Through 60 minutes of play, the Toronto Six and the Minnesota Whitecaps showed how competitive the Premier Hockey Federation and women’s hockey has become over the last eight years, with the teams’ knotted 3-3 in the championship game.
It was only in overtime that the Six, a team that has only been in the league three seasons, established their dominance. Four minutes into OT, Tereza Vanisova scored to give No. 2 Toronto a 4-3 win over the No. 4 Whitecaps to earn the Isobel Cup at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona.
“We thought it could go into overtime, and we practiced for that last week,” said Toronto coach Geraldine Heaney. “I think we outplayed and out-chanced them in overtime.”
The Six (20-6) took an early lead on their first shot of the game. Michela Cava skated down the left side of the Whitecaps’ zone and passed to Merrimack College product Dominika Lásková to get Toronto on the board first 7:22 into the game.
Six goalie Elaine Chuli, formerly of UConn, made three smart saves during a penalty kill 10 seconds later, even though Minnesota (12-12) pressured hard, much like they did during their semifinal sweep of Boston. Minnesota outshot Toronto, 8-1, in the first, but still trailed at the first intermission.
Brittyn Fleming evened the score for the Whitecaps four minutes into the second period. Fleming skated around the Six net, pulling Chuli far out of her net. Fleming was able to shoot diagonally into a wide open net to tie the score.
Halfway through the second, Toronto took advantage of Minnesota goalie Amanda Leveille being out of position to reestablish the lead. Breanne Wilson-Bennett found an open net when Leveille mis-timed a chance to play the puck, putting the Six up, 2-1.
With four minutes to go before the second intermission, a great display of passing by the Whitecaps set up their second goal. Liz Schepers and Natalie Snodgrass passed back and forth in front of Toronto’s net before Brooke Madsen tipped in Snodgrasss pass.
Jonna Albers, who led the Whitecaps in goals in their semifinal sweep of Boston, scored early in the third. A mere 20 seconds into the frame, Snodgrass fed Albers, who tallied her fifth goal of the playoffs to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead. It was short-lived, with Taylor Woods shoveling a shot over Leveille to tie the score for Toronto.
In three-on-three overtime, Toronto dominated from the opening faceoff, recording six shots on net in the first four minutes before Vanisova beat a defender on the boards and sent a shot ricocheting into the net for the winner.
Toronto’s championship in the first league title game held in an NHL arena wrapped up the PHF’s eighth season. After a few years of instability, especially in the wake of the 2019 creation of the opposing PWHPA, this season offered promising moments. The league had most of its games broadcast on ESPN platforms, while also establishing regional coverage via NESN, which broadcast five regular-season Pride games and their semifinal series.
The PHF also reestablished a best-of-three semifinal series, which both league leaders and players applauded. Several associated with the league expressed hope that a championship series might come next.
Another high point included the addition of several talented players who left other pro options in international play or the PWHPA, to join the PHF. The league’s consistency of team practices, increasing amount of resources, and a growing salary gap led to players such as the Pride’s Loren Gabel answering the league’s call.
“I think that effort behind the scenes really adds to the quality on the ice,” said Leveille, who led the title tilt with 35 saves. “That talent has continuously grown, and as the salary gap grows, you will see more and more players enter our league and you’ll see that grow the talent base.”