When the Boston Pride host the Premier Hockey Federation’s semifinals this weekend at Bentley Arena, the defending league champions will face a familiar foe.
The Minnesota Whitecaps last played the Pride on March 3 and 4, and during that weekend series, they gave the regular season champion Pride (19-4-1) one of their toughest tests yet. Boston just squeaked out a 5-4 overtime victory, but the tightness of the contest still sticks in their heads.
“It’s not like we’re going to be facing a team that we haven’t seen in several weeks or months,” said Pride captain Jillian Dempsey. “What we know from our battles with them is that they went hard all the way to the end and that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to be a tough opponent.”
While the No. 1 Pride hold a 4-0 record against the No. 4 Whitecaps (10-11-3) this season and have won the last three Isobel Cups, they are not entering Thursday’s semifinal opener thinking the best-of-three series will be easy.
“They have the forward depth and they have strong goaltending,” said Dempsey. “They have defensemen who are very offensive and get on the score sheet. We just know it’s going be a tight game in all areas and we have to come out hungry and ready.”
Though Dempsey may be worried about Minnesota’s tenacity, the Pride also have strength in similar areas. Boston is home to the PHF’s leading scorer, Loren Gabel, who tied the league’s single-season record with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists). Dempsey is second on the team in scoring with 28 points, and notched two goals and an assist in the series against the Whitecaps two weeks ago.
While Gabel and Dempsey are the Pride’s scoring leaders, two of their teammates have been particularly successful against Minnesota. Christina Putigna was a constant menace to the Whitecaps in the regular season, with strong defensive play as well as three goals and an assist. Former Whitecap Allie Thunstrom joined Boston in the offseason and came back to haunt her former team, with two goals and two assists in four games.
Boston’s offense will need to get past two-time PHF Goaltender of the Year Amanda Leveille, who missed several games with a recent injury. A seven-year veteran of the league, Leveille has postseason experience galore, including winning two Isobel Cups. She consistently ranks among the league’s best goaltenders, and is considered Minnesota’s best asset.
However, the Pride have the only goalie in the league who bests Leveille statistically: rookie Corinne Schroeder. With 19 wins this season, she leads the league in goals against average (1.67) and save percentage (.955).
Minnesota may not have won a regular season contest against Boston, but its forwards are encouraged that they were able to score on the league’s best goaltender, having scorednine goals against the Pride this season with only one Schroeder shutout.
“We’ve scored some goals on her this year,” said Whitecaps forward Sydney Brodt. “I think if we can break her open early, we’ll be able to have some success.”
Strong goaltending is hardly new for the Pride. Boston has won the last three league titles behind three different goaltenders, and now have Schroeder backstopping them — the personnel might be different, but seeing their goaltending rise to the occasion has been a constant.
“It gives the team so much confidence when you have the type of goalies that we’ve had between the pipes,” said Dempsey. “That is going to become huge for us on this stretch as it has been all year.”
As the Pride begin their quest for a fourth consecutive Isobel Cup, the change in personnel might be the only question mark they have. Can this roster, with several players new to both the Pride and the PHF — including Gabel, Schroeder, and Élizabeth Giguère — put it together for another league title, cementing the Pride’s dynasty?
Boston coach Paul Mara thinks that despite all of the regular season accolades and rewriting of the record books, his team has a singular goal, and that will help them in the semifinal.
“Our team in our locker room only cares about winning the Isobel Cup,” said Mara. “That’s our main focus. All these records mean absolutely zero if you don’t get the job done at the end of the day.”
SEMIFINALS (best of three)
Minnesota Whitecaps vs. Boston Pride
Thursday, March 16 at Bentley University, Waltham, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 18 at Bentley, 6 p.m.
Sunday, March 19 at Bentley, 6 p.m. (if nec.)
Connecticut Whale vs. Toronto Six
Friday, March 17 at Toronto, 3 p.m.
Saturday, March 18 at Toronto, 2 p.m.
Monday, March 20 at Toronto, 6 p.m. (if nec.)
Sunday, March 26 at Tempe, Ariz., 9 p.m.
Kat Cornetta can be reached at email@example.com.