WHALE READY TO TEST THE PRIDE IN ISOBEL CUP SEMIFINAL
By Mike Murphy
After a 23-1-0 performance in the 2019-20 regular season, the Boston Pride are now just hours away from stepping onto the ice in the 2020 NWHL Isobel Cup Playoffs. At 2:30 p.m. ET the Pride will host the Connecticut Whale to determine which team advances to the Isobel Cup Final. On Friday night, the Whale defeated the Beauts 5-3 in the Play-In Game to earn their spot in today’s semifinals.
The Minnesota Whitecaps were the only team to beat the Pride during the regular season, but each of the league’s other three teams came close to handing Boston a loss. Thanks to a stunning 56-save performance from Brooke Wolejko, the Whale and Pride needed a shootout to determine the outcome of their matchup on Dec. 28. The big hero that night for the Pride was Tori Sullivan, who scored the shootout winner to keep Boston’s winning streak rolling. That game should be all the evidence the Pride need to not take the Whale lightly.
Of course, Boston winning that game and the other five games of the season series doesn’t matter today. That was the regular season – these are the playoffs. The Whale have already proven that anything can happen in the postseason, which makes them a unique challenge for the regular season champions.
As you might imagine, the Whale’s collective confidence is sky high. "We just have to continue,” Emma Vlasic said after Friday night. “I think what separates us right now is the pace that we play at. If we keep that same pace every game, we get the results (we want).”
Connecticut will try to tilt the ice with their forecheck against the Pride like they did against the Beauts on Friday, but that will be easier said than done.
On paper, the Pride are the deepest team in the league. They have a mobile blue line, led by Defender of the Year Kaleigh Fratkin, three lines that can score and Goaltender of the Year Lovisa Selander between the pipes. Yep, that’s about as stacked as stacked gets.
Boston’s offense is led by the most dangerous line in the league, centered by 2020 co-MVP and team captain Jillian Dempsey. Dempsey has scored seven points in eight career Isobel Cup Playoff games and will be a factor in all three zones. The NWHL’s all-time leading scorer always plays like she was built for big games like this, so she will be the player to watch for the Pride.
For the Whale, the story thus far has been about the team’s newcomers. Vlasic and Katelynn Russ each had three-point games against the Beauts. Allie LaCombe, another newcomer, scored a goal, was dominant on the faceoff dot and led the team in shots on goal (6) on Friday night.
Of course, there’s also Brooke Wolejko.
She made 28 saves for the Whale in the Play-In Game on Friday and earned a .938 save percentage in her four starts against the Pride in the regular season. Those are amazing numbers against the best offense in the NWHL. With her between the pipes, the Whale have a chance against any team in the league.
Today’s game will be live on the NWHL on Twitch at 2:30 p.m. ET. Will the Pride’s hunt for the Isobel Cup begin in earnest with a big win? Or will the Whale shock the world and take one step closer to their first-ever Isobel Cup victory? We will soon find out.
Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson