By Mike Murphy
Before the puck dropped on the 2019-20 NWHL season, the Boston Pride looked like they had all the tools they needed to blaze a trail to the 2020 Isobel Cup Final. At the break, the Pride boast a 7-0-0 record and are well on their way to living up to every bit of that hype. All seven of Boston’s wins have come in regulation and they have allowed three goals in just one of those victories.
The NWHL’s only privately-owned franchise has three lines that can score, a deep defense, and the best goalie tandem in the league. Boston’s weekend series sweep of the reigning Isobel Cup champions on Oct. 19-20 made them the new team to beat. Thus far, they remain a riddle that the NWHL’s other teams have been unable to solve.
Three Scoring Lines
Much has been said and written about the trio of McKenna Brand, Jillian Dempsey, and Christina Putigna, but it’s impossible to discuss Boston’s strong start without talking about the most productive first line in the NWHL. Together, Brand, Dempsey, and Putigna have 13 even strength goals and are averaging 17.0 SOG/GP (all situations). When head coach Paul Mara puts his top trio on the ice, he knows they’re going to dominate possession and make things happen.
At the break, the Pride are averaging 5.15 goals per-game and 46.14 SF60 (shots for per-60 minutes). A one-line team couldn’t put up those numbers. Mara has playmakers and scorers on all three of his forward lines. So far, the rest of the league simply hasn’t been able to keep up with Boston’s forward depth.
Boston’s rookie line, centered by Lexie Laing with Carlee Toews and Tori Sullivan on her wings, has combined for seven even strength goals and four power play goals. The “third” line, led by All-Star winger Emily Fluke, has seven even strength goals of its own and is centered by Mary Parker who is averaging 5.43 SOG/GP – which is good for fifth in the league. To put those numbers into perspective: the top-three forwards in even strength goal-scoring on the Minnesota Whitecaps have scored seven times at evens.
The Pride’s defense, led by original NWHLer Kaleigh Fratkin, has been a force in all three zones thus far.
Fratkin leads the blue line in scoring with eight points and leads all NWHL defenders in shots (24). In the month of October, she and the rest of the Pride’s blueliners excelled at breaking up the opposition’s attempts to enter Boston’s zone. After breaking up those zone entries, Fratkin, Mallory Souliotis, Lexi Bender, Jenna Rheault, and Lauren Kelly have all shown a knack for springing Boston’s speedy forwards to go on the counterattack and to join the rush themselves.
Not only do the NWHL’s other four teams need to find a way to crack Boston’s ability to clog up the neutral zone and stand tall at the blue line, they also have to find a way to beat a deep, experienced defense just to get a clean look at the top goaltender in the league.
It’s still early, but Selander already looks like the workhorse starting goaltender that Mara and the Pride were hoping she’d be this year.
Selander’s .949 save percentage is the best in the league, although backup goaltender Victoria Hanson is not far behind with a .941 save percentage in 37 minutes of action. It’s important to point out that her save percentage and spotless record are not simply byproducts of the play of her teammates. Among NWHL goalies who have played at least 100 minutes, Selander’s 34.0 SA60 ranks third-highest in the league behind Sam Walther and Mariah Fujimagari. In other words, whenever the Pride have had defensive breakdowns, Selander has been ready to answer the bell.
The RPI alumna has allowed just 12 goals – one of which was a penalty shot and four of which have come on the power play – in seven starts this year. So, it comes as little surprise that her 1.99 GSAA/60 (goals saved above average per-60 minutes) also leads the league. In short, Selander has been simply sensational.
The Boston Pride return to action on Saturday, Nov. 16 when they host the Buffalo Beauts at Warrior Ice Arena on 6:30 p.m. EST. The following weekend, the Pride will play the Connecticut Whale for the first time this season at 6:30 p.m. EST on Nov. 23. Tickets for all Pride home games are available at pride.nwhl.zone/tickets and all Pride games can be watching streaming on twitch.tv/nwhl and twitch.tv/nwhl2.
Photo Credit: Michelle Jay