Back on Top: Boston Pride Secures Second Consecutive Isobel Cup Title

by Jacob Solomons

The Season 7 finale of the PHF culminated with the Isobel Cup Championship in Tampa, Florida at the AdventHealth Center Ice. The Boston Pride and the Connecticut Whale earned their spots to battle for the chance to hoist the coveted title. Connecticut has broken single-season records individually and as a team, all leading to their first Finals appearance in the team’s seven year history.

The Boston Pride are no strangers to the Championship stage, having won the Isobel Cup last season against the Minnesota Whitecaps, as well as their first Cup victory in the inaugural NWHL season in 2015-16. With Boston on the hunt for their third title, Connecticut had to play a perfect game and goaltender Abbie Ives had to be the brick wall she’s been all season long.

Boston and Connecticut faced off four times in the regular season, with the Whale winning 3-of-4 games. The regular season Champion Connecticut Whale (15-3-2) had all the momentum heading into the playoffs and nobody could stop them from making history and raising their first Isobel Cup…except the Boston Pride.

“We play them ten times; they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can!”- Herb Brooks

…And they did. The Boston Pride shut down the Connecticut Whale and defended their Isobel Cup, becoming the first-ever three-time Isobel Cup Champions.


First Period


Both of these teams knew exactly what was at stake, the Isobel Cup Championship. The Cup was certainly the goal, but we had to get through 60-minutes of hockey before anyone could celebrate anything. Connecticut came out with their intensity, pressure and speed that has intimidated most PHF teams this season. Boston does not shy away from competition, but thrives on the pressure and fight with their backs against the wall.

The Pride had a bit of trouble early on with their puck control and passing. A bit of championship nerves, you could say. The Whale were quite vicious on defense so it’s understandable Boston got tripped up a little bit. An offensive rush for the Pride developed around the four minute mark as they carried the puck along the boards, led by Jillian Dempsey. Dempsey cut into the zone, deked out two defenders with ease and flipped a backhander past Abbie Ives to put Boston on the board first 1-0 at 4:14. Dempsey’s goal is significant momentum-wise, but this early in the game, you can’t rely on a one goal lead.

Through the first half of the period, the gameplay was as evenly matched as you could get. The Pride were not so much focused on the endgame of winning just yet, but more so wearing down their opponent. Kennedy Marchment has been a standout for Connecticut all season long, Monday’s game was no different as her speed and skill took center stage, carving up the defense and firing a few shots on net.

Connecticut did an excellent job of blocking shots in front of Abbie Ives. Ives had been challenged early and often, with the Pride picking apart the Whale defense and exposing their (few) weaknesses. “When we’re playing our game, we know we’re the best team out there,” said head coach Paul Mara.

The Whale established a zone presence in the latter half of the first, exhausting the defense with their passing and successful board battles. Katie Burt had only let one goal by her in this playoffs, a near-perfect performance as expected.

“She was Katie Burt,” Mara said. “She is a fantastic goalie. I think she’s the best goalie in this league and one of the best goalies in the world. She showed that this week and she put us on her shoulders, and she carried us and has made the big saves when we needed them.”

Boston’s neutral zone transition difficulties had begun to resurface, with the Whale’s defense pressuring and cutting down any opportunities. Connecticut won a faceoff in the neutral zone; Janine Weber fed the puck to Amanda Conway who carried it into the attacking zone. Conway fired a wrister hoping to just get it on net and snuck it past Katie Burt for the tying goal at 16:44. “Yeah I’m gonna talk to Burty about that one later, see what the issue was there,” said Paul Mara jokingly in the postgame presser. Whether it was a lucky shot or not, the game was tied, and the Whale had the upper hand looking to take the lead.

The Whale didn’t let up the pressure in the final minutes. Boston looked a little dazed as Connecticut put their foot on the gas until the final buzzer. With the game tied at one, both teams were looking at a new game heading into the second period looking for that lead, hoping to expand.

End of the First: BOS - 1, CTW - 1


Second Period


Coming out of the locker room, with their game-tying goal in the first, Connecticut knew they had a chance to take the lead and hold on for the win. A quick offensive push, just 33 seconds into the period, allowed Kennedy Marchment to control the puck in the zone along the right wing. Marchment fed it over to Taylor Girard on the doorstep for the tip-in goal, taking the lead 2-1. An explosive entry into the zone and a quick lead gave the Whale the energy they needed to buckle down and pressure Boston for the remaining 40-minutes.

Board battles in the neutral zone were consistent, as both teams tried making the transition but struggled a fair amount. A loose puck in front of the bench created a scary sight as Jillian Dempsey would draw the first major penalty of the game for cross-checking at 2:06. Cailey Hutchison took the shove into the boards, trying to gain possession of the puck. Dempsey’s hit was unlike anything we’ve seen from the captain but sometimes things happen, and it gets physical out there. A dangerous play that turned out better than it could have.

Boston’s five-minute major was among the few major penalties we’ve seen this season. With a team like Connecticut, Boston could not afford to have such a lengthy penalty. However, the character of the Boston Pride and the determination they’ve displayed this season on special teams allowed them to kill off the penalty successfully, preventing the Whale from expanding their lead.

The second half of the middle period would be the turning point of the physical game. An offensive rush by Connecticut gave them the edge, moving in deep to the corner. Boston’s McKenna Brand tried to clear the zone as Alyssa Wohlfeiler would get called for tripping at 13:27. The delayed penalty would be recognized but Taylor Wenczkowski took exception to the trip by Wohlfeiler, giving her a mean shove after the whistle. Wenczkowski would be sent to the box for roughing at 13:27.

A bit of 4-on-4 hockey gave both teams an “even-strength” penalty. Both penalties killed off as expected, as these two teams were among the best in penalty kills this season. Kennedy Marchment would draw a penalty for body checking at 17:04, giving Boston a powerplay chance to tie it. Boston would be unsuccessful, although they were able to rattle Abbie Ives with a few shots on net.

In the final minutes of play, Boston controlled in the attacking zone. Connecticut’s netminder Abbie Ives was playing on her head. “She’s got us to where we were this season. She’s young and we put a lot on her plate in a must-win game and she answered. We had all the confidence in the world with her in net,” said head coach Colton Orr. The momentum battling in the attacking zone definitely lit a fire under Boston knowing they’re still in this game. A one-goal lead is not safe in a Championship game, especially when you have a hungry group of players in the Boston Pride. There’s nothing more dangerous than a team who is hell-bent on defending their championship win from last season. Boston would preserve their energy for the third period to make sure that Connecticut knew who runs this league.

End of Second: CTW - 2, BOS - 1


Third Period

 

In the final period, the anxiety and intensity were amplified knowing the winner would be crowned at the final buzzer. Boston would take it one minute at a time and play their game, hoping to tie it up. A failed zone clearing by the Whale allowed Boston to take over on offense with Christina Putigna taking possession into the corner and fed the puck to Evelina Raselli out front. Raselli’s pass set her up for a one-timer, just tipping it in to beat Ives for the tying goal at 6:39.

Christina Putigna would assume control of the puck once again on another offensive rush. In the same position along the right circle, sending a shot along that was kicked away by Ives. Ives would play out of the net a bit, leaving room for Taylor Wenczkowski to recover the rebound and bury the puck in the net for the 3-2 lead for Boston at 6:57. Two goals in 17 seconds will shift the momentum instantly for any team. Thankfully, the Pride were on the winning end of that opportunity with Wenczkowski’s third goal of the playoffs.

“They are a team that can score in bunches,” said Whale head coach Colton Orr. “They’ve got a really skilled team. Their third line was really good tonight. It was just one of those things where they grabbed the momentum quickly. We had it for a bit up 2-1, but it was one of those shifts where you score that one and it’s hard to recover from. I think the players felt like they were in it, but you could see how much that took out of us, and then the next one.”

The defensive pressure by Boston had been impeccable, a much different approach than we saw in the first two periods. The Whale were being held to the perimeter where a few shots were made but nothing significant. It almost seemed like Connecticut was on a penalty kill, just based on how much Boston was smothering them defensively.

Head coach Colton Orr would call a timeout at 17:46, hoping to regroup and reassess Connecticut’s gameplan in the remaining time. The Whale were able to generate some offense with a shot by Marchment and Girard, a few shots off the crossbar shook Katie Burt a little bit, knowing those pucks were inches from tying the game. Boston would not waver and continued to focus on holding that 3-2 lead for just a few more minutes.

The Whale would decide to pull Abbie Ives with about two minutes left, giving them an extra skater. Boston would take control in their defensive zone and shot the puck down with the intent of just clearing the zone. Luckily, the shot fired down by Jenna Rheault would find the empty net and seal the deal with the two-goal lead at 18:30.

Connecticut would stick with the 6-on-5 extra skater for the rest of the game, hoping for one last effort to get another goal. Boston would call a timeout with 22.1 seconds left; Paul Mara wanted to make sure that his players were composed even though the game was fingertips away.

The clock would run down to zero, with the Boston Pride successfully shutting down the Whale, bringing home their second consecutive Isobel Cup Championship! There was lots of speculation all season, as to whether Boston could really contend with the powerhouse teams like the Toronto Six and Connecticut Whale in the playoffs. Katie Burt had a few choice words on the ice following the Pride’s victory: “Nobody believed in us. Everyone wanted Boston to lose…Rest in peace to the rest of the PHF. Back to back champs!” Boston did it their way. Backs against the wall, fighting out of the corner, coming out victorious once again.

Final Score: Boston - 4, Connecticut - 2.

 

Mission Accomplished, Izzy Comes Home


“It was our mission to come back and win twice in a row,” Jillian Dempsey said. “We had so much stacked against us and I’m just incredibly proud of how we came together at the right time to get the job done.”

A team effort was paramount to the Boston Pride’s success this season, regardless of individual accolades and accomplishments. Pride captain Jillian Dempsey became the first player in PHF history to win a third Isobel Cup having been a part of all three franchise victories.

Taylor Wenczkowski would record the game-winning goal and receive MVP honors for the 2022 Isobel Cup Playoffs. “I honestly didn’t even care about being the MVP, I just wanted to win,” said Wenczkowski. A true team player and a superstar in the making. Katie Burt stopped 82 shots in total over the three games for an impressive goals-against-average of 1.00 and save percentage of .965.

“We were going to leave it all on the line,”  Paul Mara said. “One hundred percent of our souls were going into that third period, and you could tell. Our team is a veteran group, the way we pretty much roll three to four lines this whole three-game series and it showed. 2-1 going into the third against the number one team is a tough feat. I’m really proud of our team for battling the way they did and never quitting and came up with a huge win.”