By Samantha U’Ren
Led by a returning star and a new one, the defending Isobel Cup champion Minnesota Whitecaps showed why many believe they are the favorites again this season in their 9-2 defeat of the Riveters on Saturday in Saint Paul.
Jonna Curtis, the 2018-19 NWHL Newcomer of the Year, had a hat trick and an assist in the team’s home opener at TRIA Rink. Rookie center Nicole Schammel had two goals and two assists in what was her NWHL debut.
“It’s a process in the beginning, but we have a ton of depth and everyone is working really hard,” said Curtis in typically modest fashion after the game.
The afternoon before a large crowd at TRIA Rink began with the unveiling of the Whitecaps’ Isobel Cup championship banner. Then the home team scored early, with Curtis finding the back of the net just 49 seconds into the game.
But the crowd grew quieter when the rebuilding Riveters took a 2-1 lead on goals by Kate Leary (her first, in her NWHL debut) and veteran Rebecca Morse. The Whitecaps may have been jolted by the turnaround, but responded like champs, as Curtis tied the game 51 seconds after Morse’s goal.
Minnesota capitalized on special teams, scoring not two just power play goals (Curtis and Allie Thunstrom), but two while shorthanded (Schammel and Meghan Lorence).
In addition to Schammel, two other highly-touted, first-year NWHLers had fantastic debuts for the Whitecaps. Lorence finished the day with two goals and an assist, while Sydney Baldwin had a goal and an assist. When the Riveters pressed, legendary NWHL goalie Amanda Leveille was solid, making 29 saves in the victory.
“Our lines are meshing well,” said Schammel. “We could have a really special group here.”
The Minnesota Whitecaps finish up their series against the Metropolitan Riveters on Sunday at 3 p.m. CDT at TRIA Rink in St. Paul. You can buy tickets online at http://nwhl.zone/tickets or stream the games live at http://twitch.tv/nwhl.