ALL PHOTOS BY TOM MORRIS
The Minnesota Whitecaps shut out the Connecticut Whale, 2-0, in front of a once-again sold-out TRIA Rink on Saturday night. The contest served as Minnesota’s You Can Play Game, with the Whitecaps donning jerseys with rainbow numbers and accents to show their support for the You Can Play Project, an initiative that emphasizes equality and respect in sport, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Allie Thunstrom and Hannah Brandt found the back of the net for Minnesota in a contest that saw the Whale defense put up a strong battle against the offensively potent Whitecaps. The win moved Minnesota back into sole possession of first place with a 9-4 record on the season.
“We’re lucky in Minnesota to get all the fans that we do,” said goaltender Amanda Leveille, of playing at home for the first time in over a month. “It adds something extra special to our game. When we scored today and the fans went crazy, that totally pumped up our team.”
The game remained scoreless for the first 36:08, with Whale goaltender Meeri Räisänen making many of the spectacular saves -- 29 total on the day-- that she’s become known for. Kendall Coyne Schofield had the best chance of the opening frame, ringing a shot off the post on a pass from Brandt midway through the first.
Thunstrom broke the scoreless tie 16:08 into the second period, one-timing a pass from Brooke White-Lancette to give Minnesota the lead. Thunstrom’s tally was her fourth of the season.
“A lot of the game, we were playing on the perimeter,” said Thustrom. “So we just needed to get in front of the net and into those high-scoring areas and put pucks on net. [Meeri] is a very good goalie -- she’s shown that both games we’ve played them. So it’s just keep peppering and hope one will fall.”
Brandt doubled the Whitecaps’ lead just 3:53 into the third with a shot from the slot, after Amy Menke had sent a pass out from behind the net. Menke, the reigning VEDA Player of the Week, now has six points in her past three games.
Connecticut captain Emily Fluke attempted a wraparound chance in the third, but Leveille was there to deny her. Leveille finished with 19 saves in her second shutout of the season.
Minnesota then maintained possession in the final moments of the game, preventing the Whale from pulling Raisanen in favor of an extra attacker, preserving the win.
“It was a great team effort from about the 10-minute mark of the first period until the end of the game,” Leveille said with a smile. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to, but we battled through that, and finished exactly the way we wanted to. We didn’t give them very many opportunities, and when we play like that, we’re going to win.”
These same two teams square off once again on Sunday at TRIA Rink at 2 PM CT/3 PM ET. The game is sold out, but can be streamed live on NWHL.zone/watch.