Games

A Surprising Start For All

A Surprising Start For All

We are more than a month into the 2019-20 SHL season and it’s already dramatic. Frölunda was expected to do well as usual, but the story is different for the league in general. If you read the crash course on the SHL before the season began, you will find that things definitely have not started out as expected:

Proving Everyone Wrong

Rögle has so far been the most interesting team in Swedish hockey. Few had high hopes for this southern small-town team, but they are determined to prove everyone wrong. After winning the first game of the season against the current champions Frölunda, Rögle has continued to defeat opponent after opponent. They have comfortably controlled their games; the highlight so far definitely being the derby win against Malmö Redhawks. As the underdog in this derby, they now have the upper hand going into the game against Malmö on the 28th of November.

Homegrown forward Dennis Everberg and Canadian defenseman Kodie Curran have been essential for this fairly young team’s success so far. They have been instrumental in replacing the points usually produced by Ted Brithén. The all-round center is usually good for 0.8 PPG but took a friendly slapshot to the jaw in the first game of the season, and it is unclear when he will return. Despite this surprisingly good start for Rögle, they are not showing any signs of stopping.

Related: 2019 Isobel Cup Playoffs Preview

A Surprising Start For All

While the perennial underdog Rögle is in the top three, things are not looking good for Växjö Lakers. Usually a powerhouse in the Swedish Hockey League, they have been disappointing in almost every game so far. While strengthening their weaknesses from last season, they have somehow managed to reduce their quality of play. Växjö Lakers had the arguably the best center depth in the league coming into the season, but seem to have problems in every zone.

It is time for the many profiles of this team to really step up and show the way. Their roster is too good for dwelling at the bottom. If not, we might see the departure of coach Sam Hallam- who would’ve thought that just a month ago? Växjö managed to win against the now bottom team Linköping on Saturday 26th, and they should be hungry for more wins this week against Leksand and Luleå.

Newcomers Are Running out of Beginners Luck

The start of the season for newcomers Oskarshamn and Leksand has been like expected. Not overly successful, but fighting very hard to stay away from the last two places. So far that mission seems to be going well for both teams. Oskarshamn did have an impressive start, but it did not last too long. The team collapsed in the game against Färjestad, losing spectacularly with the final score being 0-12. This sparked some hatred among the Oskarshamn fans. These feelings were not directed towards the team itself, but rather against journalists proclaiming that the team should not play in the top division. But with such a small budget and such staggering numbers, even reaching playoffs would seem like an overachievement- as of right now, that is.

A Surprising Start For All

In Leksand, voices of concern have been raised after a nine-game losing streak. The one overtime point against Brynäs was their first in over a month. The Leksand supporters have not experienced a worse start in the top league since 1975. As of now, they will try to steer the ship in the right direction with the current coach and roster.

In the individual point category, the current leaders are Rhett Rhakhshani of Frölunda and Michael Lindqvist of Färjestad with 17 points each.

Underwhelming Players Need to Step Up

While many teams focus on building well-oiled machines, there are some players who are yet to make an impact. Rok Ticar signed quite late for Oskarshamn. The 30-year old center had spent the last few years in the KHL, but things are not clicking. You can tell from his game on ice, and the points and “fancy” stats like Corsi are backing it up.

Mattias Guter (Djurgården) and Nick Sörensen (Rögle) have similar stories. Both of these right-wingers tend to be good for 15 goals each when playing for weaker teams, but initially failed to register a point. However, they are starting to play better and have even produced a few points in the last two weeks. Sörensen has already played for two teams this season, coming from Linköping, but moving to Rögle after just four games.

Among goalies the standouts are Djurgården’s Niklas Svedberg who has proven that he is still a top-tier goalie like before, posting a .933 average. Skellefteå’s Gustaf Lindvall initially had a heavy schedule, starting most games early in the season, and has posted a .925 while doing so. This was a good performance while Mantas Armalis was out with injury. Lindvall will most likely see much fewer games going forward, but for Skellefteå it is not a problem to have two capable goalies.

So far this season, some usual top teams are having a hard time and the underdogs are doing very well. No matter who you cheer for, this excitement is certainly great for growing the game.

2019 Isobel Cup Playoffs Preview

2019 Isobel Cup Playoffs Preview

The 2018-19 NWHL regular season came to a close on Sunday after a 16-game regular season, with the Isobel Cup playoffs right around the corner. The Isobel Cup is named after Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, daughter of Lord Stanley and one of the first known women to play the game of ice hockey. Now into its fourth season, there has yet to be a repeat Cup winner.

There was all to play for right up until the final regular season game, thanks to the new playoff format for this season. This year sees all five teams make the playoffs, with the 4th and 5th place teams playing a “play-in” game, with the winner securing a place in the semi-finals.

The Whitecaps Lead the Way

Minnesota Whitecaps, in their inaugural season, finished as the regular season champions with a 12-4-0 record. The Whitecaps have been the most consistent team all season and finish the season on the back of a five-game winning streak and go into the playoffs as deserved favorites.

Familiar foes Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride finished 2nd and 3rd respectively and will square off again in the semi-finals. Last years champions Metropolitan Riveters beat the Beauts in overtime on the final day to secure 4th place ahead of Connecticut Whale, who finished the season with a miserable 10 game losing streak.

The playoffs commence this week with some enticing match-ups, all of which will be shown live on the NWHL website. Let’s take a look at the upcoming games.

Related: 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships Preview

2019 Isobel Cup Playoffs Preview

Connecticut Whale vs Metropolitan Riveters

The first ever playoff “play-in” game sees the bottom side Connecticut Whale travel to New Jersey on Thursday for a 7pm EST face off against the Riveters. These teams split their season series 2-2, each winning one game home and away. The Riveters will go into the game as favorites after beating a hot Buffalo team 4-3 in overtime on Sunday. The Whale have to go all the way back to December 2nd for their last win, however both their regular season wins came against the Riveters so that should give them some hope.

Amanda Kessel led the Riveters in scoring during the regular season, putting up 17 points in only 13 games. She actually finished the season as the league leader in assists with 15 and will be instrumental for the Riveters as they push to make the semi-final. Another key contributor on offense will be Madison Packer, who led the team in goals alongside Audra Richards. In goal will be reigning VEDA NWHL Player of the Week Katie Fitzgerald, fresh off the back of her 40 save effort against Buffalo which secured her team home-ice advantage for this game.

The Whale will need to find offense from somewhere if they hope to progress any further this season. They averaged only 1.38 goals per game this season while conceding 4 goals against per game on average. They will need to see big efforts from the likes of captain Emily Fluke and team points leader Katerina Mrázová, as well as rookie goaltender Erin O’Neill, to make it into the semi-finals.

Who Will Be the Hero?

The great thing about playoff hockey though is that any team can win it on the day. The intensity and desperation from both teams should make for a fascinating game. Both teams will be hoping their players can elevate their games, and the game may boil down to an individual moment of brilliance.

Can the Riveters get the job done? Or will it be the Whale swimming into a semi-final place?

Boston Pride vs Buffalo Beauts

HarborCenter in Buffalo is the venue this Saturday at 7.30pm EST as the Buffalo Beauts host the Boston Pride in a repeat of last season’s semi-final. The Pride will be looking for revenge after Buffalo won that game 3-2 in overtime in what was a thrilling contest. These two teams have been evenly matched all season, although the Beauts did take the season series 3-1.

The Beauts started the season poorly, going 2-3-0 and firing head coach Ric Seiling. Former NHL’er Cody McCormick took over behind the bench and the Beauts went on to finish the season 9-1-1, securing a home semi-final. Boston, coached by ex-NHL’er Paul Mara, was consistent throughout the season but lost key games against both Buffalo and Minnesota, ultimately finishing third in the final standings.

2019 Isobel Cup Playoffs Preview

Quality at Both Ends of the Ice

Eight of the top 10 scorers during the regular season came from these two teams. The Beauts Hayley Scamurra led the league in points with 20, whilst Maddie Elia led the league in goals with 12. Blake Bolden put up 11 assists from the blueline, and was recently nominated for Defender of the Year.

For the Pride, they have received major contributions from throughout their line-up. Star forward Haley Skarupa put up 18 points in only 13 appearances, and McKenna Brand had a breakout rookie season scoring 17 points. Gigi Marvin and Jillian Dempsey shared the team lead with 10 goals each.

At the other end of the ice, the goaltending battle could be the deciding factor in this game. The Beauts have an embarrassment of riches in goal, with Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley both putting up almost identical stats of 1.50 GAA and .935 SV% with two shutouts each. Szabados will likely be the starter on Saturday evening.

Katie Burt has been a rock in goal for Boston and has played in every game so far this season. Her regular season stats finished at 2.26 GAA with a .920 SV%. The 2017 1st overall pick in the NWHL Entry Draft has followed up her decorated NCAA career with an outstanding effort in her first pro season and will need to continue that into the Playoffs if the Pride hope to regain the Isobel Cup.

TBC vs Minnesota Whitecaps

The prize for winning Thursday’s “play-in” game will be a trip to Minnesota on Sunday to face the Whitecaps (faceoff 1.30pm CST). The Whitecaps will be heavy favorites for this game after ending their first season in the league as regular season champions and riding a five-game winning streak.

It was also announced that the Whitecaps’ fans broke the NWHL record for the fastest sellout, selling all 1200 tickets in just 26 hours. The Whitecaps have been a major success story this season both on and off the ice, and this game will mark the ninth home sellout in a row for the Minnesota team.

The Whitecaps have enjoyed regular offensive production throughout their roster, with seven players reaching double figures in points. The offensive leaders have been Jonna Curtis with 19 points and Kendall Coyne Schofield with 14. Coyne Schofield, the star of the men’s All-Star Fastest Skater competition, has been a key member of the Whitecaps top line alongside Hannah Brandt and Amy Menke.

On defense, Lee Stecklein and Amanda Boulier make for an extremely dangerous first pair and will pose a constant attacking threat throughout the game. Veterans Winny Brown and Chelsey Rosenthal provide years of experience between them, with Brown captaining the team at the age of 41. In goal, Amanda Leveille has played every game and finished the season with stats of 2.09 GAA and .923 SV%, the best numbers of her career.

Predictions

My tentative predictions are that the Riveters will win the “play-in” game, Minnesota and Buffalo will win their respective semi-finals…and the Beauts end up as Isobel Cup Champions 2019.

2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships Preview

2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships Preview

The 2019 Women’s World Championships got under way this week in Espoo, Finland. The tournament will run from the 4th–14th April. It makes history as the first tournament to contain 10 teams.

  • Group A consists of Canada, USA, Finland, Russia and Switzerland.
  • Group B consists of Sweden, Japan, Germany, France and Czech Republic.

This tournament has been dominated by Canada and the USA since its inception in 1990. Canada has won gold 10 times whilst the USA has won the other eight. The last running of the tournament in 2017 featured a thrilling gold medal game. A game that saw the USA beating Canada 3-2 in overtime.

This will be a showcase event that will be coming at the right time for the women’s game. The CWHL recently announced that it ceased operations, effective May 1st. This leaves many of the stars in this World Championships with uncertainty as to where they will be playing hockey next season. For those players, the tournament should allow them to get back to what they do best and give them a temporary respite from the upsetting news.

Format

The group stages consist of two, tiered, five-team groups who will compete in a round robin format, followed by the knockout stages, consisting of all five teams from Group A and the top three teams from Group B. The bottom two teams in Group B will be relegated to Division 1 Group A.

Related: A Surprising Start For All

2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships Preview

The tournament will use the three point System for the group games, which consists of:

  • 3 points for a regulation win
  • 1 point for each team if the game is tied after regulation
  • An additional 1 point for the overtime/shootout winner
  • 0 points for a regulation loss

Marie-Philip Poulin

One of the major storylines heading into this year’s tournament was concerning the health of Marie-Philip Poulin. Arguably the best player in the world, Poulin was forced to miss the Clarkson Cup final and was recently listed as “day-to-day”.

Should Poulin be unable to play, it would be a massive blow to Team Canada’s hopes at regaining the gold medal. With very little to split the Canadian and USA teams, losing a player of Poulin’s quality could swing the balance back in favor of team USA.

There has been some good news on the injury front for Canada. It looks almost certain that star goalie Shannon Szabados will be fit enough to play. Szabados missed the Isobel Cup final with a lower-body injury, but reports appear to be very positive and she should play.

Team Canada goalie @ShannonSzabados, the NWHL goalie of the year who didn’t play in the Isobel Cup final for Buffalo due to a freak accident on the ice (she fell), is back in action and took a full practice. She even jumped around off-ice to show how healthy she is.— Kristina Rutherford (@KrRutherford) March 28, 2019

Players to Watch

Team Canada arrives in Finland with an experienced roster full of the biggest names in women’s hockey. But it is one of the newer players, Loren Gabel, who will be one to watch. The reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner dominated NCAA hockey this season at Clarkson University, putting up 69 points in just 38 games. She makes things happen every shift she is on the ice and will look to make an impact for Canada in her first major International tournament.

For the USA, it will be interesting to see how Hayley Scamurra fares in her first major international tournament. The leading points scorer in the NWHL this season had a breakout season and was rightfully rewarded with a place in the USA squad. She is a dynamic forward who can play in all three zones and will provide a major scoring depth for the USA.

2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships Preview

The Best of the Rest

Finland has a fascinating World Championship debutante in the form of Elisa Holopainen. The 17-year old has been utterly dominant in Liiga this season. She put up 51 points in just 20 regulation games whilst also tallying 15 points in 8 playoff games. She was named Best Forward at the U18 Women’s Worlds. The Finns will be hoping this form translates to the senior level.

From the new teams playing in the tournament for the first time, Chloe Aurard of Team France is the standout player. She had a fantastic year at Northeastern University, putting up 31 points in 35 games on a good team. A team that won the National Championship. She should be the main scoring threat for France as they look to try and qualify for the knockout stage.

Predictions

It again looks a given that the gold medal game will consist of Canada vs USA. If the Rivalry Series is anything to go by, this will be an extremely close affair. I think the USA may just have the edge so I will take them to win gold, with Canada taking home silver.

The race for the bronze medal will be fascinating, with the best of the rest closely matched. Russia will be looking to go one better than their 4th place finish in the Olympics, while Germany and Switzerland will also hope to be in the mix. But for me, I think Finland will just do enough to come away with the bronze medal on their home ice.