down, you would see Demps turn around and be so ticked off.” I could hear Fratkin smiling through the phone as she explained it all. “So we still have that little rivalry lingering even though we’re all on the same side now.”

The Pride had something very special going on last year and after talking to their players, it’s not hard to figure out why. They enjoy each other’s company, enjoy playing on the same side (finally for some), and they enjoy playing for a team that is aiming to become the gold standard of NWHL franchises.

“Our practices are so good. They’re high tempo and fun, the internal competition that we have here is great and it makes going to practice fun,” Fratkin added. “Especially when your practices are at a later hour and you’ve worked a full day. You try to fit in your workouts during the day. Someone like myself, I’m up at 5 a.m. doing a workout and then I work all day before I can go to the rink”

“This past season was probably my favorite season in the NWHL just because of how fun our practices were, and how competitive they were. There really was that rivalry atmosphere on Wednesday nights. Whether its mini-games or working on our specialty teams, it was just really fun.”

Maybe NBCSN should start showing Boston Pride practices for their Wednesday Night Rivalry broadcast rather than some force-feeding us a made-up rivalry like the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Chicago Blackhawks.