Despite a group of top players in North America boycotting the 2019-20 National Women's Hockey League season, the league's business goes on, and on Friday that included the Minnesota Whitecaps.
The league champion Whitecaps made their first player signing for the upcoming season. Former North St. Paul and Boston College standout forward Allie Thunstrom will return for her second pro season with the Whitecaps after collecting five goals and five assists over 18 games in 2018-19 for the Isobel Cup champions.
"I'm super excited to join the Minnesota Whitecaps for my seventh season and second in the NWHL," Thunstrom, a Maplewood native, said in a statement. "[Whitecaps co-founder and co-head coach] Jack Brodt has done an absolutely incredible job of keeping this team going for the past 15 years and providing opportunities for us to continue playing the game we love at a high level."
Thunstrom is the sixth player this week to sign with an NWHL team. On Thursday, the league and its players association came to an agreement that includes a 50-50 split of sponsor-related revenue and improved benefits.
This week's signings come during a tumultuous month for the league. More than 200 of the top players in North America — including members of the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams — announced they would not play professionally in North America in the upcoming season until a financially viable league is formed.
Included in that group were prominent members of the 2018-19 Whitecaps, including Kendall Coyne Schofield, Lee Stecklein and Hannah Brandt. On Monday, the boycotting group announced it had started its own union, the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association.
Thunstrom, a former Minnesota Ms. Hockey, credited the Whitecaps' and NWHL's efforts.
"We have spent the better part of the last decade trying to join a professional league, which we were finally able to do last season in the NWHL," her statement said. "This past year, representing the State of Hockey and winning the Isobel Cup, was a dream come true.
"I trust the NWHL leadership and investment team that they have the best interests of women's hockey at heart and more importantly I believe in the Whitecaps organization."
In their first year, the Whitecaps became a success story for the NWHL. Along with their championship, they sold out all 10 of their home games at 1,200-seat TRIA Rink in St. Paul.
Said Brodt in a statement: "Allie has been a great player in high school, college, and now the pros with the Whitecaps. With her blinding speed, outstanding work ethic and respected leadership, Allie will play an important role in our defense of the Isobel Cup."