An historic win for the Toronto Six
The Toronto Six are 2023 Isobel Cup champions and the first Canadian team in Premier Hockey Federation history to hoist the top prize in professional women’s hockey following a 4-3 overtime victory against the Minnesota Whitecaps Sunday night at Mullett Arena in Tempe, AZ.
Tereza Vanišová scored the winning-goal at 4:23 of the extra frame played three-on-three and earned Player of the Game honors. The Czech national team member becomes the first player in PHF history to win three-straight Isobel Cups and joins Boston Pride captain Jillian Dempsey as the only players with three PHF titles.
“I forechecked, got the puck and went straight to the net and shot high on her where I saw it was open,” Vanišová said of the cup-winning goal. “I’m glad it went in! The Isobel Cup is the goal of the season so from the beginning I knew I was coming to a really good team and I believed that we could win. It’s been unreal for me, my third time winning this. I’m so glad I’m part of this team, we have an amazing group of girls and I think it was well deserved. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to play in this league, it’s been awesome. I couldn’t be more proud of the girls.”
Michela Cava was named Most Valuable Player of the Isobel Cup Playoffs with six points including three goals and three assists in four games. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native led the T6 offense with two primary assists in the final which coincided with her 29th birthday.
“To be in Arizona and play a game on my birthday is pretty amazing,” Cava said. “We definitely knew it was going to be a hard game. I’m happy with the outcome but it was tough. It’s the end of the season and you know you need to give it your all and everything you have in the last game and that’s definitely my mentality. Our whole team played very well today. All playoffs I think we played our best hockey just trying to do the small things. We’re definitely going to enjoy this one.”
Cava sent a backhand pass into the slot for Dominika Lásková who buried the game’s opening goal at 7:22 of the first period. With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second, T6 took advantage of a Minnesota miscue behind the net and Emma Woods fed Breanne Wilson-Bennett in front for a tap in goal. Trailing 3-2 in the third, Cava capitalized on a turnover in the offensive zone and created a chance finished by Taylor Woods who netted the equalizer at 7:56. All four Toronto goal scorers in the final produced their first tallies of the postseason. It was also the team’s second overtime win of the playoffs.
“I said to them that the sun will shine on Monday and it’ll be a lot brighter if we win,” said T6 head coach Geraldine Heaney. “I’m so proud of the girls, just to see them accomplish this goal is unbelievable. We’ve practiced it (three-on-three) before and we won one of the games against Connecticut in overtime as well. I think we outplayed them in the overtime and we out chanced them. We’ve been down in certain games and we’ve always been able to come back. This team never gives up and always believed in each other. They wanted to win and they would do whatever it takes to win. It’s going to be great to bring the cup home to Toronto and go out and share it with the community and promote the game that’ll give the young girls in Toronto something to dream about as well.”
Seven T6 players have been part of all three seasons since the PHF expanded north of the border in 2020 including both Woods’ and Wilson-Bennett who contributed offensively, defender Lindsay Eastwood, forward Brooke Boquist, goaltender Elaine Chuli who made 21 saves, and captain Shiann Darkangelo who becomes a two-time Isobel Cup champion following her 2017 win in Buffalo.
“This has been three years in the making of where we’re at now so I’m super excited and proud of the group that’s been here and the girls that have been a part of this to bring the Isobel Cup back to Toronto,” Darkangelo said. “We’re going to try and enjoy it with our friends and family that are here, and then hopefully we can do things with the community and fans back home because we have so many people behind us. It was a hard-fought game on both sides and it just came down to who was going to work harder. Going into the room we talked in between periods that we’ve got 20 minutes to shut it down and take what’s ours and what we’ve worked for all season and that’s what we were able to do.”
Brittyn Fleming tied the game for Minnesota with her second playoff goal at 4:02 of the second period. Brooke Madsen’s first at 16:06 evened the score once again making it 2-2 after 40 minutes. Jonna Albers got her fifth goal in three games on the power play just 20 seconds into the final frame to give the Whitecaps the lead. Her sixth playoff point tied Cava for the overall lead in 2023 and equals Dempsey for the most all-time with 15 in 10 career games.
“We came and showed what the Whitecaps can do and they played incredible in the playoffs,” said Whitecaps head coach Ronda Engelhardt. “The resilience of the team and coming back. We reset for the playoffs. This game could have gone either way. It’s frustrating being on this end but very proud of the team and how hard they fought to get here. We came out and played together. We wanted to win this game quite badly, but you go into overtime I don’t know if you can ask for anything else in a championship game.”
Minnesota advanced to the final for the fourth time in five years and were one goal away from a second Isobel Cup following their expansion 2018-19 season capped with a 2-1 overtime triumph over the Beauts. That group included current Whitecaps in Albers, Emma Stauber, goaltender Amanda Leveille who made 35 saves on Sunday, and Amanda Boulier who was also a member of the 2022 champion Pride.
“It was a roller coaster of a game, a really good hockey game, back and forth, a lot of lead changes, an emotional one,” Boulier said. “Credit to Toronto, I think they did a really great job settling into overtime and had some really good chances. Unfortunately we just never quite got our feet under us and never quite settled into that three-on-three and they came out on the other end. It was definitely a game that could have gone either way. Hopefully the fans enjoyed that one.”
This was the first time the Isobel Cup Championship was played on official NHL game ice in partnership with the Arizona Coyotes and OVG360 with a crowd of over 1,500 in attendance. It’s the second straight season for a neutral site NHL host outside of traditional PHF markets following the 2022 playoffs in Florida in partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning. While in Arizona, players had the opportunity to connect with various youth programs including the Kachinas Girls Hockey Association led by president Lyndsey Fry and Christina Kehoe who performed the ceremonial puck drop.“It’s been an awesome experience to be able to grow the game in a new market and be able to be involved in the community and help with youth hockey with outreach events in the few days that we were here to show the young girls what’s possible for them if they continue to follow their dreams,” said Darkangelo. “Being able to go out there and help inspire those girls to show them what they’re capable of is awesome. I never had that growing up. It kind of gives me chills thinking about it. I’m super proud of the women that I do this with and the girls on the other team who set such a good example for them to look up to.”