2023 PHF Season in Review: The Boston Pride Were Dominant ... Until They Weren't
It has been a rough year if you're a Boston hockey team, and one could say the Pride jumpstarted that unfortunate trend. They dominated the 2022-23 season just to end with a whimper against a team many didn't give a chance, thus making it a much less satisfying end to a dream season –unless you're a Minnesota Whitecaps or Toronto Six fans.
Still, there was a lot of good to come from the three-time Isobel Cup champs. A rookie phenom in net, a clean sweep in the PHF Awards, and a regular-season title after only four losses in regulation -- none of that is anything to sneeze at, so let's see how the Boston Pride did it.
Boston By The Numbers
Regular Season Stats:
Record:19-4-1, 54 pts, Regular Season Champions
PP 16%, PK 87%
Loren Gabel, 40 pts (20-20); Jillian Dempsey, 28 pts (14-14); Elizabeth Giguere, 22 pts (6-16)
Corinne Schroeder, 22 GP, 19-1-1, 7 SO, .955 sv %
Schroeder Sharp in Net
I don't think anyone really anticipated the stranglehold Corinne Schroeder would have over the goaltending game, especially at the start of the season. I mean, who else started their PHF career with a three-game shutout streak (No one, that's who)?
The Boston University and Quinnipiac netminder finished her rookie season with seven total shutouts, including a 49-save and a 50-save effort against Minnesota and Montreal, respectively (yes, you read that right -- she faced 50 shots and didn't allow a single goal). It's little wonder, then, that she took home Rookie and Goaltender of the Year in the PHF Awards – and was a close contender for MVP as well.
That said, I think there's a lot of focus on the skaters in front of her as to why Schroeder ultimately couldn't maintain that prestige in the postseason. With such a dominant presence in net, it's easy to forget she is still young and faces a significant learning curve in her professional tenure.
The entire league has shifted in terms of its team defense, not always for the better, might I add, but I think that was especially pronounced in Boston, considering some nights saw a ssignificantly higher shots-against tally than others. It's safe to say they didn't always do the best job in front of their netminder, causing a bit more reliance than a coach would or should be okay with.
Loaded on offense
Not only was Jillian Dempsey her usual self with a 28-point season in her eighth year, but a couple of dynamic first-year players joined her at the top of the leaderboard in goals and points. Loren Gabel lit the entire PHF on fire with a 40-point first season (20 G, 20 A), leading in every category except for special teams. That was, of course, good enough for her to land MVP, Most Outstanding Player (as voted by the players), and Newcomer of the Year.
Linemate Elizabeth Giguère matched the Pride captain Dempsey in points per game (1.2) and was an excellent playmaker with 16 assists on the season. Allie Thunstrom and Christina Putigna, usually the offensive anchors, played more depth-focused roles this season and still produced in the double-digits, as did McKenna Brand. Kali Flanagan also won Defender of the Year for her efforts while showcasing her puck-moving prowess (13 assists).
That Playoff Run...
Okay, we might as well get this conversation over with. How does a team go from dominating all regular season to getting completely swept in the first round of playoffs?
Well, I think it was just a culmination of a lot of the same things we'd been seeing flashes of from Boston all year, mainly on defense. You can score all the goals in the world, but if you can't get back when it counts, if you can't neutralize a transition or clear out a rebound as quickly as possible, you end up losing.
Indeed, the Pride very nearly had some upsets against teams like Minnesota and Buffalo early in the year, when they should have had those games clearly in hand (not because of the status of their opponents, simply because they had scored enough to reasonably put a game out of reach). They also ended up getting bodied offensively by teaams like Toronto, who unlike the Pride were able to shore up their team D in time to win the Isobel Cup (more on them in a later post).
Overall, the Pride were a little slower than anticipated on their backcheck at times, and I think again they relied too much on Schroeder to bail them out, simply because she could -- until she couldn't. Combine that with an uplifted Whitecaps team that had just gotten back their backbone in Amanda Leveille, and I think the writing was on the wall from the jump. And I hate to say they might have jinxed their brothers in the NHL, the Bruins, but... the evidence points that way.
So, what's next?
We are certainly uncertain at this point, but it sounds like there is an exodus in the works. Giguere and Schroeder have each signed with La Force de Montreal, leaving holes in the offense and net respectively. McKenna Brand's name has come up in signing rumors with the Metropolitan Riveters, as has Kaleigh Fratkin's, while Allie Thunstrom is rumored to be looking elsewhere as well.
Meanwhile, players like Alina Müller and Skylar Fontaine have been associated with the Pride in free agency, which has made things interesting. The wild thing about Boston is that its location -- in the heart of a giant New England talent pool -- makes it a sure bet to regain talent even with major losses like Brand and Schroeder. That's how they've been able to maintain their dominance even with the turnover of the 2019 season... but with other teams like Toronto and Connecticut also at contender (and in the Six's case, winner) status, and Montreal and the Rivs looking close to the brink, they'll need to work fast to stay ahead.