Sunday was the NWHL championship between the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Buffalo Beauts. Like every game before it at the TRIA Rink it had sold out its 1200 capacity well before the game started and in this case fans were lined up waiting to get in over half an hour before the doors opened. For the most important match of the season Amanda Leveille was in goal for Minnesota, while Buffalo went with Nicole Hensley over their usual starter, Shannon Szabados, due to an injury. However, the Beauts may have gone with Hensley over Szabados anyway, as she was in goal for the only victory Buffalo had over Minnesota during the regular season this year.
Shortly after puck drop Amanda Boulier was set up for a fantastic chance on Hensley, but she tripped over a Beaut’s stick missing her chance any play raced the other way. Beyond that the Whitecaps didn’t have a lot of chances in the first half of the period, as the Beauts were on fire. Leveille found herself fending off all sorts of shots from her former teammates, including a great slapper from Maddie Elia in the left circle, a Blake Bolden blast from the center of the blue line, and Dani Cameranesi’s breakaway down the right side. Every move Buffalo made on the ice looked absolutely terrifying to a Whitecaps fan, as this was the sharpest they have looked against Minnesota all season.
Kendall Coyne Schofield got the puck into Buffalo’s zone and sent it up to Hannah Brandt for a shot. Just as Brandt made the attempt on goal Kelly Babstock slashed her, which sent her to the box at 12:49. The Whitecaps were buzzing on the power play and Brandt even richoetted the puck off Hensley’s mask, but were unable to convert. They continued setting up excellent plays in Buffalo’s zone, which rarely seemed to turn into actual shots on goal. At 17:01 Emily Pfalzer fired into traffic from the back of the right circle and scored. Bolden and Annika Zalewski assisted on the initial goal of the game. The Beauts continued putting the Whitecaps on their heels until Amy Menke streaked up the right side, faked out Hensley, and scored at 18:23. Schofield and Lee Stecklein assisted on this tying goal.
Second period the Whitecaps seemed more offensively inclined and kept play in Buffalo’s zone for most of the first several minutes. Kate Schipper was knocked off her skates, but still got her shot off. Savannah Harmon tripped Allie Thunstrom along the boards at 3:58. During the power play Schofield’s shot caused a scramble and then Stecklein put a shot on goal that Hensley had to sit on the puck to stop before the penalty expired. Cameranesi zipped along the left side for a shot, which Leveille denied along with the rebound. During a Beauts flurry Hayley Scamurra had a solid slot shot that got blocked. Jonna Curtis had a fantastic shot that went wide, as did many of her teammates.
Menke had another breakaway along the right side and she skirted along the crease, tricking Hensley in the process, but missed her shot. Her next chance was equally fruitless. Cameranesi took a tripping minor at 12:16, but it was soon nullified by Boulier’s tripping minor at 12:45. Schofield and Pfalzer both had decent attempts after the Beauts were back to full strength in an otherwise uneventful pair of penalties. Harmon passes back and forth with a teammate before finally throwing the puck on goal, however they weren’t fast enough to beat Leveille, who stopped the puck cold. At 16:35 the refs called another tripping penalty, this time on Lauren Barnes. Buffalo looked incredibly dangerous throughout the two minutes until the penalty expired.
The score was still 1-all starting third period. Menke had a strong shot and her teammate tried to bury the rebound, both of which were denied. Pfalzer had a left shot through traffic that went just wide of goal this time. Then Boulier was sent tumbling into Leveille, but both seemed fine despite the net crashing. Another Bolden blue line blast hit the crossbar and rattled around the pipes before bouncing out of the crease, leaving the game tied. Emma Stauber took an interference penalty at 4:54. During the power play Scamurra crashed the net, dragging Curtis with her, and nearly knocked the net on top of them.
The Beauts were doing a great job robbing Leveille or her eyes and she still managed to block their shots. Kalli Funk had a left point shot, which Hensley shot down. A Beauts’ flurry was followed by Curtis getting off two quick shots before Boulier made a long blast and Hensley did her best brick wall impression. Babstock went back to the box for tripping at 16:19. Boulier had the best chance of the power play with a long shot through traffic, which Hensley gloved mid air before falling to a seated position on the ice. With 24 seconds left in regulation Cameranesi had the last good chance of the period, but Schofield got in the last shot. As the championship game was still tied the teams went back to their locker rooms to prep for twenty minutes of sudden death overtime.
During overtime Katie McGovern won a faceoff and sent the puck back to Stecklein. Stecklein made a laser blast from the left point through the legs of a Beaut and then through Hensley’s 5-hole into the back of the net 49 seconds into overtime. The crowd erupted into wordless screams as Minnesota had beaten Buffalo 2-1 after outshooting them 30-23. The Whitecaps were the 2019 NWHL champions after winning the regular season title as well, all in their first season as an expansion team for the league. Stecklein was named MVP of the playoffs before the team received the Isobel Cup and the celebrations started.
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