The best of the best NWHL players took the ice at the UMPC Mario Lemieux Sports Complex for the 2017 All-Star Weekend. The weekend consisted of a five-part skills competition on Saturday and a 4v4 two period game on Sunday.
On Saturday, the NWHL sold 783 tickets for the skills competition. Over 1,000 tickets were sold for Sunday’s game, including standing room only tickets.
“We want to thank our players, David Morehouse and the entire Penguins organization,the staff at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the fans and the Pittsburgh community for everything they did to make our second All-Star event a success,” said Commissioner Dani Rylan in a statement Thursday.
Team Kessel earned All-Star bragging rights. With a 3-2 lead after the skills competition, Team Kessel held on to win the 2017 All-Star Game 11-10. Captain Amanda Kessel netted the game winning goal. Her empty netter ensued the win, and a hat trick to boot. Here are a few highlights from last weekend.
Skills Competitions Results
Fastest Skater: Rebecca Russo, Team Kessel
Russo got the weekend started by taking the fastest skater title from Team Kessel teammate Kelli Stack. She blazed across the finish line in 12.75 seconds, earning one point for Team Kessel and a new nickname, #RocketRusso
Stack took exception to being dethroned, and will have her chance for revenge as the New York Riveters host the Connecticut Whale this Sunday at 3pm.
Fastest Goalie: Nicole Stock, Team Kessel
Nicole Stock redeemed her Connecticut teammate, winning the fastest goalie challenge with a time of 17.44 seconds. She also sealed the win for Team Kessel, making 26 saves for a .897 saves percentage, second to only Katie Fitzgerald of Team Steadman (.900)
Hardest Shot: Blake Bolden, Team Steadman
The #BozekBlast was not enough to overcome Blake Bolden’s 87 MPH slapshot in this year’s hardest shot competition. When asked if she had any advice for young players on how to perfect their slapshot, the Boston Pride defenseman said, “Well, if you’re shooting at a radar, shot right at the radar [laughs]”
Accuracy Challenge: Kelley Steadman, Team Steadman
Kelley Steadman defended her accuracy challenge title, drilling all four targets in a time of 14 seconds. Steadman beat out Hilary Knight’s best time by one tenth of a second, giving the crowd an epic celly also known as, “The Steady”.
Breakaway Challenge: Gigi Marvin, Team Kessel
Gigi Marvin, voted in by the fan vote, won the hearts of the public again. With the skills competition tied 2-2, Marvin secured the fan vote with her handle during the breakout competition. Marvin was the only player to post a perfect 2-2 against Team Steadman goalies Katie Fitzgerald and Brianne McLaughlin. No sour grapes though!
Going into the game with a 3-2 deficit, Team Steadman looked to equalize early. Brianna Decker got the scoring started, beating her Boston teammate Brittany Ott in the opening two minutes. Alex Carpenter was putting on a passing clinic in her first All-Star appearance. The Pride forward leads the league in assists (14), and for good reason.
The first period would see 14 additional goals, including Harrison Browne’s goal to give Team Kessel a 8-7 lead going into the 2nd period.
At the close of the first, both Amanda Kessel and Madison Packer (Team Steadman) were one goal shy of a hat trick. Browne joined the hatty watch with his second goal early in second period. The scoring slowed with Stock and Fitzgerald in net. That didn’t mean it was quiet! There were some rowdy #BrickWallFitzy fans in the house, passing out “woooo’s” for any Fitzy save or Team Steadman goal.
All-Star MVP: Amanda Kessel, Team Kessel
Despite a close game, there would be no overtime. Amanda Kessel secured the win via the hat trick on an empty netter, leading her team to an 11-10 All-Star Game victory. Sure, there was no Fitzy in the way, but Kessel perfectly timed her shot to beat defensemen Blake Bolden and Corrine Buie for the goal.
Overall, it was a successful weekend, despite being in a new market. Players were excited about the enthusiasm of the crowd and believed their reception in Pittsburgh bodes well for the future of the league. “As a player, playing right here [at the Mario Lemieux Sports Complex] is phenomenal, I’d love to see a team here,” said Riveters captain Ashley Johnston.
“All-Star Weekend ... is a huge thing for the fans. And the fans were awesome today,” said Gigi Marvin after the skills competition. She added, “every single person introduced got a standing ovation, basically.” Marvin speculated that Robert Morris alumna Brianne McLaughlin got the loudest ovation.
Another success of the weekend was the support of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. In a statement released Thursday, Penguins president and CEO stated, “The fans of women’s hockey in Pittsburgh made it clear they loved the events and want more, and women’s hockey is growing rapidly, not just in our Pens Elite programs but all over the United States. We look forward to bringing more women’s hockey events to Pittsburgh.”
While the league quelled any talk of expansion for next season, teams will play games out of market. Given the success of All-Star Weekend, Pittsburgh might be a stop for NWHL exhibition games, or even regular season games next season. The league plans to have the founding four teams (Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and New York) play at neutral sites next season.
“It was a big step forward for the NWHL and women’s hockey in the U.S,” said Rylan of All-Star Weekend. She continued, “We are grateful to everyone who was a part of it, and look forward to being back in the great hockey city of Pittsburgh.”