The Pride went into this playoff weekend as the “underdogs,” according to head coach Paul Mara and defender Kali Flanagan. They emerged as Isobel Cup champions for the third time in seven years, and made history as the first back-to-back champs in league history.
Underdogs, not really. A dynasty? Potentially.
Taylor Wenczkowski scored the game-winner on a rebound from Abbie Ives, and Katie Burt made 32 saves to secure the 4-2 victory for the Pride, who skated into Wesley Chapel seeded third overall, but steamrolled both last-seeded Buffalo and No. 2 Toronto by a combined score of 11-1 to make it to their third consecutive Cup Final.
Jenna Rheault sealed the deal with an empty-netter with 1:30 to go, and Jillian Dempsey tallied a goal and an assist for the Pride, cementing her status as perhaps the most clutch captain this league has seen in a long time.
Turning Point: 2 goals in 18 seconds for Boston
At first, it seemed like Connecticut was finally getting on track after a shaky first period. After the Pride went up 1-0, Amanda Conway got the Whale tied up at 1 on a shot from the point, and then Taylor Girard finished off a gorgeous pass from Kennedy Marchment less than a minute into the second frame for the 2-1 lead. But Boston did some Boston things, and with the score still tight after the second, the top six for the Pride turned it up and crashed the net hard, taking Ives and the Connecticut defense aback and turning the ice in their favor.
From there, the Whale pushed hard to get back up the ice, but Boston’s zone defense proved too effective and Burt’s pads were solid enough to keep the win preserved. The closest Connecticut got to tying it came from a Marchment shot that pinged off the crossbar with about six minutes to go, a chance that could have made the entire game turn upside-down yet again; however, the Rheault empty-netter would be the final nail in the coffin.
3. Taylor Girard, Connecticut Whale. The rookie out of Quinnipiac has been a revelation all season, and definitely shined on both sides of the puck Monday with what could have been the game-winning goal just 33 seconds into the second. That set the tone for the best period of hockey from the Whale. If only it stuck.
2. Taylor Wenczkowski, Boston Pride. Wenczkowski is second to just one other person on her team on this list but earned the nod for playoff MVP from the Fed, tallying three goals over the course of three games including the GWG for the Cup (her second consecutive Cup-winner, by the way). Head coach Paul Mara stated post-game that her emergence as one of the Pride’s top players has been in the making since her rookie season: “Every day, we’re like, she’s right on that cusp of breaking out to be one of the elite players in our league, in this country, and... she’s an awesome kid, awesome player, awesome competitor, and we’re really proud of her for what she’s done for us.”
- Katie Burt, Boston Pride. My personal pick for playoff MVP, Burt allowed just three goals against on 85 shots and was able to stave off some of the Whale’s heaviest hitters almost all game. Mara mentioned how she worked her way up from third-string to starting netminder, and her incredible performance tonight deserves a lot of credit (especially the key saves she made during Jillian Dempsey’s five-minute major for a crosscheck on Cailey Hutchison).
Honorable Mention: For the Whale, it’s Abbie Ives. She’s been solid all season, as head coach Colton Orr pointed out post-game: “We put a lot on her plate, and she answered. We had all the confidence in the world going with Abbie in this playoffs, it was never a thought of who we’re going to go with. So we trusted her, and she performed well.” “Well” being a bit of an understatement, as she was in many ways the reason the Whale stuck with it especially early on in the game when the nerves were still jumping a bit. Her best save of the game came on a rush by Teresa Vanisova late in the second period to keep the score 2-1, and neither of the goals on her in the third were really her fault. The best part is, she’s a young goalie with plenty of promise and a coach that clearly believes in her potential.
For the Pride, it’s Jillian Dempsey. Yes, that major in the second period was not the greatest penalty to take, and it’s also an uncharacteristic one for her. Before and after that, however, she was the Dempsey we’ve all come to know and love for the way she combines talent and work ethic. She was the one to open the scoring with a gorgeous individual effort against both Hannah Beattie and Taylor Marchin, and she also tallied an assist on the tying goal by Raselli. Overall, Dempsey is the kind of veteran you want in your corner no matter what, and if this is the twilight of her career, it’s a hell of a twilight.