After a trying 53 days following a COVID-19 outbreak in Lake Placid, New York, an Isobel Cup Champion has finally been named, officially drawing a conclusion to the league’s sixth season.
Held at Warrior Ice Arena in Boston, it was a contest that should have taken place at this very same venue 379 days ago. However, with COVID-19 sweeping the nation, the NWHL announced in May the cancellation of the Isobel Cup Final. While a winner wasn’t named for season five, it was the very same match taking place a year later.
Just as it was meant in 2020, the Boston Pride, the league’s No. 4 seed, played as host on Saturday to the Minnesota Whitecaps. In an epic offensive battle in which Boston was pitted against the No. 2 seed, the Pride, with a full team effort, became the league’s first team to win the championship twice.
While the game didn’t start as they hoped with the opening goal from Minnesota’s Allie Thunstrom, the Pride made their statement in the second, which began with Mary Parker, as they evened the scoring. Continuing a hard fought game tied at one, captain Jillian Dempsey, being the leader she is, would put her team back on top at the 15:05 mark.
She did so with the help of Taylor Turnquist and Christina Putigna to go ahead 2-1. “I guess I was in one of my sweet spots, I like shooting from that spot,” said the two-time Isobel Cup champion. “Everybody went out there and did their job and owned their role and battled hard one shift at a time and that was just our mindset and focus going forward. So, you know, proud of this whole group.”
While that just got the party started, Lexie Laing then followed in her footsteps on a five-on-three power play with under three minutes left. The forward took a cross-ice pass and banked it in right past Leveille, who had a shutout on Friday. Scoring just over two minutes apart, this allowed the Pride to keep rolling, now ahead by two on Minnesota, 3-1. Putigna recorded the primary assist, her second point of the night, while Kaleigh Fratkin got the secondary.
That sent a confident Pride team off the ice after 40 with the cup close in reach. With credit to a fabulous goalie duel, both the Pride and Whitecaps stayed aggressive with the cup on the line between the league’s strongest teams. While Lovisa Selander was nailing the door shut, Amanda Leveille also got to show off at the 12:22 mark, as she kept the game close.
Stopping a Tori Sullivan penalty shot, the block gave Minnesota some hope despite trailing the home team in the game’s final frame. Helping light a spark that they needed, Allie Thunstrom, with the help of Meaghan Pezon, scored her second of the night only eight seconds later. Netted at the 7:46 mark, it was also her fourth goal scored in only two games. This cut the deficit to one at a point that proved crucial for Minnesota to mount a comeback.
Unable to tack on further, that then set the tone for the Pride, who successfully converted on another power play. Doing so just one minute later, it would be one Boston took full advantage of, thanks to Taylor Wenczkowski at the 13:32 mark. Rebounding a point shot from Fratkin, their two-goal lead was restored with only six minutes left. For Fratkin, it was her second assist in what would end up being her first NWHL title.
“It’s been amazing to be a part of kind of the growth of where we started when we won four games,” she said after the game. “I think, when I joined the team in season three to Paul (Mara) joining us in season four and really kind of building a culture and building a winning organization. It’s been awesome to do it alongside Jill and, you know, Mary Parker and some of the other players that have been around for a while. I’m speechless.”
With only 6:28 left, the Boston Pride were inching closer to hoisting the hardware. That’s when things started getting chippy, as the Pride laid their game plan, while the Whitecaps fought back. Running with their 4-2 lead, Boston, with less than three minutes left, was charged a major penalty for a check from behind.
That sent Tereza Vanisova off after laying a hit on Audra Richards into the boards. That set up a Minnesota power play to give them one last chance with just a minute left to go. At this point, the tides turned one more time, as Meaghan Pezon scored to bring the Whitecaps within one. It was Minnesota’s first power play goal, cutting the deficit to one, at the 19:42 mark.
“We are a team of fighters,” said Winny Brodt-Brown of Meaghan Pezon’s compete. “Like all of these players have been playing through adversity all of our careers and that’s why you continued to see us in the bubble fight back from behind and I think that’s just a credit to the character of the players on our team. We would go to battle with them and it was just a really fun team. And, you know, for a season that wasn’t ideal, we made the best of it.”
After cutting Boston’s lead to just one, the Whitecaps called a brief time out to draw up one more plan with the potential to tie it. However, with 19.4 seconds remaining, the clock was not in their favour to light the lamp one more time. Failing to create that last chance, the Whitecaps fell 4-3, while the Boston Pride were named Isobel Cup Champions.
The team was led between the pipes by Lovisa Selander, who made 27 saves. Selander became the first Swede in the NWHL to win the Isobel Cup. Speaking of which, for Boston, they become the first franchise in NWHL history to win the championship twice. It becomes their first win since 2016.
Leading the Boston Pride since day 1, Jillian Dempsey was named playoff MVP, having tallied three points to lead her team to the league title. Taking time to let it sink in, Dempsey said to the media between team celebrations, “We finally did it and I’m so proud of our team. Huge congratulations to Minnesota, too. They really made that a battle until the very last second.”
This was a feeling that resonated with a handful of players up and down the Pride roster. “[The finish] felt like the longest 19 seconds of my life,” said Kaleigh Fratkin, now an Isobel Cup champion. “Lexie Laing has been an amazing center for us. She won the draw, and Lauren Kelly has been unbelievable for us this year on the D-end — she sent the puck down and killed it. Man, a great way to bring home the last 19 seconds.”
It was a full team performance from Boston, who safely basked in the glory after playing their hearts out. “It’s awesome for these players,” said Pride head coach Paul Mara. “They worked so hard for the last seven months and to achieve what they did tonight is the pinnacle of women’s hockey right now.”
Rebounding from challenges in Lake Placid, it’s not lost on Boston’s coaches or talent why it is that the Pride made it back to the championship. “The leadership of this team kept this group together,” Mara went on to say. “They never wavered from their plan, and in return, they get an Isobel Cup.”
At the end of the day, the difference maker behind this is the only one left from the original Pride roster. “Demps is by far the best leader that I’ve had in my time as a player,” said defensemen Kaleigh Fratkin. “She really is special, I don’t think there are words that can describe how special she is.”