PHOTO BY TOM MORRIS
The magical season of the Minnesota Whitecaps continues.
The Whitecaps, the regular-season champions, earned the chance to play for the Isobel Cup by defeating the Metropolitan Riveters, 5-1, on Friday night at TRIA Rink in Saint Paul.
Hannah Brandt scored twice for the Whitecaps, who also got goals from Amanda Boulier, Katie McGovern and Lauren Barnes in the win. Both goaltenders were busy, with Amanda Leveille making 35 saves in the win and Katie Fitzgerald stopping 36 of 39 shots for the Riveters.
The top-seeded Whitecaps will face the No. 2 seed Buffalo Beauts in the Isobel Cup Final on Sunday at 1 pm CT/2 ET. Very few tickets remain for the Cup Final and are likely to be gone in brief time, now that the hometown Whitecaps have reached the title game and have the home-ice advantage they earned with their stellar play all season. Try NWHL.zone/tickets to see if there are any left.
“We wanted to come in and get a win and get a chance to play for the Isobel Cup Championship and play our hearts out in that game,” said Leveille. “Nothing changes for us. We’re always confident in each other.”
The victory over the Riveters was played before Minnesota’s ninth consecutive sellout crowd at TRIA in their inaugural NWHL season. The anticipation and energy in the crowd was intense more than a half-hour before opening faceoff.
“We didn’t want to play in Buffalo or in Boston because they have great fanbases too,” said Leveille of earning the top seed and the right to play in front of the Minnesota fans. “When you see fans here wearing your jersey and with signs for you, it’s just such a welcoming environment.”
The defending Isobel Cup champion Riveters were a fierce opponent, despite the absences of top forwards Amanda Kessel and Kelly Nash, standout defender Kelsey Koelzer and No. 2 goaltender Kimberly Sass. But the Whitecaps, led by the elite talents of U.S. Olympians Lee Stecklein, Brandt and Kendall Coyne Schofield, along with 2018-19 NWHL MVP Finalist Jonna Curtis, can be very difficult to stop – especially when playing in front of the raucous fans in the State of Hockey.
The Whitecaps got on the board just 3:36 into the game, with Boulier using her patented slapshot from the point to give Minnesota the 1-0 lead. McGovern doubled the advantage off a feed Curtis with 12:24 to go in the period.
The Riveters generated a number of chances in the second, including a Kristin Lewicki breakaway, but the only goal once again came from the Whitecaps, as Brandt buried a pass from Amy Menke on the power play late in the period for a 3-0 Minnesota lead.
Leveille held strong in the third period, with the Riveters pressing to generate offense. With each team with players in the penalty box, the Riveters pulled Fitzgerald for an advantage with about seven minutes to play. Leveille stopped a flurry of shots before Brandt put away an empty net goal to give the Whitecaps a 4-0 lead.
With the Riveters skating 6-on-3 late in the game after a pair of penalties to the Whitecaps, Courtney Burke capitalized on a shot from the left circle. But Minnesota answered with a second empty-netter, this time from Barnes, to seal the win.
“We’re so, so, so excited [to play for a championship],” said Leveille. “We can’t wait. But we know it’s going to be tough. We’re happy with how we played tonight but we know that doesn’t mean anything going into Sunday. We just have to get after it on Sunday.”
Friday’s semifinal was attended by Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, whose NHL franchise provided invaluable support to the Whitecaps and the NWHL. The home team certainly put on a show for Leipold, who appeared to be enjoying every moment of the action from rinkside.
As did all of the packed crowd in Saint Paul. They will be back on Sunday to witness an epic clash against Buffalo for the Isobel Cup.
Kendall Coyne Schofield – Hannah Brandt – Amy Menke
Jonna Curtis – Katie McGovern – Kate Schipper
Kalli Funk – Lauren Barnes – Allie Thunstrom
Lee Stecklein – Amanda Boulier
Winny Brown – Lisa Martinson
Emma Stauber – Chelsey Rosenthal
Rebecca Russo – Erika Lawler – Madison Packer
Miye D’Oench – Alexa Gruschow – Audra Richards
Rebecca Morse – Kristen Lewicki – Alexa Aramburu
Michelle Picard – Chelsea Ziadie
Jenny Ryan – Courtney Burke
Lexi Slattery – Kiira Dosdall