During the brief National Women's Hockey League season, Ronda Engelhardt noticed something special about the Minnesota Whitecaps. "They're a group of players that love to compete," the team's co-coach said. "They never quit."
Engelhardt praised the Whitecaps for delivering the same kind of effort in Saturday's Isobel Cup final against Boston. But they could not overcome some critical lapses in a 4-3 loss, ending the Whitecaps' quest to defend the NWHL title they won in 2019. Boston scored three goals in the second period at Warrior Ice Arena, its home rink, and hung on through the tense final seconds to become the first team to win two NWHL championships.
Allie Thunstrom scored twice for the Whitecaps, including the game's first goal at 7 minutes, 29 seconds of the first period. Her second goal cut the Boston lead to 3-2 at 7:46 of the third period, but the Pride regained the two-goal edge when Taylor Wenczkowski scored on a power play at 13:32.
The Whitecaps spent the final 2:24 on a power play after Boston's Tereza Vanisova was assessed a major penalty for boarding. Meaghan Pezon scored with 19.4 seconds remaining to pull the Whitecaps within a goal, but they could not get the equalizer. Amanda Leveille made 26 saves for the Whitecaps, while Lovisa Selander stopped 27 shots for Boston.
Boston captain Jillian Dempsey was named the playoffs' most valuable player after scoring the Pride's go-ahead goal in the second period and winning 12 faceoffs.
The championship was Boston's first since 2016, when it captured the Isobel Cup in the league's inaugural season.
"We had some lulls where we got a little sloppy," Engelhardt said. "But each time, we rebounded. We never gave up the whole game.
"To score first and get that momentum going was helpful. And in the second period, we came out strong and had a couple of really good chances we didn't capitalize on. Then they started scoring, and that's where we needed to reset. But we kept fighting."
The Whitecaps ended their third year in the NWHL with their third consecutive appearance in the Isobel Cup final and a 3-1 record in the pandemic-shortened regular season, held in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Saturday's title game was a rematch of the 2020 championship that never happened. The Whitecaps and the Pride were set to play for the Isobel Cup in Boston on March 13 of last year; the day before, the league postponed the game, then canceled it two months later.
Engelhardt said her team had some jitters in the early minutes Saturday, but the swift Thunstrom staked the Whitecaps to a 1-0 lead. She scooped up a loose puck in the Whitecaps' zone and took off toward the Boston net, then scooted around Pride defender Taylor Turnquist and beat Selander.
The Pride overpowered the Whitecaps in the second period. Mary Parker poked in a rebound at 2:41, and Dempsey scored the go-ahead goal at 15:05. Lexie Laing made it 3-1 on a power play after consecutive Whitecaps penalties — including one for too many players on the ice — gave Boston a five-on-three advantage.
Thunstrom's second goal came seven seconds after Leveille stopped Boston's Tori Sullivan on a penalty shot, giving the Whitecaps an emotional boost. But Boston's defense held them off.
"We are a team of fighters, and that's a credit to the character of our players," defenseman Winny Brodt Brown said. "For a season that wasn't ideal, we made the best of it."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.