By Mike Murphy
The Minnesota Whitecaps are starting their December with a bye week before they host the Metropolitan Riveters for a weekend series on Dec. 14-15. Thus far, the 2019-20 season has been filled with twists and turns for the reigning Isobel Cup Champions. Fortunately for Minnesota, they have an abundance of leadership both behind the bench and on the ice. Which is likely why the Whitecaps look calm, quick, and confident when they are at their best.
It’s impossible to quantify what it means to a team to have icons like Winny Brodt Brown and Brooke White-Lancette in its locker room, but their presence has undeniably had an impact on the Whitecaps rookies Sydney Baldwin, Kelsey Cline, Nicole Schammel, and Meghan Lorence.
“Since I grew up in Minnesota, I have always looked up to Winny and Brooke since I can remember,” Lorence said. “They have been the face of the Whitecaps since the team formed many years ago. All the hard work and dedication that they have put into the game of women’s hockey is unbelievable. They are both tremendous leaders so getting the chance to be teammates with them definitely means a lot.”
Lorence, 27, is the oldest newcomer of the bunch. Through the first eight games of the 2019-20 season she’s moved around in the Whitecaps’ lineup, but her quick feet and quick hands have made her a threat regardless of who she’s playing with. All seven of her points (5 goals, 2 assists) have been primary and she and Schammel are the only two skaters this season who have scored goals at even strength, on the power play, and while shorthanded.
“Playing in the NWHL has been a great experience,” Lorence said. “Each game is competitive, and the fans are great! I’ll always remember my first goal because it was scored in my first game in front of our home crowd.”
Cline, who played both as a forward and defender for the Golden Gophers, has brought that same versatility to the Whitecaps this season. She’s currently tied for second on the team in blocked shots (6) and has picked up two assists – both at even strength. Her two-way game and smooth passing skills have helped her fit seamlessly into Minnesota’s style of hockey. She can do it all.
Schammel leads all rookies in shots on goal (44) and is one of five newcomers with a dozen points on the season – the other four skaters all have played one more game than the Minnesota native. Schammel also shares the lead for goal-scoring among first-year players with Boston’s Lexie Laing and Buffalo’s Brooke Stacey. What sets her apart from her fellow rookies is that she’s been on the ice for over half of Minnesota’s goals scored at 5-on-5. When she’s on the ice, the Whitecaps are a more dangerous team.
It’s no small task to make an immediate impression on an experienced blue line, but that hasn’t stopped Baldwin from doing just that. In six games this season she has piled up nine points and is third among NWHL defenders in shots on goal; the two blueliners in front of her are All-Stars Kaleigh Fratkin and Shannon Doyle. It’s taken her just half a dozen games to look like one of the best blueliners in the NWHL.
Those four rookies are all alumnae of the University of Minnesota. Baldwin, Cline, and Lorence were teammates for the Golden Gophers 2014-15 season along with Whitecaps goaltender Amanda Leveille and first-year Whitecap Nina Rodgers. The Gophers won the National Title that year, which forged a deep bond between this new wave of Whitecaps.
Of course, the newcomers on the team weren’t with the club when the Whitecaps lifted the Isobel Cup last spring, but there is no doubt that this remains Minnesota’s team. All told, the Whitecaps have nine Golden Gophers alumnae and many more who honed their skills playing for rival programs in the WCHA. Furthermore, 20 of the 23 women who have signed with the Whitecaps this year have a hometown in the State of Hockey.
Photo Credit: Tom Morris, Bryan Johnson