TEMPE, Arizona -- Toronto Six defender Saroya Tinker was always confident her team would advance to the Isobel Cup Final. Despite dropping Game 1 of the semifinals to the Connecticut Whale, the third-year pro in the Premier Hockey Federation felt confident in her team.
"We know that when we stay of the box, they can't keep up with us five-on-five," Tinker said during the first intermission interview of the decisive Game 3 of the semifinals.
After the Toronto Six practice Friday, I asked Tinker why she was so confident.
"We just know that we've got a strong, full team," Tinker said. "Our special teams have struggled a little bit, but we know that we're better when we're all together."
Monday's game against the Whale to punch their ticket was likely the most complete game the Six have played all year. Not a bad time to find their stride. Toronto scored the goals while shutting out the Whale. What's more, they didn't take a penalty until halfway through the third period.
"We felt that last game, we played a full 60 minutes, so we just need to continue from there," head coach Geraldine Heaney told me.
Her team had just come off the ice, and like most practices, Heaney kept things at a high tempo. On Friday, the team focused on timing line changes for 3v3 hockey, as they might see in overtime. On Saturday, the team ended practice with a shootout drill.
Toronto likes their odds but is also aware the Minnesota Whitecaps are riding a hot streak coming into the championship game. Additionally, the Whitecaps play a similar style of game – lost of rushes, relying on speed and power up front and heroics from their goalie.
"I think we just need to capitalize on opportunities because they're probably gon na get a lot of rushes as well," forward Daryl Watts said. "It's about who's putting the puck in the net on the chances that they get, and, we're feeling good."
Watts very well could be a player to get Toronto on the board later this evening. Watts was signed by the Toronto Six midway through the current season and has made her way to a Top Six forward. Returning to competitive hockey after nearly a year away from the ice has been an uphill battle, but Watts says her legs are feeling good. It also helps, she told me, that the championship comes down to one game.
Of course, that is also what makes every moment feel important. Toronto has been more consistent in the win column throughout the regular season, but the Minnesota Whitecaps gained confidence by taking down the first overall seed in two games.
Some players are thinking about, or visualizing, raising the Isobel Cup, others are focusing more on the little things and the controllable. Whatever the strategy, all players I've spoken to since Friday are ready to give fans a good game.
"It's anybody's game. I just want to be very exciting," Heaney said. "I think it's going to be a great hockey game to watch and be very entertaining."