Game on as NWHL opens season in LP
LAKE PLACID — They’re playing hockey in Lake Placid.
After going almost a full year with no games, the National Women’s Hockey League kicked off its condensed-season Saturday in Lake Placid with a triple-header at the Olympic Center’s 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.
Saturday’s three matchups marked the first time the league had played a game since March 8, 2020. The NWHL completed its semifinal contests on that day, but the championship between the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Boston Pride, scheduled for five days later, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coincidentally, the last time the Olympic Center hosted a hockey game prior to this past weekend game was also March 8.
All six of the league’s teams were in action to start a two-week season in a “bubble” in front of no fans. Although there were no live spectators in the stands — with the exception of officials associated with the league, some players and a handful of media — hundreds of seats on the penalty box side of the rink were occupied by cardboard cut-outs showing their support for the teams, ranging from pets in jerseys to fellow professional athletes.
Although the rink was relatively quiet, the air buzzed with excitement as players hit the ice to finally compete.
“Practice is practice. We’re moving the puck, we’re getting our feet moving, we’re working on systems, but once we started getting into game mode, that’s when everything started clicking for us,” Minnesota Whitecaps’ forward Audra Richards said of getting on the ice against other teams again.
All three games began with spotlight introductions for each team and a ceremonial puck drop between captains with interim NWHL Commissioner Tyler Tumminia.
The Metropolitan Riveters and the league’s only new team, the Toronto Six, opened the triple-header and the season, which is the sixth for the league that was established in 2105.
In its debut game as a team, the Six nearly doubled the Riveters in shots on goal but ultimately fell 3-0.
Riveters defender Leila Kilduff scored twice in the first period, and Emily Janiga sealed the win with an empty-netter late in the third. Sonjia Shelly, who played college hockey at St. Lawrence, stopped all 40 shots she faced to earn the shutout victory in the nets.
The tension continued through the second game of the day between the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Boston Pride, as these two teams were set to battle for the 2020 Isobel Cup before the season was canceled. In an entertaining matchup, the Whitecaps came through with a 2-1 victory.
Both teams put on heavy pressure and played tough from the outset. The Pride’s Jenna Rheault opened the scoring, finding the back of the net at the 13:19 mark of the first period. However, the Whitecaps deadlocked the game quickly on a goal from Jonna Curtis that was set up by Audra Richards. Minnesota captain Winny Brodt Brown then netted a goal in the second period that stood up as the game-winner on a play that saw Richards collect her second assist of the contest.
Despite tight passing and many power-play opportunities, the rest of the game remained scoreless, with solid showings from both team’s goalies. Pride netminder Lovisa Selander finished with 17 saves on 19 shots faced, while Amanda Leville had a spectacular outing at the other end of the rink in recording 37 stops to earn the win in goal for the Whitecaps.
The Connecticut Whale and the Buffalo Beauts squared off in final game of the evening, and in what turned out to be a nail-biter, the Whale prevailed 2-1 in a shootout. The contest turned out to be a battle where two rookie goaltenders were the big stars. Buffalo’s Carly Jackson and Abby Ives of Connecticut combined to stop 66 of the 68 pucks fired their way.
After a scoreless first period, Kayla Friesen gave the Whale a 1-0 edge in the middle frame off an assist from Shannon Doyle. The Beauts tied it up 1-1 with the only goal of the third period, which came off the stick of Kristin Lewicki and was assisted by Alyson Matteau.
The Whale’s Katelyn Russ notched what proved to be the winning goal during the shootout session.
Jackson finished with 42 saves in a losing effort in goal for the Beauts and Ives registered 24 stops in goal for the Whale.
Sunday’s action also featured a triple-header, with the teams taking today off. The remainder of the week will include doubleheaders Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and another triple-header Saturday.
Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter contributed to this story