Amanda Leveille wasn’t instantly sold on signing with the Minnesota Whitecaps. Though the former Gophers goaltender was thrilled that the franchise was joining the National Women’s Hockey League, she loved playing in Buffalo, N.Y., where she was the NWHL’s Goaltender of the Year last season.
But the more she thought about her college experience, the more she wanted to return to the Twin Cities. Monday, the NWHL will announce that Leveille is the first player to sign with the Whitecaps for the upcoming season. Landing the league’s premier goalie marks an auspicious beginning to the free-agent signing period for the team, a longtime independent franchise that became the NWHL’s fifth member last month.
Leveille, 24, played two seasons in Buffalo after winning three NCAA championships with the Gophers. Her career goals-against average (1.18) and save percentage (.947) are the best in Gophers history, and she compiled a record of 98-9-5 with 32 shutouts. A fan favorite in the NWHL, she played in the league’s All-Star Game in St. Paul last season and helped Buffalo win the league championship in 2017.
“Playing for Minnesota in college was an unbelievable experience,” said Leveille, an Ontario native. “The fans and community in Minnesota are second to none. When you come onto the ice and there are a lot of young girls that want to fist-bump you, it’s just a great feeling.
“I’m thankful I was part of the Buffalo Beauts, and it wasn’t an easy decision. But it’s quite an honor to be the first player to sign with the Whitecaps. I’m just so excited to be back in Minnesota and continue my professional career here.”
All NWHL players are on one-year, free-agent contracts, and the signing period began on June 1. Whitecaps captain Winny Brodt Brown expects the team will add more players and announce a head coach in the coming days. Brodt Brown, a founding member of the Whitecaps, will assist her father, general manager Jack Brodt, with personnel decisions.
Five members of the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in February played for the Whitecaps in 2016-17, fueling hopes that some Winter Games veterans will be part of next year’s roster. Three 2018 Olympians have already signed NWHL contracts for next season, including a pair of former Gophers. Amanda Kessel will remain with the Metropolitan (New York) Riveters, and Plymouth native Dani Cameranesi will play for Buffalo. Backup goaltender Nicole Hensley also signed with the Beauts.
Leveille was in the Beauts’ net for all but one minute during the regular season last year, going 12-4 with a GAA of 2.53 and save percentage of .918. In addition to playing for the Whitecaps, she also will coach goaltenders year-round at Brodt Brown’s Os Hockey Training.
“The opportunity to get her is just huge for our team,” Brodt Brown said. “Amanda brings a lot of enthusiasm and personality to our team, and she had a great season last year.”
The NWHL, which owns all of its franchises except for Buffalo, acquired the Whitecaps in May. It has not announced a home rink for the Whitecaps, though league officials said they might play at TRIA Rink, the Wild’s new practice facility in St. Paul.