MYHockey News

Game 5 is the Only Fitting Way to End This PWHL Season

By Scott Lowe –

It would have been the perfect ending to a nearly perfect inaugural season.

Nearly 100 minutes into an epic battle between Minnesota and Boston in Game 4 of the Professional Women’s Hockey League Walter Cup Finals Sunday, Minnesota’s Taylor Heise, the league’s first-ever draft pick, showed everything that makes her a future superstar.

She flew down the left wing and used her speed to beat a defender wide, cut on a dime and showed her strength and determination by getting to the front of the net before using a combination of vision, hockey IQ and skill to somehow feed the puck right to stick of oncoming teammate Sophie Jaques. Jaques corralled the biscuit and fired a quick shot that bounced off of Boston goalie Aerin Frankel and into the net. 

There it was!

An incredible playoff game and an incredible inaugural season had been capped off by the equally incredible individual effort of a player we hope to be watching on the sport’s biggest stages for the next 15 years.

Minnesota would be the inaugural PWHL Walter Cup Champions, and for more than 13,000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs in Xcel Energy Center this appeared to be the perfect ending to a fairytale season. Even for Boston supporters, who were hoping the script might have taken a different turn, after a few minutes of reflection it certainly would have become clear that this ending was befitting of a 2024 PWHL season that had exceeded all expectations.

But wait. About that script. 

Why had the players suddenly stopped celebrating? Why were the officials huddling and speaking to Boston captain Hilary Knight? And why in God’s name weren’t league officials wheeling out that beautiful championship trophy yet?

These thoughts all flashed through the minds of Minnesota supporters in the immediate aftermath of the Jaques goal. While Boston fans searched for any glimmer of hope, more casual observers likely were thinking, “No way. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

All hockey fans know what it means when the officials get together at a moment like that, and as the players took notice of the conference you could see the look of angst on Heise’s face as she covered her mouth with her hands. Knight wore a more hopeful look as she stated her team’s case, while Minnesota Head Coach Ken Klee just stared blankly at the proceedings.

All attention turned to the replay, which clearly showed Heise losing her balance as she cut toward the net and sliding through the crease after making the pass. Her momentum carried her into Frankel and definitely caused her to push the goalie enough to make it impossible for her to stop the shot. 

Without a doubt there was goaltender interference, but the question was whether or not Heise had been taken down by contact from the defensive player or was going down on her own before any contact was made. The more we watched, the more it looked like interference. 

Sure enough, the call was made. Much to the chagrin of the locals and the joy of the visitors, this game and season were not over. The trophy would not be making an appearance – not yet, anyway.

Those of us who have watched countless playoff hockey games at all levels over the years had a pretty strong feeling about what would happen next, and it didn’t take long. Less than a minute later, following a defensive-zone turnover by Minnesota, rookie-of-the-year finalist and Swiss-star Alina Müller sniped home a perfectly placed shot just over the outstretched glove of Nicole Hensley.

"After that overturned goal, I knew we were going to get it," Müller told CBC after the game. “We had more power, more speed. It was on our side … Now, we're going to bring it home and we're going to finish it. Unbelievable effort."

Boston Head Coach Courtney Kessel was not surprised that her young star came through. 

"She's a tremendous 200-foot hockey player who can put the puck in the back of the net,” Kessel said. “We've been waiting for it all year, and we knew it was there. Just so happy to see that happen and just watch her grow." 

The incredible ending to an incredible season that we thought was oh-so perfect just moments earlier simply wasn’t good enough. This amazing journey that began as an idea a little more than a year ago and in a few short months progressed from the drawing board to the PWHL being named the Sports Breakthrough of the Year by Sports Business Journal, needed a little more – a little more excitement and a little more drama. 

Plan and simple, this inaugural PWHL season needed a winner-takes-all Game 5 in the Walter Cup Finals. A game for all the marbles featuring teams from hockey-crazed areas of the United States that have been natural on-ice rivals as long as the sport has been played here was necessary to provide proper closure for such a memorable year. 

Nothing else would have provided an appropriate ending to a miraculous season that has generated unprecedented interest in the sport while providing the first financially viable platform for the worlds’ best women’s hockey players to showcase their talent while earning a livable wage.

After a hugely successful opening weekend to ring in the new year; a string of record-breaking crowds in hockey hotbeds such as Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and St. Paul,; a PWHL player showcase during the National Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend; eye-popping television and online viewing numbers; nearly 40 regular-season contests decided by a single goal; a chaotic and dramatic stretch run to the playoffs and a thrilling postseason that has seen five of 12 games require overtime, the only appropriate conclusion is a deciding fifth game.

And that’s what we have here. Tonight. 

Game 5 is Wednesday night at a sold-out Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass. It’s a Game 5 featuring a host team that survived the semifinals by winning three overtime classics against Montréal and appeared to have been eliminated in the second overtime Sunday. That team faces off against a visiting club that nearly played its way out of the playoffs during the season’s final two weeks. After sneaking into the postseason, Minnesota immediately found itself in a 2-0 hole during its semifinal matchup against regular-season-champion Toronto before rallying for three-straight wins.

The puck drop for this improbable, yet perfect, matchup is set for 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday, and the game can be seen live on TSN and RDS in Canada as well as on MSG, NESN and other regional sports networks around the United States. Check your television or streaming provider’s listings to find out how to watch the game, which also can be viewed online via the PWHL YouTube channel and on the Women’s Sports Network.

This final matchup is improbable because of the route the teams took to get there – as well as the double-overtime chaos of Sunday – yet perfect because of who is involved.

The game features longtime women’s hockey superstars and pioneers such as team captains Kendall Coyne Schofield of Minnesota and Boston’s Knight, who have been U.S. National Team teammates more times than any of us can remember. Minnesota’s roster also includes well-known vets such as Hensley and Lee Stecklein, while Boston’s lineup features Jamie Lee Rattray and Gigi Marvin. Then there are the next wave of women’s hockey stars such as Heise and Grace Zumwinkle of Minnesota along with Boston’s Müller, Frankel, and Megan Keller.

Boston finished the regular season with a furious 4-1-0 run, which included four one-goal victories and a shootout loss, to capture the third seed for the playoffs with 12 wins and 35 standings points. Minnesota, which spent much of the regular season among the top-three teams in the standings, lost five straight games to conclude the regular season in fourth place with 12 wins and 35 points.

That’s how close these teams were all season. Boston got the nod for the third seed after winning three of the five regular-season matchups between the two teams even though Minnesota held an 11-10 scoring edge in those contests. Minnesota has outscored Boston, 10-7, thus far in the Walter Cup Finals.

"We had lots of chances to win [Sunday's] game,” Klee said. “So, for us, we get to play another game, and that's the way we have to look at it. It wasn’t a do-or-die for us but obviously it hurt going from a big high, where the confetti is going and the gloves are coming off…and then you have to try to refocus. It hurt but now we go back to work.

Heise leads all playoff scorers with five goals and two assists in nine games, followed by teammates Michela Cava and Jaques with six and five points, respectively. Susanna Tapani has three goals and an assist in seven postseason outings for Boston, while Keller has contributed 0-4-4. Müller and Amanda Pelkey each have three points for Boston. In goal, Minnesota’s Hensley has posted a 1.29 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage compared to Frankel’s 1.38 GAA and .953 save percentage.

Throw that all out the window, though. All that matters is the next 60 (or 80 or 100 or 120) minutes of hockey that await these two teams.

And based on what the PWHL has provided us throughout its inaugural season, Game 5 figures to be pretty spectacular.


More articles like this...
Other articles of this type...