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PWHL Minnesota's Canadian players bask in glow of Walter Cup win

PWHL Minnesota's Canadian players bask in glow of Walter Cup win PWHL Minnesota's Canadian players bask in glow of Walter Cup win - The Canadian Press

The first Professional Women's Hockey League season had a storybook ending for Sophie Jaques.

The 23-year-old defender from Toronto hoisted the Walter Cup with her Minnesota teammates after they beat the club that traded her to them.

Boston drafted Jaques 10th overall in the PWHL's draft last September. She was dealt to Minnesota in February for defender Abby Cook and forward Susanna Tapani in the league's first trade.

Minnesota claimed the inaugural PWHL championship in a 3-0 win over Boston in Wednesday's fifth and deciding game of the series.

"It was definitely really cool and just kind of a full-circle moment for it to end back on the ice in Boston where I started my season," Jaques said. "It's been a really fun year and the trade was kind of a crazy time for me, but I really found a fit in here in Minnesota."

Jaques, defender Emma Greco of Burlington, Ont., and forward Michela Cava of Thunder Bay, Ont., became the first Canadians to lift the Walter Cup.

Goaltender Amanda Leveille of Kingston, Ont., was also on Minnesota's roster as a reserve player.

Cava scored a goal and assisted on captain Kendall Coyne Schofield's goal in the third period of Game 5.

"Michela played amazing. She's a gamer in the playoffs," Greco said. "I expected nothing less, but that goal from her was huge. That really pushed our momentum and it really took us to the end of the game."

Cava tied for first in the PWHL's post-season points race with eight in 10 games alongside teammate and playoff MVP Taylor Heise. Cava's four goals ranked second to Heise's five.

Cava, 30, and Greco, 29, earned a second hockey championship in as many years.

They were Toronto Six players who won the 2023 Isobel Cup before the Premier Hockey Federation was bought out by Los Angeles Dodgers controlling owner Mark Walter to pave the way for the PWHL.

"There are some similarities. It's always nice to win the trophy at the end of the year, regardless of what you're playing in," Cava said. "This year has been pretty special with just having all the fans at the arena.

"Seeing all like the little girls and boys around the glass with their signs and cheering us on, for me it probably was the most exciting part of really getting this league together and having kind of everybody cheering for one league and one group of girls.

"When we were at home, and we won there in overtime, just having 13,000 people screaming was such a cool experience for us."

Jaques led all defenders in playoff points with two goals and three assists. She was the 2023 Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top NCAA player in women's Division 1 hockey in her final season with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

"Just what this league's been able to do in the first year and the coverage it's gotten through the media and the amount of fan base it's already reached, I think this first season has been incredible," she said.

Minnesota wasn't the Walter Cup favourite.

The club dropped five in a row to end the regular season and required Toronto's win over Ottawa on the last day to be assured of a spot in the final four of the six-team league.

Toronto's reward as top seed was a choice between Boston and Minnesota for its semifinal opponent. Toronto selected fourth-seeded Minnesota on an apparent downslide.

Minnesota lost two straight to start their semifinal series, but roared back to take three in a row and advance to the final. Boston swept Montreal in three straight in their semifinal to advance.

"We knew after we went on our little losing streak that Toronto was probably going to pick us, but it definitely lit a fire under us," Greco said. "Especially after losing those first two games, we knew we had to come together if we want the chance of even making it past that round."

Cava and Greco felt Canadian attention even though they played for a U.S.-based team in an all-American final.

"I felt a whole lot of support in Thunder Bay throughout the season," Cava said. "It's kind of surreal. You don't really realize how big of a deal it is until you have a lot of messages after a game."

Added Greco: "Just the countless messages of people, like my old high school gym teacher, just people coming out of the woodwork, watching our games. It's crazy. Even after the championship game, I had 100 text messages, where I feel it was never like that before."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.