Six, Whitecaps meet in PHF Isobel Cup Championship
The Isobel Cup Championship is the pinnacle of the 2022-23 PHF season with Toronto and Minnesota the last two teams left standing following a record 84-game regular season schedule and best-of-three semifinals. The Six and Whitecaps meet for the first time in playoff history and 11th time in three years with a head-to-head that has heavily favored Toronto with nine-straight wins including all four meetings this season where they outscored Minnesota 14-5 overall. Take away the latest 7-1 result on Feb. 26 and the teams played a trio of one-goal games including an overtime decision back on opening day. The streak won’t intimidate the Whitecaps who just swept the two-time defending champion Pride despite dropping all four of their regular season encounters, while the Six are riding their own wave of momentum following a game three victory over the Whale after losing the opener. The regular season stars have continued to shine in the playoffs for both teams including newcomer Brittany Howard who led Toronto with 16 goals and 26 points during the year and delivered two goals and four points against Connecticut. Veteran Jonna Albers became the league’s fastest to 100 career points and had five points on nine Minnesota goals against Boston. Kati Tabin continues to lead the T6 blue line and all PHF defenders in scoring, while 2018 Olympic gold medalist Sidney Morin is always a threat on the Whitecaps back end. Between-the-pipes, both Toronto’s Elaine Chuli and Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille were on the winning side despite facing more shots in both series and managed to lower their goals-against-averages and raise their save percentages in the process. Toronto is 14-1 overall when striking first and were most productive in the opening frame, meanwhile Minnesota scored their fewest goals in the first period and have allowed the game’s first goal in 18 of 26 contests. If it comes down to special teams, the Whitecaps ranked second on the power play during the regular season and semifinals, and the T6 penalty kill was fourth and averaged three minor penalties per game in the semifinals. A win for Toronto would make them Isobel Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history, while Minnesota would reign supreme for the second time following their 2019 title.
Expansion: The eighth Isobel Cup Championship is the first that features two expansion teams with Minnesota who joined the league in 2018-19 and Toronto in 2020-21. Every other matchup included at least one of the 2015-16 Founding Four franchises.
Firsts: Toronto’s appearance marks the first time in PHF history where a Canadian team is competing for the Isobel Cup, while Minnesota makes their fourth final in five years. T6 has seven players who have been part of the organization since day one including captain Shiann Darkangelo, alternates Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Emma Woods and Taylor Woods, forward Brooke Boquist, defender Lindsay Eastwood, and goaltender Elaine Chuli. Forward Jonna Albers, defender Emma Stauber, and goaltender Amanda Leveille have played in all five of the Whitecaps PHF seasons.
Multi Wins: No matter the outcome there will be a back-to-back champion with either Toronto’s Tereza Vanišová or Minnesota’s Amanda Boulier who were both members of the 2022 Pride. Vanišová could become the first player ever to win three-straight, while Boulier is making a record fifth-straight appearance in the finals. She’s also won twice along with teammate Amanda Leveille which means somebody is in line to tie Boston captain Jillian Dempsey for the PHF record of three Isobel Cups. Leveille and T6 captain Shiann Darkangelo were teammates on the 2017 champion Beauts. Jonna Albers and Emma Stauber were members of the 2019 winning Whitecaps.
Most Points: Jonna Albers is tied for second in all-time playoff scoring with 14 points in nine career postseason games along with Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight who both recorded 14 points in six games for Boston. Pride captain Jillian Dempsey holds the all-time record with 15 points in 16 playoff games.
Top Tendies: The 2023 Isobel Cup Championship features the last two netminders to be recognized as PHF Goaltender of the Year with Elaine Chuli winning in 2022 and Amanda Leveille in 2021 (and 2018). Both are finalists for the 2023 award.
Women in Leadership: Toronto’s Geraldine Heaney and Minnesota’s Ronda Engelhardt are making history behind the bench in the first Isobel Cup Championship that features two female head coaches.
Competition: Four of the last five single-game Isobel Cup Championships have been decided by one goal, with last year’s two-goal spread produced by an empty-net marker. The very first final in 2016 was a two-game sweep with one game decided in overtime and the other a two-goal decision.
MVP: Three of the first six Isobel Cup Most Valuable Players have been forwards, two have been goaltenders, and just one has been a defender.
NHL Ice: This is the first time the Isobel Cup Championship will be played on official NHL ice at Mullett Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, and 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.
Broadcast: This is the second-straight season the Isobel Cup Championship will have a North America wide television audience on ESPN2 and TSN.
“Taking down Boston in two games straight was quite an accomplishment for them (Minnesota)…They’re fast and they don’t give up and are the type of team that will do the little things and are a little bit similar to us, I just think that if we stay out of the box and can play five-on-five I think we’ll have a lot of success…We’ve always focused on worrying about our team and we can only control what we do on the ice. We really focus a lot on d-zone and talk about defense winning championships because we definitely have the offensive power to score goals. If we can take care of our own end first we can be successful…This will be something they’ll never forget, we’ve talked about enjoying the journey from the beginning of the year and it’s been one hell of a journey and we’re just one game from achieving our goals.” – Toronto’s Geraldine Heaney.
“I’m excited to be a part of it, but ultimately it’s about the team and the team success. My goal is to get them ready to compete. I think with the season we had, the ups and downs, it showed a lot of resilience out of these players and a lot of character, so I’m excited for the opportunity and hope that we can win it all…I do think there is one more level that they (Whitecaps) are going to find and I’m excited to see it and I think it’s going to be a great game…The performance against Boston we saw throughout the season but it just wasn’t consistent. The big thing was just trying to stay consistent, stay mentally strong, mentally engaged the entire game. We had to play disciplined and do the little things we talked about all year long. We needed the players to commit to that and they did. They’ve exceeded everything we’ve asked of them so it’s building off that and knowing that we can do it and I hope that gives them confidence.” – Minnesota’s Ronda Engelhardt.
“It’s super exciting and awesome to have this opportunity. We’ve been a part of the program since it started here so super honored that we’re in this position to be able to go to the Isobel Cup finals in Arizona. I’m really excited for this group and excited to see what we can do…It’s a one game thing and it’s going to be whoever is ready and acclimated when we get to Arizona. Hopefully we can take our momentum from this series into that game and I’m confident in what we can do…I learned that this a resilient group that’s not going to give up. It was weirdly good that we took that hit in the first game (against Connecticut), it showed that we have to bounce back and we were able to have each other’s backs to do that which was pretty exciting.” – Toronto’s Shiann Darkangelo.
“For one game, it’s what I’m used to and I think what most of us are used to from college or from other pro leagues. I think we’re just going to stay focused and come together as a group and just be ready to play a full 60 minutes and if we need any more, we’ll play that too…We’re a focused group and we’re hungry and we have a lot of experience on our team. We’ve played in big games with Isobel Cup champions, we have Olympic champions, national champions, and we’ll lean on that…It’s cool to be growing the game in a non-traditional market in Arizona. I know they have a cool youth program called the Kachinas that’s getting bigger and bigger with some women’s hockey players helping with that and it’s going to be a cool experience.” – Minnesota’s Sydney Brodt.
“It’s definitely going to be won on the defensive side of the game, (Elaine) Chuli is obviously a backbone on our roster, and focusing on the details. Backchecking, lifting sticks, blocking shots, the details will be huge in this and then offensively capitalizing on any opportunities that we have…It’s been a great season with the chemistry in this group which management and the coaching staff has created has been awesome and I think that’s led to some of our success on the ice this season.” – Toronto’s Brittany Howard.
“I think it’s helpful and we can learn a lot from the games that we played against them (Toronto), but I think we’re a new team and we showed that against Boston…I think that we’ve proven from when we played in Boston that we’re a playoff team and that we’re ready for the challenge…We were really determined and knew that we could beat them (Boston) if we came and we brought our game and that’s exactly what we did. It comes down to the players and making sure that we’re determined and focused and ready to play those games. We just beat the number one team and feel like we can beat anybody if we bring our game and are determined to do that.” – Minnesota’s Jonna Albers.
“Obviously the last two years we came up pretty short in the semifinals both times against Boston and it’s something I’ve always had in the back of my head so it’s nice to get through that round and have a chance to play for the championship…I’m focused on myself and what I need to do to help the Toronto Six win on Sunday.” – Toronto’s Elaine Chuli.
“We played extremely well against Boston, we really suffocated their offense and we know that we’ll have to continue that against Toronto because they have a lot of talented players on the offensive side along with their goaltender Elaine Chuli who is awesome as well…We’ve been preparing for this moment the entire season, we had a lot of ups and downs, but we’re rolling at the right time and we’re excited for the opportunity to compete with each other and we know that it’s going to take a full team effort and we’ve definitely demonstrated that when we play as a team we can have success and we’re going to continue that when the puck drops.” – Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Toronto (2) beat Connecticut (3) 2-1 in semifinal series:
Mar. 17: CTW 5 TOR 3