PHF season predictions — PWHPA in Nova Scotia — Halloween recap

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, Nov. 4, 2022

Happy Friday! It’s November, which means it’s PHF season — finally! The PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour continues in Truro this weekend as well. 

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The PHF season begins this weekend with three games on Saturday and three on Sunday. The Toronto Six will open their season at home with a series against the Minnesota Whitecaps, the Buffalo Beauts will host the Montreal Force for Montreal’s first two games in the league, and the Boston Pride will split their two first home games against the Connecticut Whale on Saturday and the Metropolitan Riveters on Sunday. 

Of course, the 2022 PHF Final rematch of Connecticut vs. Boston is a must-watch game and will be very fun. That said, I think the Montreal vs. Buffalo series is going to be much closer than people might anticipate, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it shakes out. Yes, Montreal has the likes of forwards Ann-Sophie Bettez and Sarah Lefort on their roster, but Buffalo has the better blue line in my eyes, and I think it has the edge in goaltending, too. Montreal will be looking to make a statement in its first-ever games, but Buffalo has a lot to prove after some lackluster seasons and player turnover this offseason. 

I think Toronto has the advantage over Minnesota on paper, and playing at home will only help. But Minnesota has one of the best defense corps in terms of ability to generate offense, and even without forward Allie Thunstrom, who signed with Boston this offseason, I would expect the Whitecaps to play a fast game. That might present some issues for Toronto, especially without forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who is now with Buffalo.

My prediction for that series is a bona fide goalie duel. Elaine Chuli may not play the back-to-back for the Six, but I’d be surprised if her counterpart Amanda Leveille didn’t, given the history of her usage in Minnesota. Leveille vs. Chuli is one of the best goalie matchups in the league, so goalie fans should definitely tune into that matchup on Saturday at the very least. 

Briefly, I’ll give you my predictions for where each PHF team will end up in the standings. 

  1. Connecticut Whale: This team is a wagon. It was great last year and got better, adding talented defenders like Emma Keenan and Mallory Soulioutis. The Whale also added scoring depth with the likes of rookie Caitrin Lonergan, Tori Sullivan and, of course, Kateřina Mrázová. On top of that, they’ve got Meeri Räisänen between the pipes, and when they don’t, they still have Abbie Ives. Head coach Colton Orr’s system has clearly worked for this group. Yeah, that’s a no-brainer for me. 
  2. Boston Pride: They’re still Boston, only now they have Allie Thunstrom, Loren Gabel and Élizabeth Giguère. Not re-signing goalie Katie Burt means they’ll rely heavily on Corinne Schroeder to have a dominant rookie season, or else they’ll have to hope Lovisa Selander returns to her rookie form. Even so, and even down a veteran defender like Lauren Kelly, they are built to score so many goals that the rest is unlikely to matter that much. 
  3. Toronto Six: Yes, they lost MGM. But they added Brittany Howard, Carly Jackson and a variety of depth pieces. I can’t see them falling very far, especially if Chuli continues to dominate. 
  4. Minnesota Whitecaps: This is a very different Whitecaps team than last year’s, but Leveille is still Leveille. Expect a big season from new captain Sydney Brodt. Like I mentioned above, this Whitecaps blue line was built to score goals. Although they’ll sacrifice some actual defense along the way, when you have one of the best goaltenders in the league, you can get by just fine (mostly). 
  5. Buffalo Beauts: This may be controversial, and you could flip Buffalo and Metropolitan without surprising me. But on paper, this Buffalo team can make the top five. MGM is obviously a huge add, but it’s more than that. Kassidy Sauvé and Lovisa Berndtsson are a really intriguing goalie tandem, Dominique Kremer will probably have an impressive enough season on defense, and now you’ve added players like forward Emma Nuutinen to a team that already has forwards Autumn MacDougall, Claudia Kepler and the always underrated Cassidy MacPherson. 
  6. Metropolitan Riveters: There is a lot of talent here on paper, but I still think the Riveters have less scoring depth and less depth in net than many of the teams I’ve ranked higher. If teams allow them to dictate the pace of play, the Riveters will be able to win games through muscle and energy alone, but when you pit them against a Boston or a Connecticut, I think that may be less successful. 
  7. Montreal Force: The Force have a seriously impressive top six, but I have concerns about their defense. Their goaltending is good-to-great, but in order for their goaltenders to succeed, they’ll need to suppress long range or elevated shots that might beat smaller goaltenders, and I’m not convinced they’ll be able to do it. In general, I think the parity will be better this year than last, as it’s gotten better every year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the newbie team struggle a bit in year one. 

The PWHPA will have its second Dream Gap Tour stop this weekend in Truro, Nova Scotia. All four teams will play three games each. You can see the full schedule and a preview at The Ice Garden.

As of today, Rebecca Johnston leads the PWHPA in scoring with five points (3G, 2A). Her Team Scotiabank teammate Blayre Turnbull is in second place with four points (4A). Look for Team Scotiabank to have a dominant weekend. After this stop, the standings will start to fall into place more clearly, and I expect we’ll see Scotiabank and Sonnet in the top 2 positions. Turnbull and Johnston have been building chemistry for years, and not just on Team Canada:

The PWHPA has also announced an All-Star Weekend in Ottawa, which will take place Dec. 9-11. This is a super exciting announcement and fills a niche in the sport that we haven’t seen for a few years, since the PHF shifted to all-star games rather than skills-based showcases. There will be regular Dream Gap Tour games on Dec. 9 and 10, and on Dec. 11, there will be a skills competition and a 3v3 game. The weekend will also include both youth and adult skills clinics run by PWHPA players, which is especially exciting because women’s hockey clinics for adults are so far and few between. 

You can read more about the PWHPA’s All-Star Weekend on its website.

Last but not least, this past Monday was Halloween, and I’ve collected a few Instagram posts for your enjoyment of teams (professional and college) that dressed up on the ice!

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Eleni Demestihas