Boston Pride win inaugural Isobel Cup with sweep of Buffalo Beauts

The first-ever Isobel Cup went to the top-ranked Boston Pride, who beat the upstart Buffalo Beauts in Game Two 3-1 Saturday evening at the Hockey House at the Prudential Center in Newark.

As expected, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker led the way, with Decker scoring three points (two goals, one assist) en route to earning the MVP trophy for best player in the series. Knight also tallied a goal and an assist.

Although the Pride got on the board fairly early, with Decker’s first goal coming at 11:55 of the first period, the Beauts were able to hold off Boston’s offense for much of the game, mostly on the weight of a stellar performance from Brianne McLaughlin (30 saves).

But in the third period, defensive breakdowns and penalties caught up with Buffalo, and Boston’s top two were able to carry their team to the win. Erin Zach spoiled the shutout bid with her first goal of the playoffs at 19:23 on a power play, but at that point, it was clear who would be lifting the first NWHL championship trophy.

Brittany Ott made 29 saves in her first playoff shutout and a solid performance of her own, where she withstood multiple net-crashing opportunities (mainly by the Kourtney Kunichika line) and rushes by Buffalo’s top two scorers, Meghan Duggan and Kelley Steadman.

This win is emblematic of the continued dominance of Boston pro women’s hockey; as most know by now, many of the Pride’s players had won the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup championship a season ago as members of the Boston Blades. However, the Buffalo Beauts were very much an underdog in the Isobel Cup playoffs, stunning the Whale in three games in the semis and pushing Boston to the limit in Game One of the Finals (where a fortuitous penalty shot call to none other than Knight gave the Pride a win). Unfortunately for Buffalo, time and experience were not their allies, and the Pride were able to roll for the win in the second game.

However, it should be noted that the Beauts have made perhaps the biggest leap of any team in the league, as they played their best hockey at the right time in order to get to Newark in the first place. This is a tenacious, speedy team that’s been a ton of fun to watch, and this is likely just a sign of bigger things to come for them.

Congratulations to the Boston Pride on their Isobel Cup win, to the Buffalo Beauts (as well as the Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters) for excellent seasons, and to the National Women’s Hockey League for making history!

 

Knight penalty shot gives Pride lead over Beauts in Isobel Cup Final

The first overtime result in the history of the NWHL’s postseason came under interesting circumstances, to say the least.

With the Buffalo Beauts called for a penalty in their goaltender’s crease, it was left to one of the best current players in the game to deliver for her team — and Hilary Knight made no mistake.

The Pride forward came in close with speed, going glove side on Brianne McLaughlin to lift the Boston Pride over the Beauts, 4-3 in overtime in a wild finish to Game One of the Isobel Cup Finals at the New Jersey Devils Hockey House at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The call came as McLaughlin was dragged out of position and a defender was deemed to have closed her hand on the puck. Despite protests from the bench and captain Emily Pfalzer, the referees called for a penalty shot, making for an unsatisfying ending to what had been shaping up to be a game for the record books for Buffalo.

The two teams played a tight first period, with Buffalo throwing Boston slightly off guard. The Beauts’ forwards played aggressively, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and trying to look for rebounds on Brittany Ott. Meanwhile, on the other end, Boston got a couple of good looks in on McLaughlin, but nothing stuck.

The second period was all Boston, however, as Brianna Decker took advantage of a bad breakdown in Buffalo’s zone, streaking in and shooting on McLaughlin. The rebound ended up on Blake Bolden’s stick, and she was able to make it 1-0 Pride. From that point forward, Boston dominated puck possession and made it difficult for the Beauts to exit their own zone and enter Boston’s. A seemingly innocent shot by Gigi Marvin midway through doubled the lead, but Buffalo had an answer. Erin Zach challenged a Pride defender with a diving defensive play, sending the puck up ice with Hannah McGowan and Pfalzer. Although Kacey Bellamy managed to break up their rush, no one on the Pride was able to clear, and Shelby Bram cut the lead in half.

A beautiful shot by Pfalzer tied the game at 2 in the third period, and then a couple of bad penalties by Pride players gave Buffalo the in they needed to try and win it. Zoe Hickel and Bellamy each went to the box within a minute of each other, and though the Beauts could not convert the 5 on 3, Kelley Steadman flew up the wing and got the time and space she needed to put a snap shot past Ott for a 3-2 lead with Bellamy still sitting for her penalty (ironically, one Steadman drew).

However, the lead didn’t last long. Late in the third, the Pride got a power play of their own as Megan Bozek took a delay of game penalty. As the Pride tried to cycle down low, Bellamy threw a centering pass in front and both Decker and Knight whacked at it, with Knight getting the puck past McLaughlin to tie the game back up. A late push by Buffalo ended up fruitless, leading to overtime, where Knight ensured her team a harder-fought victory than any they’ve seen in the postseason thus far.

With a mistake like that resulting in a crushing loss, it’ll be tough for the Beauts to regroup for Saturday evening’s Game Two, but they’ll have to do it quick if they want to have a chance to win the Cup. Despite the errors, the few rebounds from McLaughlin and the breakdown leading to the opening goal, it was a well-played and hard-nosed game from Buffalo, and the crowd in Newark (heavy on Beauts fans) certainly approved. The Kunichika line in particular, so effective at crashing the net and challenging opposing defenders all season, did much of the same tonight, and Pfalzer and Steadman came through exactly when they needed to. Meghan Duggan, who was not in the lineup tonight, could be back tomorrow, so that’ll be one more boost.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. in Newark.

Weekly News: CWHL to kick off season, Hilary Knight in documentary

  • The CWHL kicks off their season this weekend with two bouts on Saturday, October 17th. We’ll have a preview closer to, but look forward to Brampton facing the new Les Canadiennes, and the Boston Blades at the Toronto Furies.
  • New season, newly re-launched streaming! This year the CWHL will be streaming 32 of their regular season games, all in HD! The regular season pass costs $19.95 CAD. Check out the shiny new streaming page at cwhllive.com, where you can order a pass for this season, or watch previous season’s archived games.
  • The CWHL also has partnered with CWHLDaily on Tumblr to make them the official CWHL tumblr. Give that a follow if you’re on Tumblr.
  • Robyn Flynn of Habs Eye on the Prize has been busy at work writing up profiles of Les Habs players– check out her profile on Katia Clement-Heydra, their second-round draft pick. And then go check out all of her profiles. 🙂
  • Hilary Knight will be the feature of an upcoming espnW film, Knighter, which will debut on Thursday October 15th on espnW.com. The film is the fifth and final part of the What Makes Us series of documentary shorts, directed by the Mundo Sisters. Previous films in the series focused on Sydney Lerous, Megan Rapinoe, Veronica Boquete, and Carissa Moore.
  • In case you missed it, Dani Rylan, commissioner of the NWHL and GM of the Riveters, was featured in a Players Tribune article called So We Started A Hockey League. The article is, of course, about how she ended up starting the NWHL. It’s a really interesting look into how the sausage gets made, so to speak, although it unfortunately doesn’t get into Rylan’s history with the CWHL. (While that’s not really the topic of the article, it is a story I’m burning to hear.)
  • Greg Wyshnski of Puck Daddy, who recently committed to having regular NWHL coverage, wrote about the new league. It’s a bit of a 101 type article, as might be expected as it was written for the mainly men’s hockey content Puck Daddy, but it has some interesting tidbits.

Weekend Preview: Montreal Stars @ Brampton Thunder, Calgary Inferno @ Toronto Furies

There are only four weekends left to play in the regular season for the CWHL! Only 17 games total! It feels so strange to think that this season is winding down, and we’re starting to look forward to the Clarkson Cup, speculating on what teams will get in.

Speaking of the Clarkson Cup, tickets are on sale, and going fast! There are single game and packages available at the CWHL website but be aware! Apparently the single tickets for the March 4th morning game are already sold out.

Also coming up in March is the CWHL Awards Gala, when awards like the Angela James Bowl (which goes to the top scorer in the league) are handed out. If you’re going to be in the Markham area for the Clarkson Cup, maybe check that out too. 🙂 We’re planning to have a preview post up for the awards soon, so keep an eye out for that.

In other news, it looks like the reason Hilary Knight missed last weekend’s games was not illness, as she recently posted a photo of herself in a walking boot to Instagram. Boston doesn’t play again until next weekend, so let’s hope it’s something that heals up quick. Boston’s not going to drop out of Clarkson Cup contention without Knight (knocks on wood) but I’ll be VERY sad if Knight’s not able to play in the Clarkson Cup due to injury.

Montreal Stars @ Brampton Thunder

  • Saturday, February 7th, 5:50 PM CDT Streamed!
  • Sunday, February 8th, 1:05 PM CDT

Brampton’s not that far behind Toronto in the standings, and if they want to pull themselves back into Clarkson Cup contention, they need every point they can get. Montreal and Brampton have played four times so far this season, and Brampton has won once, but we’ll see. Remember, Brampton has a different head coach now, and in the exceedingly limited sample size with Kristi Alcorn at the wheel, they’ve been a much more controlled and puck possession dominant team.

Calgary Inferno @ Toronto Furies

  • Saturday, February 7th, 6:30PM CDT
  • Sunday, February 8th, 12:05 PM CDT Streamed!

Calgary’s top of the standings, and Toronto is a far fourth– if the Furies don’t want Brampton to leapfrog them, they also need to pick up some points. Toronto is currently also looking to snap a six game losing streak.

Speaking of Toronto, check out Kelly Terry in IBC’s new winter tires commercial!

Mid-Week Links: CWHL All-Star Game, Ammerman spearheads soccer league, COC LGBT initative

  • We’re waiting for some clarification, but if you’re going to the CWHL All-Star Game, you might want to double-check the page with ticketing information— it looks like the event now requires a ticket, whereas before the RSVP was just for a headcount.

First off, CJ of Power Play with CJ did an interview with Knight–

Dewar’s, the scotch company, appear to have picked up Knight as one of the faces of their brand, and as such put out a profile of her– she mostly talks about her work with the Olympic team and her various charity work, but still pretty interesting.

Finally, looks like Knight’s selling some neat t-shirts and signed posters of her– check it out over at blixknight.com.

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What We’re Reading This Week: November 6th, 2014

Mid-Week Links Round Up: The Canadian Women Continue to Break My Heart

  • Over at espnW, Kate Fagan wrote about the recent firing of a female coach, Tracey Griesbaum, at the University of Iowa. It’s an interesting story that touches on the really problematic double standard applied to female coaches, but one that also extends to female athletes as well, across sports. From Griesbaum’s lawyer’s statement, the following really struck me as a good summary of this:
  • We expect our female coaches to be strong leaders, but not too strong. This means we expect our female coaches not to forget they are women first and leaders second. It means we expect them not to forget they should be ‘mothering’ or ‘nurturing’ our daughters while coaching them. We do not expect any of this from male coaches regardless of whether they coach males or females.

  • Kat Hasenauer Cornetta of Women’s Hockey Today recently caught up with current Harvard head coach and previous USA Olympic head coach, Katie Stone. Check out the interview, it’s quite interesting.
  • If you’ve been following women’s hockey, or honestly, women’s sports in general, you’ve probably heard about the issues of growing the women’s game, especially in hockey where the NHL is set up as the pinnacle of hockey achievement. However, the Pink Puck recently had a very interesting interview with Hilary Knight on these issues. Of particular interest to me was Knight’s comments about her plans after the Olympics–

    I was thinking about retiring. I wasn’t sure where I was. [I knew] traveling across the pond would be very difficult, [because] I could score however many goals, but it really wouldn’t matter because it wouldn’t impact or motivate or inspire anyone else if I wasn’t in North America. It was heartbreaking.

  • We didn’t stay up to watch the US v Canada Four Nations game, and I’m kind of glad of it. But if you’d like your heart-broken some more (or to gloat), check out TSN’s coverage of the game. (Spoiler: The US lost 4-1).
  • I’m just gonna keep rewatching these Montreal at Calgary highlights from their October 26th game, to sooth my heart-break.CWHL October 26th Montreal at Calgary Inferno Highlights from Bengt Neathery on Vimeo.

 

CWHL Weekend Preview: Race for Playoffs heating up! Boston vs Montreal, Brampton v Toronto

CWHL Weekend Preview: Race for Playoffs heating up! Boston vs Montreal, Brampton v Toronto

With only two weekends of games left before the end of the regular season, and a close race for playoff spots, this weekend is SURE to be exciting!

This weekend, the defending Clarkson Cup champions in Boston take on three-time champions, the Montreal Stars, twice. Very excitingly, at least some of the Olympians these teams lost appear to be planning to be back for this weekend! According to Julie Chu’s twitter, both she and Hilary Knight will be back for Saturday’s game at 4:30 PM CST, which is a fundraiser for Breast Cancer research. Chu, a member of the Montreal Stars, brings a veteran, two-way presence– she’s played both forward and defense for Montreal, although her points production has fallen off in recent years with the Stars. Knight was Boston’s leading scorer by a wide margin last season, and isn’t afraid to use her size on the ice either. Boston fans can hope that Gigi Marvin, who historically quarterbacked their defense, also returns soon– that team has been hurting for that kind of veteran presence on their defensive end. Saturday’s game is also this week’s CWHL Streaming Game, so make sure to watch it! The Blades and the Stars face off again on Sunday at 12:30 PM CST.

The other series this weekend is Brampton vs Toronto, kicking off on Saturday at 6:30 PM CST. Brampton, with only 10 points to Toronto’s 20, is currently not in the playoff bracket and would take quite a flukey set of circumstances to make it in, but could very much impact the tight race for seeding in the top four teams. Boston and Toronto are tied for second with 20 points, and Calgary trails closely at 19 points. Special teams could make quite an impact in this game, too, as Toronto has the second highest power play, while Brampton has the worst penalty kill. They’ll meet again on Sunday at 2:30 PM CST.

Enjoy the hockey this weekend, and keep an eye out for those returning Olympians– going to be real interesting to see how they get fitted back into CWHL lineups, and see how it impacts playoff hopes.

Bad Third Period Downs Team USA; Canada Wins 3-2

Jessie Vetter stood out in this game. (via HowlingMad on flickr)
Jessie Vetter stood out in this game. (via HowlingMad on flickr)

The hype leading up to Canada-USA is insane – deserved, but insane. Suddenly all kinds of NHL beat reporters know everything about women’s hockey! Amazing.

(I have my sarcasm hat on; can you tell.)

For detailed scoring, the box score is here.

The short story of that game is that USA took too many penalties and had a disastrous 3rd period. Canada’s power play wasn’t actually that dangerous; they went 1 for 4 (technically 5, but the majority of one was 4-on-4). But it’s hard to get or sustain momentum when you’re on the kill so often. On top of that, for some reason, USA’s strategy going into the offensive zone was to attempt to deke past the likes of Catherine Ward, which didn’t work for obvious reasons. I’m also wondering why they failed to elevate on Labonte so many times; it’s possible the scouting just wasn’t there compared to the work USA’s done on cracking Szabados.

The first period was strong and relatively even, statistically. My personal opinion is that Canada had a bit more jump, their scoring chances were a little better – Vetter for sure had to be sharp. But in the end it was scoreless, and shots/scoring chances were pretty much even.

USA had no momentum until late in the second. The Schleper-to-Knight goal totally changed Team USA’s game, and nearly all the last scoring chances (or all, but I can’t remember; at 23, I’m aged) were for Team USA.

But did they carry that into the third? NAW, SON. NO shots for USA for most of that period, and on top of that, three goals for Canada. First Agosta on the power play from a great Wickenheiser pass, then Wickenheiser, then Agosta again on a breakaway. With barely a minute left, Schleper scored for USA, but by then, it was too late. Canada won this one 3-2.

What I haven’t mentioned was Canada’s controversial second goal, where the whistle went and then the puck trickled past Vetter. The whistle probably shouldn’t have been blown, but it was, so that should’ve been no goal. But even though I’m ragingly for Team USA, I can’t be that mad about it. Bad refereeing happens; the refs also missed 2 blatant too many men on Team Canada. Team USA wouldn’t have pulled ahead anyway with how they were playing, and it’s crucial to not let a goal like that second Canada goal get in your head. Team USA was transparently deflated after that goal, and played completely flatly. The third goal, an Agosta breakaway, was not a surprise.

But anyone who thinks this is the full story of the tournament hasn’t been paying attention to either team. They’re likely to meet again, and hopefully USA will have it together better next time.

Team USA’s biggest weakness was by far defense. There was very little cohesion, especially compared to Canada’s defense; in the third period, Team USA was barely doing better than chasing pucks. Vetter bailed them out several times. That has to change.

Bright spots: Hilary Knight’s play was, obviously, outstanding. Her work to get the puck to Stack on a breakaway alone was stunning, and she and Stack each had 4 SOG. Brianna Decker drove play for Team USA, carrying the puck in quite a bit and keeping it in even through Team USA’s disorganization (though she also took 2 penalties, so that’s a double-edged sword). Jessie Vetter kept the US in the game even through a total lack of momentum. And Anne Schleper, of course, with her shot from the point leading to a Knight tip-in, and her goal late in the third, was the sneaky offense that kept USA in the game.

Again: this isn’t the complete story. These teams are almost guaranteed to meet again in the medal round. They’re both very good, evenly matched teams. The real test will be if Team USA can maintain cool heads next time, and not let a bad goal totally deflate them.