Whitecaps in Great Position for Sprint to PHF Playoffs

We’ve shown a lot of grit and competitiveness lately here and we’re ready to keep going. - Natalie Snodgrass

With ten games left in the regular season, these new-look Minnesota Whitecaps have positioned themselves quite well in the PHF standings at the All-Star break with the playoffs on the horizon and quickly approaching. Following a less-than-stellar start to the season (0-2-2) the Whitecaps won eight of their last ten games and are now holding down third place and enter the stretch run with a four-game win streak.

“I think part of the reason we struggled early on this season is we do have a lot of new faces, and we were trying to understand how everyone plays, who works well together, etc. The last few games we’ve been figuring things out and when we’re on - we’re really good,” Jonna Albers explained, “and that’s exciting. We’re trying to keep that consistency.”

It’s no surprise that Albers has been in the middle of Minnesota’s success this season. The diminutive forward is once again having a stellar season with 15 points (8g-7a) in 14 games and is a mere five points away from her 100th regular season point; she would be only the third player in league history to reach that mark - and has done it in far fewer games than the two names ahead of her (you may have heard of Jillian Dempsey and Madison Packer).

Albers is one of only eight players that were on the Whitecaps last season as they went through a bit of a facelift during the summer. Despite 11 new names on the roster, there was some familiarity among them - unlike the other PHF teams that remodeled their rosters and keep starting from scratch over and over again. All of the new faces are from Minnesota or played in Minnesota at some point in their careers so there is a bit of familiarity there.

“Going into this season we had so much turnover, and the Whitecaps had been a very tight-knit group for so long, a lot of the players had been playing since the beginning of the Whitecaps. So it was tough losing some of those players who paved the way for everybody that’s playing today,” netminder Amanda Leveille (also one of the returners) recently told The Ice Garden.

“This team has a great leadership group and a lot of the players that were brought in (this off-season) already knew each other from growing up in Minnesota, so it never felt like it was a completely new team and no one knew each other,” she added. “There was a little adjustment on the ice, but off the ice, everyone got along really well from the start; that’s a credit to our leadership group.”

That new leadership group includes captain Sydney Brodt and alternate captain Sidney Morin - both were selected to the All-Star Game and both have been leading on the ice as well as two of their top scorers. One of the bigger questions facing the squad heading into the season was how they were going to replace Allie Thunstrom’s penchant for scoring big goals and with ten games left in the season I believe we found that answer.

Rookie forward Natalie Snodgrass has been a dynamite addition to the group and with 16 points (8g-8a) the UConn product is the Whitecaps’ leader in just about every major statistical category - including the three game-winning goals that are currently second-best in the PHF. There has been a little-to-no learning curve for no. 8 and Minnesota fans should be excited at the prospect of seeing the sniper do her thing for the foreseeable future in the State of Hockey.

“We definitely had a slow start, played some good teams to start the season like Toronto and Boston and I think we’re excited to get to the next games against them because we’re a completely different team than we were in November,” Snodgrass told us. “We sort of had this epiphany moment when we were at the border of the playoffs in that four-spot in the standings. Every point really counts and we’ve gone into every weekend with the mentality that we really need these points. We’ve shown a lot of grit and competitiveness lately here and we’re ready to keep going.”

Snodgrass has only been held off the scoresheet in four of 14 games, has five multipoint games, and oh yeah, scored a hat trick on her birthday, too. She’s averaging just under four shots on goal per game and has at least one shot in every PHF game she’s played in.

“As a rookie, I had no idea what to expect or how I would fit in with the competition. I’ve been having a lot of success and I credit that to my linemates Jonna and Liz (Schepers). They’re great and we have a lot of chemistry,” said Snodgrass. “It is faster, definitely more physical (at this level) which I appreciate. I like playing a physical game and when the refs let us play.”

Her shot is lethal, and most goalies in the league have already felt the vapors from it. Snodgrass also knows that is her biggest weapon and that teams will attempt to stifle it. But so far, she is winning that battle.

“People who have scouted me, the one thing they always say is to watch out for her shot. I think they try to take it away from me, which can be frustrating. But I definitely take some pride in my shot, and I work on it a lot, and when it hits the net it could be a good result.”

The Whitecaps have proven themselves to be in the top half of this league. They can skate up and down the ice with the other top teams, and when they have played the teams below them, the teams who don’t have much of a strategy or any cohesiveness, they have come away on top. Minnesota has also won all of its games in regulation, which could be important when it comes down to tiebreakers and securing a playoff spot.

“These two wins were huge for us. I think winning both in regulation, and today by a large margin was key for us,” defender Sydney Baldwin said after a sweep of the Riveters that sent the Whitecaps into the All-Star break on a high note.

“There were definitely times or shifts where our play fluctuated a bit, which is natural in a 60-minute hockey game. But for the most part, we took care of business, played solid defensively, and kept them at or below two goals in both games. That was big for us.”

Baldwin, now in her fourth season with the team, may only have four points/all assists currently but perhaps she’s saving the goals for the biggest games, and don’t be fooled by that number. She has 33 shots on goal and when her shot finds the net, good things happen.

“When I get the opportunity to shoot - I love to do so. This year we have a lot of offensive D, players getting involved in the play. I’m figuring out what’s needed from me this year (as we go along) but I take a lot of pride in playing in the D zone. But yeah, I like to get involved offensively when push comes to shove.”

The Whitecaps play two of their remaining four road games this weekend in Montreal and then after a weekend off they’ll be home for two, two-game sets against Buffalo and Toronto. They’ll close out the regular season in March with a road trip to Boston and return home for (what could be a Humongous Big) a date with Connecticut (who is currently nipping at their heels in the PHF standings).

Minnesota has been in the Isobel Cup Final in three of their first four seasons since joining the league and after missing out last season they look primed to make another run at capturing their second Cup. Should be an exciting end to the season for Whitecaps’ fans.