By David F. Pendrys
NEWARK, NJ-The Boston Pride became the first ever NWHL Isobel Cup Champions Saturday night with a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Beauts. The Pride, long believed to be the favorite going into the season found their position swiped by the upstart Connecticut Whale, only to be regained later in the drive to the playoffs.
The game started off as a fast back and forth, with no team gaining a full advantage, though Buffalo goalie Brianne McLaughlin had to make some key saves. Early on Buffalo’s Kelley Steadman and Meghan Duggan attempted a credible break but Boston’s Jillian Dempsey broke it up.
When Boston’s Marissa Gedman was sent to the box, it was the Pride who nearly took a goal as Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight broke in on McLaughlin, but she made another save. Soon afterward though, Decker would break out and in on McLaughlin alone and defeated her for a 1-0 Pride lead. Kacey Bellamy and Blake Bolden had assists as well. The Pride ended the period with a major shot differential advantage, though the pattern of the game for two periods would be that the Beauts would manage far fewer shots but many were dangerous attempts.
Unlike the night before, the Beauts seemed to be less able to keep up with the Pride defensively even though they gave up a similar amount of goals. On offense, there also was less success. Despite getting their opportunities, the Beauts also seemed to resort to lower probability shots out of necessity, though there also appeared to be little screening of Brittany Ott and more direct confrontations which she handled. Megan Bozek did set up and launched some hard shots, but the keeper handled every one of them.
It also seemed at times that perhaps Steadman, one of the league’s best players, was attempting to do too much herself, though as one of the team’s superstars this was perhaps also her role. The team still had its usual hustle and Bozek did line up numerous attempts, and scrappy players like Kourtney Kunichika kept up the pressure, but the game didn’t seem nearly as even.
With the 1-0 score carrying into the third period it was still anyone’s game. Gedman went into the box again but this time, Decker scored short handed assisted by Knight and Gigi Marvin. The momentum turnaround from being down a skater to scoring the ultimate game winning goal was likely huge. Buffalo knocked the puck into the net later in the period but the goal was immediately waved off due to a high stick, though the highness of the stick was debatable.
Boston added insult to injury quickly as Knight scored assisted by Jordan Smelker and Decker to put them up 3-0. Buffalo tried removing McLaughlin for an extra skater late but they only came up with one goal, though a nonetheless impressive one, from Erin Zach assisted by Bozek and Emily Pfalzer. Zach received the puck and flicked it over Ott to at least prevent a shutout.
Both goalies played excellently in the series against two fast high powered offenses. While Buffalo likely was not a fan of giving up three goals, it was still another solid night from McLaughlin. Ott made 29 saves on 30 shots and McLaughlin made 30 saves on 33 shots.