After two rowdy sold-out games in Toronto and Ottawa to kick off the season, the first PWHL game on U.S. soil did not disappoint.
Over 4,000 fans made the trip to the Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA (a figure that required more tickets to be released than originally planned) to watch PWHL Boston take on Minnesota in their home opening game. They were treated to a high-energy game, featuring beautiful goals and top-notch saves, which were met with plenty of enthusiasm from the crowd.
However, while Boston fought to the end, they couldn’t recover from a slow start that saw them fall behind 2-0 in the first eight minutes, and they dropped their home opener 3-2.
“It’s tough to claw your way out of a 2-0 deficit,” said Hilary Knight during the postgame press conference. “But I was really encouraged by the way that we battled and we fought, and I think if we can string together those three minutes [at the end of the period] a little bit longer and earlier in the game, it would’ve helped us a lot.”
The first period started at a good pace, with lots of back-and-forth play over the first couple of minutes as the teams shook off the jitters. However, just under four minutes in, first-overall pick Taylor Heise sniped one high stick side on Aerin Frankel to give Minnesota the early edge.
Minnesota took control for the next several minutes, spending a lot of time in the Boston zone. That paid off as Sophie Kunin capitalized on a nearly identical shot off a pass by Brittyn Fleming at 7:54 of the first, leaving Boston in an early 2-0 hole.
Over the next half of the period, Boston struggled to make clean passes. They landed some shots on goal, but not the kind you need to beat Minnesota’s Nicole Hensley. Minnesota continued to be the better team, and Frankel had to make some quality stops to keep the deficit at two.
Boston got the game’s first power play at 15:21 of the period, as Lee Stecklein, a big part of the Minnesota penalty kill, went to the box for hooking. However, Boston’s power play looked disjointed, and they struggled to get anything going.
Following the power play, Boston started getting a couple of better looks. It still wasn't enough to beat Hensley, and they went back to the locker room down 2-0.
Things did not look much better for Boston at the beginning of the second. Jessica DiGirolamo sent the puck over the glass at 2:17 of the period and headed to the box for delay of game, sending Boston to an early penalty kill.
Luckily for Boston, they had a strong kill, which gave them some life. Over the next few minutes, Boston swarmed in the offensive zone. Hensley finally had to make some saves, although not as many high-danger ones as Boston would’ve liked. However, all the zone pressure finally paid off at 7:54 of the period, as Theresa Schafzahl batted down a Sophie Shirley pass and buried it past Hensley for the first goal in PWHL Boston history to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Unfortunately for Boston, Minnesota wasted little time restoring their two-goal lead, as Grace Zumwinkle put another one high stick side past Frankel exactly two minutes later.
Boston quickly went back to having good zone pressure following the Minnesota goal, and they got lots of shots and a few good chances in the second half of the period. But, Hensley was up to the task, and Boston went back to the locker room down 3-1 after 40 minutes.
After the game, Knight was asked about what’s it like to play against Hensley after playing with her on Team USA for so long.
“She’s one of the best goalies in the world, so you’ve always got to figure out a way to find the back of the net,” said Knight. “But we knew it was going to be tough just because she’s so good between the pipes and really good in the paint. She’s one of the best for a reason, and she made our job a lot harder.”
Boston came out hard in the third period. Alina Müller thought she had scored just 30 seconds in, but after video review, it was determined the puck never crossed the line, so the score remained 3-1.
Despite significant zone pressure, it took a few minutes before Boston started to get many shots on net. They got another crack at the power play at 4:38 of the period as Liz Schepers was whistled for interference, and while this one looked better than the first, they did not convert.
Boston then got shooting. They continued to lack a bit in the danger department (although they had one ring both pipes before bouncing out) but Hensley was busy. By the halfway mark of the third, Boston had jumped out to a 25-18 advantage in shots.
Minnesota’s Stecklein went back to the box for hooking at 11:10 of the period, but Boston was still unable to convert on the power play. After, they just kept swarming and racking up shots, forcing Minnesota to spend the majority of the period defending.
Boston aggressively pulled Frankel with about 3:30 remaining, and that’s when they put up their best fight of the game. Stecklein went to the box again at 17:01 of the period, giving Boston a 6v4. Just 19 seconds later, Megan Keller buried one to bring Boston back within one.
Despite numerous shots and quality chances, Boston couldn’t get the equalizer, and they dropped their home opener despite outshooting Minnesota 37-19.
During the postgame press conference, Boston head coach Courtney Kessel was asked about her team’s slow start, and what she thought of their progression throughout the game.
“I think we needed to stop on pucks, play a little bit more aggressive, our angling was a little off,” said Kessel. “Moving from the first period to the second period to the third, we continued to get better and better, and if we can continue to get better each period, we’re going to be a very very hard team to beat.”