BOULIER, LEVEILLE LEAD WHITECAPS TO HOCKEY DAY MINNESOTA WIN
By Mike Murphy and Samantha Mellies-U'Ren
On Saturday afternoon of Hockey Day Minnesota weekend, the Minnesota Whitecaps started their two-game series against the Connecticut Whale with a bang. The home team scored three goals in the first period to gain an early lead that the Whale couldn’t match. At the end of regulation, the Whitecaps improved to a record of 11-4-2 on the season with a statement 6-1 win to celebrate Hockey Day Minnesota at TRIA Rink.
“It's always better when you're celebrating Hockey Day to get that win,” defender Amanda Boulier said after the game. “It's such a special day in Minnesota and to have the ability to play on this day, in a women's professional league - it's just really special.”
Just over two minutes into the game 2020 NWHL All-Star Allie Thunstrom scored her 12th goal of the season. Thunstrom found a loose puck right on the doorstep of Brooke Wolejko’s crease and buried the puck home to double her goal total from the 2018-19 campaign. The Whale had some great jump after that early goal, but Minnesota found two more goals from all-stars at even strength before the end of the first period.
Boulier made a great play to keep the puck in the offensive zone and hastily put together a give-and-go with Jonna Curtis to give Connecticut a 2-0 lead at the 13:45 mark. And then, less than three minutes later, Boulier found Curtis wide open in front of the net to give the home team a 3-0 lead at the first intermission.
In the second period, the Whitecaps went right back on the attack at even strength. Boulier and Thunstrom both scored their second goals of the game before one of the Whale’s 2020 NWHL All-Stars got the visiting team on the board. Emma Vlasic put a wrist shot through a screen in the final minute of the period to score her team-leading seventh goal of the season. Janine Weber, who signed with the Whale for the remainder of the season yesterday, picked up her first point of the season on the goal.
All things considered, the Whale played a much better game than the final score might suggest. Whitecaps newcomer Nicole Schammel, who had a game-high six shots on goal, acknowledged that the Whale look like a different team in the New Year.
“Yes for sure, I'd say defensively they've gotten a lot better,” Schammel said. “They bunch up the middle of the ice. They have become more offensive too and have become a threat on the ice.”
Meaghan Pezon scored the lone goal of the third period – against Cassandra Goyette, who replaced Wolejko in the third – to make it a 6-1 game. And that was the final score when the horn sounded at the end of regulation.
The Whale were nearly level with the Whitecaps in shots but were out-shot 24-17 in the final two periods. All-Star netminder Amanda Leveille was the second star of the game as a result of a stellar 31-save performance. Boulier led the way among all skaters with two goals and two assists against her former team. Although the Whitecaps’ scored six goals at even strength, she was quick to identify sound defense as the key to today’s victory against Connecticut's aggressive forecheck.
“I think it was just playing smart defensively,” Boulier said. “Playing as a team, making good breakout passes that kind of translated up the ice. When we used our speed against [the Whale] we had a lot of success. They do a really good job of taking time and space away. We had to make sure that we kept moving our feet and we did a pretty good job of that.”
The Whitecaps will host the Whale again tomorrow at TRIA at 3:00 p.m. CST. Fans can grab tickets to that game and all Whitecaps home games at whitecaps.nwhl.zone/tickets and can watch the action streaming live and free on the NWHL on Twitch.
Photo Credit: Tom Morris