One thing is for sure in 2021, and it is that the Minnesota Whitecaps are hungry. The team was supposed to compete in the 2020 Isobel Cup championship game on March 13 against the Boston Pride before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. Whoever won would be the first NWHL team to win two Isobel Cups, and if the Whitecaps won, it would be their second in a row.
Needless to say, they want to end up in that same position again this year.
The league’s format will be vastly different however, leaving little room to have off days or games where you simply couldn’t get it together. The NWHL will be taking their talents to a two-week bubble season in Lake Placid, playing games at the famous Herb Brooks arena. There, they will make hockey history one again as the first professional women’s teams to play there, as well as the first pro women’s teams to be broadcast live on national TV, and the Whitecaps would love to be at the center of attention for all of that.
It will be a long road for them, in a short amount of time, but being the team with the most amount of retained veterans, elite goaltending, and immense discipline on the ice, the Caps are no one to sleep on.
Rookies To Watch:
The Whitecaps have just three rookies, the least of any team in the league this year. Retaining their veterans gives them a huge advantage on a lot of the competition. This team has been playing together for years, and sometimes experience can outmatch just about anything. That being said, the three newcomers are nothing to downplay.
Mack led the Bemidji State Beavers in scoring two of her four years with the team, and was taken 23rd overall in the 2020 NWHL draft by the Whitecaps. She can be a massive point producer for the team who often scores low but holds the line.
Multiple program records set by Mack for Bemidji State. Shorthanded goals, shots...you name it, she's probably got it.— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) April 30, 2020
Coming off of a senior season at the University of Wisconsin, Rowe brings versatility to the team in that she has experience playing both as a forward and defender. She had just five points last season but took home the NCAA championship in 2019 so knows a thing or two about what it takes to win big.
Astrup had a pretty quiet senior season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, tallying just two points, but fills in the Whitecaps’ defense nicely which was arguably the only thing they could have improved on from last season. She, like many on the team, has low penalty minutes and knows how to keep the puck where she wants it.
Veterans To Watch:
Unfortunately, league OG, Corinne Buie will not be joining the Whitecaps as expected after making one of the offseason’s most unforgettable moves from her team of the last five years, the Buffalo Beauts. That doesn’t mean this team is at all short on leadership quality, and star veteran talent.
Thunstrom is a name synonymous with the Whitecaps at this point. She has played on the team since before their introduction to the NWHL, is an alternate captain, and routinely is the team’s leading scorer. Thunstrom is the definition of the player who goes where the puck is going, not where it is...and she’s fast enough that she just might beat the puck there too.
She became the first player in NWHL history to score 20 goals in a season last year as she hit a career high of 36 points, won co-league MVP, and has won the All-Star Game’s Fastest Skater competition two years in a row. Without a doubt, all eyes and defenders will be on her….if they can move that fast.
For the last six years of play, Leveille has found herself in the championship game, and in most cases, winning it. After three NCAA championships with the University of Minnesota where she posted an impressive .944 save percentage, she took her talents to the Buffalo Beauts where she won her first Isobel Cup, captained an All-Star team, and competed in a second Isobel Cup championship game.
The Canadian goaltender then moved to Minnesota to win another Isobel Cup with the Whitecaps and found herself gearing up for 2020’s championship game as well. She is about as perfect as they come in the crease. My only concern for Minnesota’s goaltending is the tournament schedule. With a lot of games packed into a small time frame, the likelihood that we see more tandem goaltending from every team might actually hurt a team like the Whitecaps given just how little playing experience backup goalie Allie Morse has despite her college stats.
WATCH: @MandyLeveille29 HOW. WHAT THE. WHAT IS THIS? Leveille channels Dominik Hasek and makes some ridiculous desperation saves for @WhitecapsHockey!!! #NWHLonTwitch— NWHL (@NWHL) March 1, 2020
: https://t.co/EHkD9gflXv pic.twitter.com/CY7amFtdYz
Another alternate captain, Curtis is usually second to only Thunstrom in goals and points, and led the team in assists last season. A former captain at the University of New Hampshire, she’s played three seasons for the Whitecaps and has already racked up an Isobel Cup and a league regular season championship. She’s been to two All-Star games and was named NWHL Newcomer of the Year back in 2019.
Like the other two vets listed, she has the experience and leadership qualities you want on the ice. She will always find a way to make a good play happen.
Season Prediction & Projected Lines:
The Whitecaps are and have always been an elite team in every sense of the word. The discipline they carry on the ice leaves little room for mistakes. That paired with their speed and immense goalie talent makes them a team to be afraid of consistently.
That being said, I think the competition is heightened in this league to a point we’ve never seen before. It’s going to be a lot harder for them to cruise their way to a final, and every other team is surely gunning for them to not be the first team to win two Isobel Cups. I’ll call it a hot take, but I think the Whitecaps will fall just short of the championship game, losing in the semi-finals, but will put on an unforgettable, talented run all the way through.
Not many details have been released about who is playing where or when, but based on previous seasons and what pieces the Whitecaps have been able to put together, my best guess is that their top two lines of Jonna Curtis, Meaghan Pezon, and Allie Thunstrom & Stephanie Anderson, Lauren Barnes, and Audra Richards will stay intact with the potential to break them up occasionally to get Mack more ice time and see how she meshes with the team. I expect Haylea Schmid and Meghan Lorence to stay together also. With Nicole Schammel not returning to the team, Nina Rodgers can slide in for her nicely.
As for the defense, everything is subject to change from last year but keeping Amanda Boulier and Winny Brodt-Brown seems like a sure fire thing as well as Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal and Rose Alleva. With the addition of Sara Bustad, who tends to dominate the ice when she’s on it, I could see her time being optimized by being paired with Lisa Martinson or Brooke White-Lancette.
The sixth NWHL season will begin Jan. 23 and you can stream all of the games on the league’s Twitch channel, as well as watch the semi-final and final matchups live on NBCSN.