Sunday after the Minnesota Whitecaps had their final home game of the regular season against the Connecticut Whale. Connecticut went with Meeri Räisänen in goal, while Minnesota’s Julie Friend got her first NWHL start of the season. This game, like every other game at the TRIA Rink this season, was sold out and had the stands stacked with excited fans ready to cheer on their team.
Once the puck was dropped the Whitecaps hit the gas and never truly let up, though the Whale had a pretty good first period. Michelle Löwenhielm put a shot on goal from the right point that went straight into Friend’s glove. At 4:36 Juana Baribeau went for cross-checking Jonna Curtis at the Whale’s crease. During the power play Kendall Coyne Schofield made a nice shot off Räisänen, but otherwise the Whale did a great job clearing their zone and killed the penalty. Connecticut soon got a power play of their own as Curtis earned a hooking minor at 7:01. Katerina Mrázová made a nice shot into Friend’s glove, which kicked off a Connecticut flurry that expired with the penalty. The teams traded attempts on goal for the rest of the period, but neither team could crack the other’s goaltender in the first period.
Second period began with back and forth rink racing, though Minnesota’s chances were the better ones. During a particularly chaotic play Räisänen was down and a Whitecap possibly poked the puck past her starfish form at 4:20, but if there was a goal the referees immediately waved it off. Schofield then attempted a slot shot before Colleen Murphy went for body-checking at 5:40. Minnesota made a number of solid attacks, but could not convert with the skater advantage. Amanda Boulier shot through traffic into Räisänen with no luck, but a little later Boulier made a low right point shot under similar conditions and scored at 11:09. Hannah Brandt and Schofield assisted.
Curtis got off a shot from the slot that went high thanks in part to Murphy taking her out. During another Minnesota attack Allie Thunstrom was sent crashing to the ice just to the left of the crease. Kalli Funk caught the puck she had lost at the backboard and threw it into the crease, where it bounced off either Murphy or Räisänen into goal at 15:10. Friend had some visitors at her end of the ice and faced a shot then play went back to the other end of the ice.
During one attempt at the end of the period Amy Menke carried the puck along the left side and made a later pass to Brandt for the shot. Just as she made it Brandt went flying and crashed into both Räisänen and the net. While Brandt was on her skates pretty quickly, Räisänen stayed down on the ice. After an assessment from trainers on both teams Räisänen was helped off the ice. Back up Laura Brennan took over at 18:33, which was officially when the wheels fell off for the Whale.
Minnesota was merciless third period. Curtis entered Connecticut’s zone on the left side and then meandered through both circles before burying the puck in the back of the net, scoring unassisted at 1:57. Whitecaps remained on the attack and Curtis soon fed the puck to Katie McGovern for a slot shot goal at 4:07. Emma Stauber had the second assist. Less than the minute later Curtis flew along the left side and passed to Kate Schipper for the tip in goal at 4:57. Again Stauber had the second assist.
The Whale ought to have had a chance when Boulier received a “grabbing the facemask” minor at 5:25. Instead during the penalty kill Schofield flew down the right side and lofted the puck into goal as she passed the crease, scoring unassisted at 6:28. The Whitecaps nearly scored shorthanded again before Boulier got out of the box. Understandably frustrated, Taylor Marchin earned a high-sticking minor at 8:15. During the Minnesota power play Brennan slid to one side of her crease in order to stop the shot, which meant that Curtis instead passed to McGovern, who scored on the backdoor at 9:21. Winny Brodt Brown had the second assist on goal number seven.
Connecticut got to breathe for a couple minutes before Schofield flew down the left side and fired into goal at 12:05. Brandt and Menke assisted. This was followed up by several more attempts by Minnesota, which Brennan had to bat away. The Whale made a zone entry or two without shooting before Emily Fluke made her way along the left side and got a shot off, but Friend stopped it cold. Curtis went back to the box at 18:23, this time for tripping, and this gave Connecticut a little pep in their step, as they would have a skater advantage for the rest of the game. Winning was no longer an option, but the Whale did not want to be shutout.
Indeed there was one more goal in the game, but it was a Thunstrom flyby down the right side. Lisa Martinson had the lone assist on this shorthanded goal, which came at 19:13. Brennan stayed in goal until the bitter end and Connecticut was shutout 9-0 by Minnesota after the Whitecaps outshot them 41-18. Julie Friend earned a shutout in her first NWHL appearance and the team has made it clear they’re hoping to give the home crowd a shot during the postseason. The Whiecaps’s next game is an exhibition against Minnesota State in Mankato on February 2nd at 2pm.