Amid health-related concerns regarding COVID-19, the NWHL ultimately decided to postpone its Isobel Cup final previously scheduled for Friday night to a later date. Falling somewhat in line with the NBA’s decision to suspend its season, it would appear the remainder of the major four North American sports leagues is soon to follow suit. Organized sports finds itself at a bit of an impasse. Ultimately, on-ice play will resume and when it does a lot is on the line.
In many circles, it wouldn’t have been considered bold to say that Boston’s NWHL team the Pride were a shoo-in for the Isobel Cup. Pitching a staggering 25-1-0 record alone is enough to prove that point. Furthermore, when eight players from the roster attend the All-Star game in their own backyard you begin to realize this isn’t just lightning in a bottle. While this may come as news to the average fan, the faithful who routinely pack Warrior Ice Arena are all too familiar. Yet to witness a loss at home, a tradition they hope continues Friday, winning has become second nature to the Pride.
Last week Boston awaited its semifinal opponent, their league-leading record awarded them a first-round bye. Connecticut ousted the Buffalo Beauts, setting up for an all New England semifinal. Holding a six games to none season series advantage over the Whale, two of which came by virtue of a shutout, the Pride’s confidence likely had never been higher. A tight 2-1 contest through two periods was blown open in the third- Putigna, Fraykin, and Juron all accounted for a goal and the impressive home victory streak continued, 5-1 Pride.
A victory, whenever play resumes, would simultaneously make Pride and NWHL history. Never has there been a two-time champion in the history of the league. However, their Isobel Cup opponent, who just so happens to be the reigning champion Whitecaps, have a similar goal in mind. No slouch by any means with a record of 17-5-2, Minnesota handed the Pride their lone loss of the season. Minnesota repeating as champions on Pride ice would undercut what could have been one of the greatest seasons in professional sports history.
Regardless of outcome, fans will be treated to a game well worth the price of admission. Single elimination calls for superb goaltending and advantageous quick-strike offense. Boston has that and then some. Lovisa Selander lead the NWHL this past year in goals against, save percentage and wins and is well known for frustrating her opposition with inhuman-like reaction time. Offensively the Pride finished 2019-20 with 13 separate players to produce double digit point totals. However, Jillian Dempsey is undoubtedly the straw that stirs the drink with 40 points. Any offense generated in this do-or-die is likely due to her efforts. Not to be overlooked is Mckenna Brand who has a nose for finding the back of the net when it counts the most. Of her 19 goals on the year, 6 of them proved to be game winners, the high water mark for the NWHL. On the back end, I expect Kaleigh Fratkin, a +33, to log huge minutes and shut the door defensively in all three phases of the rink.
A nationwide epidemic has halted play for now but this clash of the titans is inevitable. Professional athletes seldom get the opportunity to be a part of history, especially at home. Boston has just that in front of what will be a madhouse at Warrior Ice Arena. Be sure to follow @TheBostonPride for up to the minute updates. Go Pride!