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Pulse of the PWHL - Race Heats up as League Takes WWC Break

Photo: Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS


By Scott Lowe –

Just as the Professional Women’s Hockey League playoff race is starting to heat up, it’s time for the PWHL to take another break.

With only five points separating the league’s top-three teams – and as Ottawa has started to pull away from Boston and New York in the race for the fourth and final inaugural-season playoff spot – the PWHL has begun a three-week hiatus. And when the league returns to action April 18, the teams only will have five games left to either solidify their playoff spots or catch the teams they trail in the standings.

While it might seem like a strange time for the PWHL to take a break, there’s a really good reason for this stoppage. And don’t worry, there still will be plenty of great women’s hockey to watch during the league’s downtime.

The PWHL is taking a break to allow many of its players to join their national teams in preparation for the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship. This year’s 10-team WWC is scheduled for April 3-14 in Utica, N.Y.

Canada’s 23-player roster includes 19 PWHL players, and the team will be coached by Toronto head coach Troy Ryan. USA Hockey has invited 39 players to an evaluation camp March 27-30 in Lake Placid, with 13 of those invitations going to members of PWHL teams.

Boston has three players on other WWC rosters, as Alina Müller will play for Switzerland, Susanna Tapani will represent Finland and Emma Söderberg will skate for Sweden.

Last week, two Ottawa players – goalie Sandra Abstreiter and forward Akane Shiga – were named to the German and Japanese teams, respectively.

In addition, four PWHL players recently were named to Czechia’s roster. Led by Ottawa head coach Carla MacLeod, Czexhia’s roster includes Minnesota’s Denisa Křížová and three Ottawa players: Kateřina Mrázová, Aneta Tejralová and Tereza Vanišová. Czechia has earned bronze medals at the last two Women’s World Championships.

The United States flipped the script on Canada at last year’s WWC, winning the gold-medal game, 6-3, in Brampton, Ontario, after the Canadians had captured the previous two world championships. Canada has won 12 gold medals, the most of any country since the first WWC was held in 1990. The United States has finished first 10 times. The two rivals are scheduled to meet April 8 in this year’s preliminary round.

CLICK HERE for the full WWC schedule.


That's One Way to Stop Toronto

Apparently only the national-team break could stop red-hot Toronto. Well, actually Toronto’s 11-game winning streak, which began Jan. 26, was halted Saturday, 5-3, by host Ottawa in front of nearly 8,500 fans at TD Place. It was the third time Ottawa had beaten its provincial rivals in four meetings and marked the first time that Ottawa had won consecutive games.

Despite the setback, Toronto remained the hottest team in the league and maintained a one-point advantage over second-place Minnesota in the PWHL standings.

Ottawa trailed, 2-1, entering the third period before exploding or four goals in the final frame. Three of the goals came in the opening 15 minutes of the period before Sarah Nurse pulled Toronto to within a goal at the 16:21 mark. Daryl Watts closed the door, however, with her third goal of the game into an empty net at 18:32.

Natalie Spooner opened the scoring for Toronto with her 14th and 15th goals of the season in the second period, but Watts scored with just five seconds left in the middle stanza to give the hosts all the momentum heading into the final 20 minutes.

Emerance Maschmeyer got the win in goal with 19 saves. Watts, Brianne Jenner (1G, 2A) and Spooner were named the game’s three stars.

The Victory was an important one for Ottawa, which secured its hold on the fourth playoff spot by moving five points in front of fifth-place Boston and seven in front of sixth-place New York.

Ottawa also shut out New York, 3-0, March 20 in another important game on the road as part of a 2-0-0 week. Watts scored in that game, too, along with Jenner and Emily Clark, while Maschmeyer earned her first shutout and second-star honors with 26 saves. Watts again was the first star, and New York netminder Abigail Levy (26 saves) received third-star recognition.

Ottawa, which trails third-place Montreal by four points, plays Boston and Montreal in back-to-back games that could have huge playoff implications April 24 and 27

CLICK HERE for the remaining PWHL schedule.

Toronto was victorious in its other Week 12 matchup, handing Boston a 2-1 setback at home March 20.

The hosts rallied from a one-goal deficit with a pair of third-period tallies from Renata Fast and Natalie Spooner to hand the visitors a tough defeat. Erica Howe made 20 saves to pick up her first professional win in goal and earn first-star honors. Spooner and Sidney Morin, who scored the lone Boston goal, were named the second and third stars of the game.


Every Game Counts

With the standings so tight and all six PWHL teams scheduled to play each other one more time once the league resumes play April 18, every point matters right now. It was a rough week for fifth-place Boston, which lost a chance to gain ground on fourth-place Ottawa in a 2-1 loss March 20 and then concluded Week 12 by missing out on an opportunity to extend its advantage over sixth-place New York in a 3-2 road loss Monday.

Jade Downie-Landry’s second goal of the game at 7:14 of the final frame gave New York a 3-1 lead, but Sophie Shirley pulled Boston within one three minutes later. New York netminder Corinne Schroeder held off Boston the rest of the way, finishing with 29 saves to secure the win.

Downie-Landry assisted on New York’s other goal, Elizabeth Giguère’s second-period tally, while Alina Müller netted the other Boston tally.

The PWHL’s other Week 12 contest also was an important one, with second-place Minnesota overcoming third-place Montreal in a shootout, 3-2, March 24. With that home win, Minnesota pulled four points ahead of its opponent in the league standings.

Grace Zumwinkle scored twice in the shootout, and Nicole Hensley thwarted four of the five shootout attempts she faced to lift the hosts to victory. Taylor Heise also tallied during the skills contest after Minnesota rallied from a two-goal deficit with a pair of second-period goals to send the game to overtime.

Natalie Buchbinder and Lee Stecklein scored for Minnesota after Kati Tabin and Maureen Murphy had staked the visitors to a 2-0 first-period lead. Hensley finished with 21 saves.

Stecklein, Murphy (1G, 1A) and Buchbinder were named the game’s three stars.

Minnesota enters the national-team break in second place with 35 points, four ahead of Montreal and one behind Toronto.


Three Stars of the Week

  1. Daryl Watts – Ottawa LW
  2. Brianne Jenner – Ottawa RW/C
  3. Natalie Spooner – Toronto RW

Watts scored four times in two games as Ottawa halted Toronto’s 11-game winning streak and beat New York for a perfect Week 12. She is now tied for third in the league with eight goals and tied for ninth with 13 points. Watts scored the game-winning goal in both contests as Ottawa moved past Boston and into the final playoff spot with five games remaining.

Jenner was named one of the stars of the week for the second time in the past three weeks. She recorded five points in two games to move into a tie for sixth place in the league scoring rates with 15 points. Jenner had a goal and an assist in one outing and recorded her first three-point outing of the year in Ottawa’s other victory. She has recorded four multi-point performances in her last five games.

Spooner continued lighting the lamp, scoring three times in two games to push her league-leading goal total to 15, six better than the next-closest player. She scored the game-winning goal as Toronto extended its winning streak to 11 games with a 2-1 victory against Boston March 20, then tallied twice in a 5-3 loss to Ottawa March 23. Spooner leads the league in overall scoring with 20 points on 15 goals and 5 assists.


Standings Through March 26

The PWHL standings are based on a three-point system in which teams are awarded three points for a win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, one point for an overtime or shootout lost and no points for a regulation loss.

  1. Toronto 10W 3OTW 6L – 36 pts
  2. Minnesota 8W 4OTW 3OTL 4L – 35 pts
  3. Montréal 7W 3OTW 4OTL 5L – 31 pts
  4. Ottawa 7W 6OTL 6L – 27 pts
  5. Boston 4W 4OTW 2OTL 9L – 22 pts
  6. New York 3W 4OTW 3OTL 9L – 20 pts


Goals Leaders

Natalie Spooner TOR – 15

Grace Zumwinkle MIN – 9

Alex Carpenter NY – 8

Marie-Philip Poulin MON – 8

Daryl Watts OTT – 8


Assist Leaders

Alex Carpenter NY – 11

Katerina Mrázová OTT – 11

Brianne Jenner OTT – 10

Alina Müller BOS – 10

Sarah Nurse TOR – 10


Points Leaders

Natalie Spooner TOR – 20

Alex Carpenter NY – 19

Marie-Philip Poulin MON – 17

Katerina Mrázová OTT – 17

Grace Zumwinkle MIN – 16


Save Percentage Leaders

Elaine Chuli MTL – .956

Corinne Schroeder NY – .936

Nicole Hensley MIN – .933

Aerin Frankel BOS – .927

Maddie Rooney MIN – .925


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