The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, March 26, 2021
What to expect for the NWHL restart — Interview with Shannon Doyle — Must-click links
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What to expect from the NWHL restart
Despite coming in as the #1 seed, the Toronto Six feel like the underdogs for the Isobel Cup Playoffs that start today.
“When you look at Boston, they’re an unbelievable team. We have a tremendous amount of respect, they have experience. I mean, I look at, yeah we’re the number one seed, but we’re probably the underdog going in.”
~Toronto head coach Digit Murphy on NWHL Media Call – Question by Holly Morrison (@Holly Morrison)
If we look at the start of the #NDubble season in Lake Placid, it’s no wonder why Murphy may feel like the Six are underdogs. The Six dropped their first two games of a very short season. Like any good coach, Murphy reminded us her team was not where they wanted to be nor were they discouraged. The positivity (and pancakes and “tiny hands”) turned the tide for Toronto and they went 4-0 to finish the regular season before the Lake Placid bubble burst.
The team I believe has every right to claim “underdog” status is the Connecticut Whale. To be honest, if I were on the Board of Governors, the Whale likely wouldn’t be in the Isobel Cup Playoffs. Make no mistake, the Whale played well enough to make the Playoffs, but they also left the tournament. The reasons they left the tournament made complete sense, but they left the competition.
As someone who calls Whale home games, I was excited to see Connecticut in Lake Placid. As I predicted (not-so-humble-brag), the Whale were a much stronger team offensively. They will add Melissa Samoskevich to the mix, which should be exciting. The Whale will be without veteran Janine Weber and that will be a factor I watch closely.
I’ve complained about the restart before. My dissatisfaction with the four teams in the playoffs has little to do with whether I believe the CTW earned a chance to compete. That said, the Riveters were playing really good hockey in Lake Placid before over 10 positive COVID-19 cases sent them home.
With CTW in, that left the Buffalo Beauts on the outside looking in. While rookie goaltender Carly Jackson had a great debut, the Beauts never got their offense started. Now, had the Riveters been offered the opportunity to play, that would have bumped the Boston Pride from contention. The only reason not to do this from my best guess is because of the Barstool controversy that continues to follow the Riveters.
Okay, now that I got that out of my system lets move on!
Boston will host the 2021 Playoffs at Warrior Ice Arena. While Boston didn’t start well in the #NDubble, they seemed to find their stride towards the end of the season. In a recent media call, head coach Paul Mara expressed his fatigue with the which Boston team will show up narrative. Head coach Paul Mara is also not buying into Toronto as the underdogs:
“They’re the number one seed, I don’t see how they’d be the underdogs. They were obviously the best team in Lake Placid, so – number one seeds usually aren’t underdogs. But, if they want to view it that way that’s fine.”
Paul Mara on NWHL Media Call – Question by Holly Morrison (@Holly Morrison)
The Pride are the only team returning to the ice with their roster in tact. The NWHL Playoffs are a single elimination game and anything can and likely will happen. It will be interesting to see if the handful of games in Lake Placid were enough for rookies like Sammy Davis to play like the experienced pros needed to oust Toronto in the semifinals.
And then there is Minnesota. The Caps were indeed rolling in Lake Placid until they met a fiery Toronto Six team. The reigning (2019) champs will be shorthanded in Boston, but I wouldn’t count them out. Winny Brodt Brown is their captain and has more experience than most of her roster. Players like Nina Rogers, Audra Richards, and rookie Haley mack stepped up big for Minnesota and will likely do so again.
Since the Lake Placid season was shut down due to COVID spread, it has been reported by Dan Rice and The Hockey Writers that Allie Thunstrom underwent serious surgery during the offseason. Will the time to rest and regain her legs awaken the offensive threat that is Thunstrom?
If so, opponents beware!
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This Week in Women’s Hockey
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I took an approach to a Top 25 List that is sure to make fans mad, especially if you’re from Canada. Feel free to read it and yell in the comments, I’ll gladly respond!
PWHPA players serving as mentors to the next generation.
Wisconsin won their sixth NCAA title and hopes its the first & last without fans.
Marisa Ingemi is giving us the NWHL team previews for NBC Sports we need now and always!
Marie Philip-Poulin is inspiring the next generation of hockey players.
Four former Gophers return to the ice this weekend.
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Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Connecticut Whale captain Shannon Doyle
Shannon Doyle has been on the Connecticut Whale roster since the inaugural NWHL season. She announced before the season in Lake Placid that this season will be her last. The Whale captain answered five questions (and one bonus) via direct message ahead of today’s semifinals match against the Minnesota Whitecaps.
What have you loved most about competing in the NWHL for the CT Whale?
I loved filling a void for a lot of young girls in the Connecticut, but specifically Fairfield area, of a strong female role model that played the sport they loved. There are so many professional sport teams in Connecticut but minus the WNBA, which their team is a bit too far for a lot of the area the whale was initially based in, there was no female professional athletes to be seen. It has been incredible to see the connections we as a franchise have been able to make over 6 seasons.
What have been some of the most difficult moments throughout your NWHL career?
The season when a lot of my teammates had their salaries cut abruptly. That was a really hard locker room meeting and a lot of pain that you never want to see a teammate go through. I was actually a “practice player” and was not paid that year at all, because of visa restrictions I couldn’t be, so I was already playing for nothing but some of my good friends relied on that money and when that was taken away so suddenly it hit hard.
When I was asked to join the PWPHA and not play in the NWHL. That was a tough time with a lot of soul searching about what I wanted for the game, who I am as a person, and what values I hold. It was also hard being called some nasty things when I decided to stay with the NWHL.
Describe what went into the team decision to leave Lake Placid.
Unity. We didn’t want to play a game without one of our teammates or staff members. So we stuck together and said hey, we need to stand up for each other because at the end of the day, if you won’t do it for the girl next to you on the bench or in the Locke room, who will?
How long were you retired? What was the timeline from the moment the Whale decided to forgo the season to the moment you found out the CTW would have a chance to compete for Izzy?
Haha I didn’t even think about being retired past the night in the hotel at Lake Placid when we found out the league was removing us from the season and we were being sent home the next morning. I had a long conversation with Goldy (Jamie Goldsmith), I am so thankful she was there during that moment. I felt so awful for my team, for my coaches, and felt so empty thinking that was how this amazing group was going out.
I am so thankful that that is not the end of this group, they are special. I cannot wait for everyone to see them shine tomorrow.
Connecticut has played some intense games against Minnesota. What do you like about this 2021 semis matchup on paper?
I love that we have really just deepened our core this year. We have Brooke (Wolejko)and now we have Abbie (Ives), two terrific tenders. You have the old guard on defense with myself, Lando (Elena Orlando), Hanna (Beattie), and Taylor (Marchin).
But now you add even more strength to it with Tori (Howran) and Maggie (LaGue). And on forward we have such talented forwards that work so hard in Samo (Melissa Samoskevich), Freeze (Kayla Friesen), Amanda (Conway), Maddi (Bishop), Guags (Nicole Guagliardo), and brought back Wolfy (Alyssa Wohlfeiler). They really all compliment our returning forwards so well.
True or false: Nobody gets more type than you after a Whale goal!
Literally one of my favorite things is seeing the face of a teammate that has just scored. They are so happy and I love sharing in those moments with my team.