It’s that time of the year again! The two final regular season NWHL games will be played this upcoming weekend. The Boston Pride will be stopping in Buffalo to face the Beauts at 5:30 PM on Saturday, March 17th, and the Connecticut Whale will be visiting the Metropolitan Riveters on Sunday, March 18th, at 7:30 PM. Both games promise to be exciting contests with high stakes. Let’s take a look at each team’s regular season and what they bring to the table.
Fourth Seed @ First Seed: Connecticut Whale @ Metropolitan Riveters
The Metropolitan Riveters have had a bit of a rollercoaster of a season. They began the season by losing superstar Amanda Kessel to the Olympic team and being able to snatch trailblazer Harrison Browne and netminder Kimberly Sass from the Buffalo Beauts. Then, they went undefeated for the first 11 games of the season. Their winning streak was snapped with a 5-3 loss at the hands of the Buffalo Beauts on February 3rd. Though they bounced back with a 4-2 win against the Connecticut Whale on February 18th, the Riveters suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season on February 25th (4-3) and March 4th (2-1), both against Buffalo. All of their wins were by at least two goals with the exception of two, a 3-2 win over Connecticut on January 27th and a 2-1 win over Boston on January 21st. The Riveters have been picked by many as the “favorites” this year, a title held by the Pride over the past two years. Their impressive winning streak definitely gives them a huge chance. Additionally, they have the top four leading scorers in the league, with Alexa Gruschow in first with 22 points, Courtney Burke and Rebecca Russo tied for second with 17 points each, and Madison Packer in fourth with 15 points. Finally, the Riveters are topped off by a phenomenal goaltending tandem. Katie Fitzgerald, also known as “Brick Wall Fitzy”, the reigning NWHL Goaltender of the Year, posted an 11-3-0 record. She was backed by amazing newcomer Kimberly Sass, who has a perfect 1-0-0 record.
As for the Connecticut Whale, they haven’t exactly had the best seasons. With only three wins out of the fifteen games played so far, all coming against the same team (the Boston Pride), they haven’t exactly been able to have any consistent success. They have found a gem in Emily Fluke, though, who has 11 points (four goals and seven assists) in 15 games played. Following close behind is Kelly Babstock, who is really making a name for herself in this league. With nine points (four goals and five assists), she has asserted herself as a big reason why people tune in to watch the Whale. Fan-favorite and first-year player Sophia Agostinelli has also turned herself into a household name in the NWHL by interacting with fans on Twitter and working extremely hard to grow the game, even when not getting playing time.
Connecticut hasn’t won against the Riveters since December of 2016, which can be taken two ways: the trend will continue, or they’re due for an upset. Besides the fans, who else will this game be exciting for? Of course, Riveters’ star Madison Packer and Whale favorite Anya Battaglino, cutest couple in the NWHL.
Third Seed @ Second Seed: Boston Pride @ Buffalo Beauts
The Buffalo Beauts’ season has definitely been one to remember, for a number of reasons. Coming off of winning the Isobel Cup for the first time in the season prior, there was a lot of hype to live up to. They, unfortunately, were one of the teams hit the hardest by players leaving. Former Beaut Harrison Browne announced retirement but ultimately signed with the Riveters, and stars like Emily Pfalzer went to the Olympic team. After a streaky first few weeks, Buffalo went on a nine-game winning streak, breaking the Riveters’ own streak in the process. They still have not lost since December 10th, 2017, and will look to extend that run in the last game of the regular season against Connecticut. They have had their fair share of breakout stars, one of them being Kourtney Kunichika, the girl giving announcers a great reason to learn how to pronounce her unique name, notching a phenomenal 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in 14 games played. Another great player on a “point-per-game” pace was Hayley Scamurra, with 13 points (six goals and seven assists) in 13 games. The Beauts haven’t had to worry about their goaltending either, with the amazing Amanda Leveille in net all season, putting up a record of 11-4-0.
On the other hand, the Boston Pride have had a particularly rough season in comparison to previous years. They went from the first-ever Isobel Cup Champions (see the featured image), to the team with only one regular-season loss who made it to the Isobel Cup Final in back-to-back years, to… whatever they are now. To be totally fair, they lost two huge pieces of their core this year, with Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker leaving to train for the Olympics. However, their season was certainly not a total failure, though maybe a bit of a let-down. All-Star goaltender Brittany Ott was vital to the team once again, stealing games in their favor right and left, and even getting an assist in one game. Former Whale and Riveter Kaleigh Fratkin took her talents to “Beantown” for the most recent ten games of the season as well, recording five points, all assists. Another notable addition was fellow former Riveter Janine Weber, an offensive sparkplug with seven points (three goals and four assists) in 12 games. Adding former Whale Dana Trivigno has also paid dividends for the Pride, bringing a huge physical presence and intimidation factor, despite her penalty minutes. Other important names include the consistently impressive Jordan Smelker, the always noticeable (in a good way!) Alyssa Gagliardi, and the almost point-per-game superstar, Jillian Dempsey (seven goals and seven assists for 14 points in 15 games).
So, this playoff series? Going to be a rough one. Both the Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts are known for their aggression and physicality when playing in any game, so a playoff game should only increase that. In addition, these teams have met before, in the first-ever Isobel Cup Final (where Boston came out victorious), and the second one last year (where Buffalo took the crown). For the first time in NWHL history, the Cup Final will not include the Pride and Beauts, but this series looks to be so intense that it might as well be for all the marbles.
Will you be watching the NWHL playoffs? You should be! The final regular season games are this weekend, with the Metropolitan Riveters facing the Boston Pride on Saturday, March 10th at 7:30 PM and the Buffalo Beauts taking on the Connecticut Whale thirty minutes earlier on the same day. Click here to find a link that can direct you to a stream to watch, and remember to tweet us with your thoughts if you do tune in: @PuckItUpBlog.
Want to get into women’s hockey after seeing how exciting the Olympics were? Well, you’re just in time with the NWHL playoffs right around the corner! Click here for an introduction, and use the next week to catch up before you dive into the wonderful world of women’s hockey!