Wenczkowski’s Game-Winner Sends Boston Back to the Isobel Cup Championship

by Jacob Solomons

The Boston Pride and Toronto Sox have developed a strong rivalry in the brief time that the Six have been a part of the PHF. Sunday’s Semifinals matchup proved no different, as both teams battled for a chance at the coveted Isobel Cup Championship. The Pride and the Six split their regular season series 2-2, the final two games resulting in Overtime losses for Boston. The road trip North of the border left Boston wondering if their playoff chances would be successful against a formidable opponent in the Toronto Six.

A gameplan that was tried and tested in the victory over the Buffalo Beauts proved successful in the long-term: play your game and focus on the little things. If you perfect the details and implement that into a team dynamic, especially with a winning culture like Boston, the sky is the limit. “Scoring goals is fun, obviously those help us on the scoreboard…but we just gotta focus on the little things and play our game the way we’ve been doing all year,” said Taylor Wenczkowski. Sure enough, Boston played their game and executed their gameplan perfectly.


First Period

The opening period was quite overwhelming to say the least. We realized quickly that both teams were locked-in to claiming their spot in Monday’s Championship game vs the Connecticut Whale. A burst of energy by both teams set the tone, looking to take advantage on any opening.

A pretty quiet first-half built up some anxiety, knowing that it was only a matter of time before one of these teams would score. The festivities began around the halfway mark, with Kaleigh Fratkin heading to the penalty box for cross checking at 13:41. An interesting turn of events resulted in Toronto evening the playing field, with a penalty on Mikyla Grant-Mentis for tripping 14:02. On the same play, Breanne Wilson-Bennett would be charged with a body checking minor, resulting in a 4-on-3 powerplay for Boston. With the Pride going from penalty kill to powerplay almost instantly, the momentum shifted back into their hands.

Boston broke out of their zone with an offensive rush and controlled the zone effortlessly. The powerplay unit set up along the perimeter, with Tereza Vanisova sending a warning shot from the left circle. Vanisova’s shot deflected away by Elaine Chuli, skipped over to Christina Putigna who was there for the rebound. Putigna fired the puck in the net past Chuli for the first goal of the game at 15:39. “It was a huge goal; you love to get that first one. There was a huge energy on the bench which always helps. It was just great to get that first one,” said Putigna.

The remaining 15 seconds on a 5-on-4 powerplay was used effectively by Boston. A neutral zone transition allowed Kali Flanagan to control the puck and burst into the attacking zone past three defenders. Flanagan’s speed has been her secret weapon this season, and her contributions on offense attest to that. Breaking into the zone, Flanagan fired a quick wrister to beat Elaine Chuli on an off-balance shot connecting with the net for a 2-0 lead at 16:07. “Kali’s a phenomenal skater, great ability, great momentum, and a skilled goal-scorer. We’re glad to have her be a part of this team this season,” said Paul Mara. An Olympic Gold medalist certainly adds prestige to the team, but we know it’s teamwork that makes the dream work. Boston’s teamwork was in full effect as goaltender Katie Burt would be awarded an assist on the play, recording Boston’s first-ever playoff assist by a goalie! Their first goalie assist since Season One.

A short time after Flanagan’s goal, Boston went on the attack once again. Some traffic in front of the net followed a shot at the point, started on by a successful goalie screen. Kayla Friesen took control of a loose puck, getting a clear shot of the net. Friesen lifted the puck over Chuli’s pad for the third goal of the period. Boston quickly sprung out to a three-goal lead, something not many people would expect against Toronto, but Boston’s ability to overcome the odds was on full display late in the period.

With the momentum rolling, Boston would be brought back down to reality, with Tereza Vanisova drawing a penalty for hooking at 18:22. Toronto’s first real chance on a powerplay, they needed to get something going offensively.

Toronto took control of the attacking zone quickly, a few shots on net kept Katie Burt on her toes but saved everything. Burt was all over the place trying to protect the net, but the offense of Toronto was just too much. An attack for the Six presented an open net shot by Boquist, blocked by the defender. The rebound was collected and buried in the net by Breanne Wilson-Bennett for the powerplay goal at 19:26. With just seconds left in the first, the Six were able to cut the deficit to two. Although they were down by two, we knew it was still a very close game.

End of First: BOS - 3, TOR - 1.


Second Period

The momentum shift favored Boston in the early going, improving on their puck control, and developing a stronger forecheck than the first period. With a speed-oriented team like Toronto, you have to cut down the offensive rushes quickly and the Pride managed to do that.

The Pride took advantage on offense following a faceoff win, giving Evelina Raselli a scoring chance. Raselli fired a shot, kicked up by a defender and sailed in the air for what seemed to be an eternity. The puck would fall just over the shoulder of Chuli, quite literally, falling into the net for the lead 4-1 at 3:40. Raselli for her first postseason goal.

There’s no question Elaine Chuli is one of the best goalies in the PHF. To get four goals past her is no easy task, and certainly makes the coaching staff question whether or not to switch netminders. Toronto would stand their ground and let Chuli finish her game in her net just as she’s done all season, with poise and confidence. The fourth goal, however, shifted the momentum into Boston’s favor as they continued to challenge her offensively. In the playoffs, four goals is not enough for a win and a three-goal lead is not big enough to be comfortable with against an aggressive Toronto Six team.

A few lengthy sequences for both teams allowed them to generate some momentum without a whistle. There were many questionable plays where a penalty could have been called on Toronto, however, the officials elected to let the teams play. Not always a terrible thing, but when an interference penalty happens right in front of a referee, you begin to wonder what constitutes a penalty? We can’t argue, of course, we just had to play our game and play Boston Pride hockey.

As luck would have it, Kali Flanagan would head to the box for roughing at 14:17. It seemed like the Toronto player fell down following a light shove and Flanagan was in the vicinity, which meant she would draw the penalty. Flanagan smiled as she headed to the box not so much in happiness, but disbelief that she was being penalized. Thankfully, the Pride were able to kill off the penalty. The key was consistency and to cut down the offense on the forecheck; a gameplan all too familiar with Boston’s penalty kill unit.

Toronto’s offense has been dominant but the for the full 60-minutes, however, the Pride were just smothering them with their defense, back/forechecking.

“We just wanna keep out focus on our energy and good vibes, we have plenty of those so we gotta keep it going,” said Christina Putigna. “Our work in our offensive zone isn’t done yet.”

The offensive spark for Boston would not go out without a fight even with a significant lead. With the final period in sight, Boston would be tested and presented with an opportunity to send Toronto home early.

End of Second: BOS - 4, TOR - 1.

 

Third Period

The final period began with an energy shift, with Toronto coming out knowing their backs were against the wall. With these two teams, and their battles this season, there was no question it would be an intense atmosphere through all 60-minutes of regulation. Toronto played with a confidence like they were the ones up 4-1, coach Mark Joslin knew this team would be steadfast and play hard no matter the situation or circumstances. Boston’s defense would not falter, staying strong to their gameplan and shut them down on every play.

Toronto would draw a penalty on Stephanie Sucharda for roughing at 6:36, a costly mistake for the Six. Boston’s powerplay chance was gift-wrapped and provided an opportunity expand their lead once again.

Another perimeter powerplay, played along the outer rim of the attacking zone, Taylor Wenczkowski circled back along the blue line, passing over to Amanda Boulier. Boulier let a slapshot go on net and deflected back out to the point recovered by Wenczkowski. Wenchy setup and moved in for a mid-range wrister, reaching the nylon for the 5-1 lead, closing the door on a Toronto comeback. Wenczkowski’s second goal of the postseason.

“It’s something about the Boston Pride when the playoffs come around. They just know how to turn it on.” -Josh Eastern, ESPN Play-by-Play Announcer

Eastern understood something that most of us who know the Pride and their style of play know to be true…when the chips are down, Boston will go all in every single time and challenge you until the final buzzer. Not because they’re defending a Championship, but because the players trust each other and have a confidence that can’t be shaken by a team who earned a first-round bye. “We just carried our momentum over from the Buffalo game,” said coach Paul Mara. “We’re here for one thing, that’s the Isobel Cup.” Short and to the point as always. That’s our coach.

Katie Burt. A playoff performance that surely puts her name in the running for Isobel Cup MVP. Burty has been perfect in this game, aside from the one goal allowed. With the defense making easy work for her, she’s been unstoppable in allowing only one goal in two games. Staying in position, full-laser focus, there’s no question she has been the backbone of this Boston Pride team this entire season. Allowing only nineteen shots on net Burt will definitely keep that momentum rolling into Monday night’s matchup vs Connecticut. “Burty is unreal, making some pretty big saves for us. The saves she’s making helps us get going offensively but we know we still have to protect our zone,” said Christina Putigna.

The Pride have kept their gameplan simple in the final minutes: keep the pressure on. The motivation of defending the Isobel Cup title has been fueling Boston’s fire, but it really comes down to playing at a level that leaves no doubt that they deserve to be back in the Championship game. “Obviously, we want to win. We just gotta go out trust ourselves and each other, on an off the ice. I think we’ve been doing that pretty well so far,” said Wenczkowski.