The last fans saw of the National Women’s Hockey League in 2020, the Minnesota Whitecaps defeated the Metropolitan Riveters in a 1-0, overtime game in St. Paul in the Isobel Cup semifinal. Picking up where the league rivals left off, they skated for nearly 60 minutes of scoreless hockey Tuesday night at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid.
In a game filled with chances and outstanding goaltending at either end, the Whitecaps found themselves with a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage near the end of regulation. Time ticked down on the final 20 seconds. Meghan Lorence accepted a pass at the point and sent the puck toward her teammate Haley Mack near the goal line.
Mack wasted little time on the doorstep, firing the puck past Riveters goaltender Sonjia Shelly with 10.5 ticks on the clock. Whitecaps win, 1-0. Shelly made 36 saves, while Amanda Leveille stopped all 38 shots she faced for Minnesota.
“I had full faith in my teammates that we were going to score on that 5-on-3,” said Leveille, before referencing Mack in a postgame Zoom call. “Superstar over here just netted another goal for us.”
A “superstar” to her teammate, Mack is also an NWHL rookie who’s left quite the first impression. Only three games into her NWHL career, she’s responsible for the game-winners in two games, adding a shootout goal against the Toronto Six on Sunday.
“It’s a huge win for our team,” Mack said Tuesday. “Just go out there, outwork them on the 5-on-3. We had an opportunity, and we were able to execute that. So that was good.”
Mack, who was drafted 23rd overall in the fourth round of the 2020 NWHL Draft, spend the past four seasons playing for Bemidji State University. She’s coming off a season in which she scored 15 goals and 28 points in 37 games.
Chatter about the Whitecaps roster for the 2021 shortened season often focuses on it being a veteran squad, obviously with a lot of Minnesota natives on it as well. Names like Jonna Curtis, Emma Stauber, Allie Thunstrom, Audra Richards and Meaghan Pezon have all been on the Whitecaps previously, along with a bunch of their teammates.
But three games in, it’s the rookie Mack who’s been one of the biggest factors in the 3-0 Whitecaps record.
In this 2021 NWHL Bubble Season, each team is scheduled for fives games (one against each NWHL team) before the playoffs, and then Isobel Cup semifinals and championship. The Whitecaps started out with the matchup no one got to see at the end of last season, when they were set to face the Boston Pride in the Isobel Cup Final before COVID-19 precautions shut everything down in March.
This past Saturday, the Whitecaps used a comeback victory and more stellar goaltending to earn a 2-1 victory over Boston, a team that was nearly unbeatable a season ago. Down 1-0 in the first period, Curtis tied the game about a minute later. The game-winner came in the second period from captain and original Whitecaps defenseman, 42-year-old Winny Brodt Brown.
It was Brodt Brown’s first goal in the NWHL.
But the true star of the game was Leveille. No stranger to big games and backstopping her team to victory, Leveille made 36 saves.
The next day was a bit of a different story, with Leveille surrendering three first-period goals to the Toronto Six, in their inaugural season. Allie Morse came into the game in relief before Leveille finished off a perfect third period.
The Whitecaps were on their heels early, getting down 3-0 before Sydney Baldwin scored late in the first period on the power play to shrink the deficit. Toronto took a 5-1 lead with 1:32 left in the second period before a flurry of activity. Thirty-one seconds later, Haylea Schmid got one back for the Whitecaps. Then with 12 seconds left in the period, Mack officially got on the scoresheet with her first NWHL goal to make it a 5-3 game headed into the second intermission.
In the third, Richards scored a shorthanded goal with 7 minutes to play. Only 1 minute, 23 seconds later, Pezon fired the puck into the goal on the power play to tie the game, 5-5, completing the Whitecaps’ comeback with four unanswered goals. Special teams were a factor in this one, with 17 total penalties and plenty of 4-on-4 hockey.
It took five rounds of the shootout to get the Whitecaps win. While Leveille made four of the five saves, Curtis scored for the Whitecaps before Mack added her shootout winner.
Then came the back-and-forth, odd-man-rush type of game against the Riveters.
Some NWHL history made tonight.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) January 27, 2021
With tonight's sensational 38-save performance, @MandyLeveille29 is now the NWHL's all-time leader in shutouts (6). Tonight's win was the 46th of her NWHL career and 30th with @WhitecapsHockey.
“Whenever we play the Riveters, it’s always a close game,” Lorence said. “It’s always a battle to the finish. Being able to draw that penalty and capitalize on it was huge.”
The Whitecaps face the Connecticut Whale at 7:30 p.m. CST Thursday before seeing the Buffalo Beauts Saturday afternoon. All games at broadcast on twitch.tv/nwhl, with the Isobel Cup semifinal and final games getting the nod on television via NBCSN.