PRIDE TOP WHALE 4-1 BEFORE THIRD STRAIGHT SELLOUT CROWD
By Mike Murphy
Tonight, the Boston Pride earned a victory in their third consecutive sellout and final home game of the 2019-20 regular season. The Pride improved to a record of 21-1, but tonight's win did not come easily. The visiting Connecticut Whale smothered and stymied the NWHL’s most potent offense for over 30 minutes thanks to some exceptional team defense and superb goaltending from Brooke Wolejko.
“One thing we have talked about all season is how other teams in the league will improve,” Kaleigh Fratkin said after the victory. “Every time someone comes into our building, we know we need to play our best game because they want to beat us – we have a target on our back and were 19-0 to start the season.”
The Connecticut Whale played an outstanding first period of road hockey. The visitors managed to limit the Pride’s chances with backchecking and by collapsing in the neutral zone. When Boston did find daylight, Wolejko came up with big stops. Thanks to their defense-first approach, the Whale became the first team this season to shutout the Pride through the first 20 minutes of a game.
“Being tied 0-0 after the first period was pretty foreign to us,” Fratkin said. “The talk in the locker room was about how we needed to play playoff hockey and that came from the coaching staff on down.”
After failing to cash in on two power play opportunities, the Pride finally broke the scoreless tie at the 16:12 mark of the second period.
Fratkin made a crafty play at the blue line to get a shot on net and Lexie Laing pounced on the rebound in the slot. She ripped it high to beat Wolejko and break the scoreless tie.
“We had some great forechecking on that shift, we were all over them,” Laing said after the game. “We got the puck up to Fratty and she did what she does best – she ripped a slap shot – and the rebound just happened to bounce right to me. All I was thinking was just, ‘Please let this go on net.’”
Through two periods, the Pride had a 1-0 lead despite having a 33-14 edge in shots. However, the back-and-forth defense-first hockey of the first 40 minutes gave way to a fast-paced third period.
About three minutes into the third Jillian Dempsey battled right on top of the goal crease to find a loose puck that she cashed in to give her team a 2-0 lead. That tally by Dempsey proved to be the game-winning goal after the Whale finally broke through halfway through the final period of regulation. The Whale went on the attack after a close call for the Pride and Janine Weber got the puck in front to Kaycie Anderson who spun a blind backhander through Lovisa Selander to cut Boston’s lead down to a single goal.
The Whale threatened to tie the game after Anderon's third goal of the season, but Boston found the insurance goal they needed on the power play. Thanks to a diving effort at the blue line by Fratkin, Mallory Souliotis found herself with space and time and fired a pass in off a Whale defender and past Wolejko.
Shortly thereafter, Alyssa Wohlfeiler, in her first game back in the lineup after missing several weeks with injury, buried the puck in the empty net. Wohlfeiler’s goal made it a 4-1 game and sealed the deal on Boston’s final home game of the regular season.
“The fans have been amazing for us all year and especially at the end of the year with the three straight sellouts,” Fratkin said. “Getting our lineup back to being healthy – we spent most of the season dealing with injuries, having people with concussions. We just got Mary Parker back into the swing of things and reuniting that line with Parker, Wolfy, and Emily Fluke and having them get the empty-netter gives us a lot of confidence.”
The Pride and Whale will meet again on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Webster Bank Arena, the home of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Puck drop for that game is 2 p.m. ET and there will be a meet-and-greet with the Whale players before the Sound Tigers will host the Hershey Bears at 7 p.m. ET.
“The Whale are certainly a different hockey club,” Fratkin shared after the game. “They picked up Janine Weber who is a really stable, balanced hockey player and have added some more talent. I know they’re also struggling with injuries – they miss Jordan Brickner in their lineup. They’re a solid team, they never give up. It was a close game all the way until the end.”
Photo Credit: Michelle Jay