The National Women’s Hockey League’s fifth All-Star Game sold out even before the Warrior Ice Arena gates opened Sunday afternoon, so the packed stands were anticipated.
For Jillian Dempsey, the captain of the Boston Pride and captain of her namesake squad in a 5-2 win during the NWHL All-Star Game, playing at home served as a rewarding experience for a plethora of reasons.
“It was awesome,” said Dempsey, a three-time NWHL All-Star and Winthrop native. “It was just great exposure for our sport and for our league to be in Boston. NESN, the Bruins had us. Having that exposure was awesome and a great atmosphere.”
Just standing room tickets remained available for purchase at the door before the game, and the Boston area fans provided a spirited atmosphere. It was the first NWHL All-Star Game hosted by the Pride. Team Dempsey, captained by Dempsey, skated to the victory over Team Packer, captained by Metropolitan Riveters captain Madison Packer.
The 2020 NWHL All-Star Game featured two 4-on-4 25-minute running time periods. The official capacity of the sold-out Warrior Ice Arena is 700, but there may have been a few more based on the eye test.
Eight Pride players participated in the game. Dempsey’s squad featured four of her Boston teammates; skaters McKenna Brand, Lexie Laing, Lexi Bender, and goalie Lovisa Selander. Skaters Mary Parker, Christina Putigna and Kaleigh Fratkin represented the Pride for Team Packer. There certainly was some extra applause when they were announced before the game.
“It was electric,” Dempsey said. “There were a couple times on the ice where it was feeling a little bit quiet because there wasn’t a lot of communication on the ice, but the crowd, it felt great to listen to them be cheering when they called the lineup. Just awesome to have the turnout that we did.”
Dempsey and Fratkin are among the six All-Stars who earned bids for being recognized as having played in the league since its inaugural season. Bender won the fan vote and the rest were selected by league officials, general managers, and coaches.
Dempsey and Pride teammate Laing scored for Team Dempsey. Minnesota Whitecaps Jonna Curtis and Nicole Schammel and Metropolitan’s Kiira Dosdall-Arena and Dempsey also scored for Team Dempsey.
“It’s awesome, they’re such a great group of girls,” said Curtis, who is familiar with New England, having played collegiately at the University of New Hampshire. “Everyone’s excited to be here, and just the level of play that’s here, it’s a lot of fun.”
Metropolitan’s Kate Leary and Minnesota’s Amanda Boulier scored for Team Packer.
The NWHL All-Star Weekend began with a skills competition Saturday night. Sunday morning, the All-Star players skated with fans before the afternoon’s game.
“That was awesome, we had a great turnout,” said Curtis, a two-time All-Star. “It was great to meet some of the Boston fans and people from all over. It was really great to see.”
Dempsey’s goal came near the end of the game, adding an insurance tally with 3:40 remaining in the contest. She said each All-Star takes a a different approach, but the 2013 Harvard graduate’s was to win.
“People call me a hardo,” Dempsey said. “For me, it was definitely going to be fun but also business, wanted to go hard, wanted to get the W. We had a very focused, fun group in the locker room.”
After the All-Star Game, the league-leading Pride (20-1) will get back to work. Even with three games to play in the regular season, the Pride have already clinched the top seed in the Isobel Cup Playoffs. They will host the semifinal round, and if they win, the championship game.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time, make sure that we can improve every aspect of our game,” Dempsey said. “We have the ultimate goal, that’s what we’re working towards. We know it’s a one game at a time approach, so we’re doing everything that we can to prepare and be ready to go.”