The NWHL season kicked off on Saturday with a triple-header where all six teams faced off for the first time. The Whitecaps took on the Boston Pride, what was set to be the premier matchup of day one. These two teams should have met for the Isobel Cup final last year before COVID-19 concerns prevented the game from being played.
This is their first meeting since. Needless to say, all eyes were on this game to see who would win. And the Whitecaps delivered. In stunning fashion, they took down the Pride 2-1, after allowing the Pride to take the lead with their one goal, and gave them their first loss since Jan. 25, 2020.
On Sunday, the took on the newly expanded, Toronto Six and gave us a barn burner if there ever was one. Ultimately, they won that one 6-5 but not without some goalie drama, a ton of penalties, and a shootout.
The Whitecaps got on the stat sheet quickly, taking a handful of penalties early in the first period in the first game. This is certainly unusual for the team that had the lowest PIM, by far, in the league last season. While it wasn’t a power play goal, that may have contributed to Christina Putigna being able to land one goal past Leveille about halfway through the first period.
That was however, the only goal they would get, on 37 total shots. Leveille posted a .973 save percentage and was awarded first star of the game for her performance. Just over a minute after Putigna’s goal, the Whitecaps gave it right back with a great shot by Jonna Curtis. A few penalties later, and Audra Richards got her second assist of the day on a goal by captain Winny Brodt-Brown eleven minutes into the second period. Time would expire after that, leaving the final score with a crushing defeat to Boston.
While it was still a premier matchup, it was clear that Boston just isn’t the same team as they were last season. When you watched them during their invincible 23-1 run, they had this aura about them of just complete dominance. They looked beatable here, which is much easier to say with Amanda Leveille in net, but still true.
The loss of defender Lexi Bender, and forwards Emily Fluke and Alyssa Wohlfeiler, who have signed with other teams this offseason, may have had more of an impact than they thought.
The following day, they went with Leveille in goal again, despite a short turnaround from Saturday. Typically, this isn’t a huge issue for her but they got down 3-0 early in the first period, Lindsay Eastwood being the player to get the Toronto Six their first ever goal.
Sydney Baldwin, the first star of the game, got one back before time expired for the first period. Leveille was taken out briefly to be checked medically, but returned to finish out the rest of the game. She let up two more goals before the Whitecaps were able to rally back for her, tie the game up, and win in a shootout. Jonna Curtis and rookie, Haley Mack knocked the shootout goals in, making the Caps undefeated thus far.
A big issue in this game was the penalties again. I’m well aware I branded them as the cleanest team in the league, because they were last season. I really don’t know what we’re looking at this year, but they took 11 penalties in this game and that’s just unacceptable. They also had two controversial no-goal calls for two plays. It’s tough to imagine the outcome of the game had those not been ruled no-goals.
Monday is an off day for all the teams, but Minnesota will be back at it again against the Metropolitan Riveters Tuesday evening, at 5:30 pm EST. The Riveters shut out the Six in their first game, 3-0 and beating the Whale 4-3 in regulation, leaving them as the only remaining undefeated team aside from the Whitecaps. This will make their matchup on Tuesday that much more intense.
The Whitecaps have to clean up their act a little bit, and not take as many hooking or tripping calls, and make sure whoever is in net for them is at the top of their game. The Riveters will not going to go down without a fight.
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The two other games on day one were arguably more exciting than the Whitecaps first game which is a shock no one would have guessed before the season started.
The Riveters faced off with the Six to open the season and shut them out 3-0. Leila Kilduff had both even-strength goals from the point, and then Emily Janiga got her first goal as a Riveter late in the game with an empty-net goal. Kelly Babstock had both assists on Kilduff’s goals, and along with a huge diving save in the crease, and three penalties, she really rounded out her first game as a Riv. Sonjia Shelly was the first star of the game, stopping all 40 shots she faced.
The final game of the first evening was a matchup between the Beauts and the Whale, both teams predicted to land at the bottom of the standings, and it brought the heat. This game went to a shootout, after just a 1-1 score through regulation and overtime. Both goaltenders, Carly Jackson and Abbie Ives made their professional debut and certainly did not look like it. There were a total of 69 shots in the game, so it was a goaltender’s faceoff.
The Whale won with a first round shootout goal by Katelynn Russ, just barely squeaking by.
Day two saw some more drama with Riveters edging out the Whale 4-3 in regulation, utilizing their second goalie, who made her NWHL debut, Tera Hofmann, who had 33 saves. Something important to note from the first two games we’ve seen the Riveters in is their scoring production. Each line has produced points, and had a lot of scoring opportunity. One of the reasons they won both of their games so far is because there is really no relaxed line. That is something Minnesota will have to prepare for defensively.
The action will be back with another triple-header starting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. EST over on the NWHL’s Twitch channel.