Today is the day… the NWHL bubble day one! Saturday’s games kicked off two weeks of bubble hockey in Lake Placid that will eventually end with one team winning the Isobel Cup, becoming the fifth team in history to hoist the cup. All five original NWHL teams (not including the new Toronto Six) have not played a game since early March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that continues to plague the world. Despite the long, 10 month absence from game play, the six teams began the shortened 2021 season on a high note with the Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, and the Connecticut Whales coming up victorious.
Metropolitan Riveters 3 – Toronto Six 0
The Toronto Six kicked off their inaugural season in the first game of the NWHL bubble, unfortunately falling short of collecting their franchise’s first ever. The Metropolitan Riveters, led by newly minted captain Madison Parker, came out flying with defensemen Leila Kilduff potting one behind Toronto Six’s starting goalie, Elaine Chuli, on the Riveters’ second shot of the game.
The rest of the first period went by relatively uneventfully, with both teams going back and forth, each taking a few minor penalties and missing some key scoring opportunities. Kilduff was able to slip her second past Chuli on the Riveter’s 12th shot of the period at 18:59 of the first period leaving the Six down by two heading into the second period.
The Six came out flying in the second period, racking up 14 shots compared to Metropolitan’s 5. Despite the Toronto’s commanding play in the second, none of the Six could squeak one past Sonjia Shelly. Captain Shiann Darkangelo and the rest of the Canadian side headed into the third period still down 2-0 to the 2018 Isobel Cup champions.
The third period was very similar to the second; Toronto dominating but unable to slip one past Shelly. The Six controlled much of the play in the third, putting up 13 shots, for a game total of 40, compared to Metropolitan’s 4, for a total of 19. The Six, despite their best efforts, suffered an empty net goal at the 19:38 mark by Riveter’s forward, Emily Janiga, her first as a Riveter, that sealed their fate. The game closed out with the Riveter’s shutting out the newest NWHL team, 3-0.
Toronto will have a second shot at a first ever win on Sunday, as both them and the Riveters are back in action.
Minnesota Whitecaps 2 – Boston Pride 1
The second game of the day had the Boston Pride taking on the 2019 Isobel Cup champions, the Minnesota Whitecaps. The game saw the Pride start strong, controlling much of the first period. Boston was rewarded with their first goal coming at the 13:19 mark, when Christina Putigna put one past Minnesota’s starting goalie, Amanda Leveille. The Pride’s lead was short lived, with forward Jonna Curtis tying the game up at 1 at the 14:22 mark. After a relatively fierce and rough period, with both teams racking up a series of minor penalties, the Pride and Whitecaps headed into the second dead-locked at 1.
The second period was even closer than the first, with both teams going back and forth putting up a good string of scoring opportunities while taking their fair share of penalties. The Whitecaps were able to break the tie at the 11:59 mark. It was Winky Brodt Brown who buried the go-ahead marker off of a feed from forward Audra Richards. The second period ended with Boston putting up one more shot than Minnesota.
Despite Boston’s demanding play in the third, and them outshooting Minnesota 11 to 2, Minnesota wound up on top. The second game of the day saw another team coming up short after dominating the shots on goal tally. Both, Boston and Minnesota, are back in action on Sunday.
Connecticut Whale 2 – 1 Buffalo Beauts (SO)
The third and final game of the day saw the Connecticut Whale take on the Buffalo Beauts during the 7pm . The first period saw a very back and forth, despite the SOG totals, with no one being able to take a lead. Connecticut outshot Buffalo, 14 to 2 in the first 20 minutes.
With the game being tied going into the second, tensions were high and the two teams came out flying and ready to play. The action flew up and down the ice until the Whale’s Kayla Friesen was able to put one past Carly Jackson at the 4:07 mark of the second. The remainder of the period was just as competitive, but Friesen’s marker was the only differentiator.
Come the third, despite her team being woefully outshot, Buffalo’s Kristin Lewicki was able to sneak one past Abbie Ives on the power play to tie the game up. The tie would last the remainder of the third, and the entire duration of the first overtime period giving NWHL fans their first taste of a shootout in the bubble.
The first bubble shootout saw Connecticut’s Katelynn Russ putting one past Jackson on the first attempt. The remaining five shots were all saved, meaning Russ’ early shootout goal was the game winner for the Whale. The final game of the day one left us sitting at the edge of our seats and didn’t let go until the final shootout attempt. Both teams are back in action on Sunday.
The NWHL is back again tomorrow with the Whitecaps taking on the Toronto Six, the Riveters playing the Connecticut Whales at 4pm, and day two ending with the Buffalo Beauts taking on the Boston Pride. All NWHL bubble games are being streamed live on Twitch. Be sure to come back to Unbenched every day for a roundup on the previous day’s action for the next two weeks.