Having stood between the pipes for the Toronto Six since their inaugural season, Elaine Chuli quickly earned acclaim as one of the elite goaltenders in PHF play. With all games contested in Lake Placid, New York during the expansion year, the thrill of a regular season title stood as testament to Chuli’s standing as a franchise foundation. Despite the Isobel Cup eluding the Six in their first two seasons, Chuli’s consistent presence paid dividends in 2023, an exhilarating postseason run culminating with their first championship.
Undeniably, the tremendous talents of Chuli throughout those first three seasons constantly kept Toronto in the conversation among the Isobel Cup favorites. Coincidentally, Chuli first played professionally in Toronto for the now defunct Furies, a team which current Six president Sami Jo Small, co-founded.
Named to the PHF All-Star Game in 2022 and 2023, Chuli enjoyed 32 regular season wins in her Six career. Although playoff wins eluded Chuli in her first two seasons, such frustrations quickly evaporated, replaced by the realization of a championship dream.
Providing a series of heroic efforts in the 2023 postseason, Chuli staked her claim as one of the league’s legendary goaltenders, the Isobel Cup signifying a career defining achievement. Reflecting on the reward of hoisting the coveted prize, a three year journey that encompassed building a team, introducing the PHF to Canada and navigating previous disappointment, reaching the championship peak provided a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.
“It meant everything. We have built this organization from the ground up and I am so proud of our group for getting it done this year. We came up short the last two seasons which has always been in the back of my mind so it was nice to come out on top this season.”
For Chuli, raised in Waterford, Ontario, approximately 125 km south of Toronto, growing up a fan of Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph, the lead up to the third Six season resulted in a unique sporting connection.
Invited by the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club to participate in the First Pitch ceremony on September 28, 2022, Chuli wearing the club’s popular powder blue jersey was on-hand to witness sporting history. Hosting the New York Yankees, Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season, tying the American League (and Yankees) single season record for most home runs in one season, set by Roger Maris in 1961.
Perhaps providing a good omen that set the tone for Chuli’s season to come, the path to the championship involved another special connection to Toronto sports. During the playoff series versus the Connecticut Whale, all home games were contested at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, located inside the hallowed Maple Leaf Gardens.
The series saw Chuli rise to the occasion, assembling masterful performances that allowed the Six to prevail. With a tense second game involving a scoreless third period, a Whale win would have eliminated Toronto. Recording seven saves in the third, followed by four in overtime, Chuli displayed tremendous poise while Emma Woods, a charter member of the Six, provided the overtime winner.
With an opportunity to qualify for the Isobel Cup Finals adding to the intensity of the third game, it may have represented Chuli’s finest hour with the Six. Opposing a potent Whale offense featuring Kennedy Marchment and Taylor Girard, plus Isobel Cup champions Mallory Souliotis and Tori Sullivan on the roster, Chuli willed Toronto to victory.
Amassing 25 saves, the result an inspiring shutout victory, the Six logged a goal in each period, Michela Cava, Leah Lum and Kati Tabin placing their names on the scoresheet. Coincidentally, Chuli also called Cava and Lum teammates at the University of Connecticut.
“Obviously getting to play in such a historic building is very special. Winning Game 2 in OT and a shutout win in Game 3 to send us to Arizona made it that much more enjoyable.”
Challenging the Minnesota Whitecaps for the Isobel Cup, the event brought a tremendous tinge of history. In addition to the Six becoming the first Canadian team to play for the Cup, the Finals were held at an NHL venue, another exciting first. With Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona, home of the Coyotes, providing the backdrop, the first two periods saw a see-saw battle, the score tied at two.
With the Whitecaps capitalizing on a power play opportunity early in the third, the Six called for delay of game, Jonna Albers buried the puck past Chuli at the 20 second mark, enjoying their first lead of the game. Earning one of the assists on the goal, Natalie Snodgrass, played for the University of Connecticut, where Chuli earned All-America honors in 2016.
Despite the setback, Chuli refused to sink into despair, providing the Six with an opportunity to mount a comeback. The 7:56 mark of the third period saw another Woods emerge as a playoff hero. Also a charter member of the Six, dubbed as the “Group of Seven”, Taylor Woods scored her first goal of the season. A very timely goal, a scramble near the Minnesota net saw Woods quickly bounce, burying the puck past Amanda Leveille.
Refusing to allow Minnesota to regain the lead, Chuli frustrated the opposing offense, a 3-on-3 overtime required to determine which team would hoist the Cup. Once again, history emerged as a theme, as Tereza Vanisova became the first European player to score an overtime goal in the Finals, providing Toronto with its first championship. Worth noting, Vanisova also left a unique legacy in Cup lore, winning three years in a row, another unprecedented feat.
Making her mark in a treasured chapter for women’s ice hockey history in Canada, Chuli enjoys the moniker of champion, accentuating a career filled with accolades. As every season saw her impact grow in magnitude, helping the Six gain respect, earning a place in the hearts and minds of their supporters. Providing the Six with a tremendous confidence that a championship win always remained within grasp, the jubilation of victory shall stand as her greatest hallmark with the franchise.
“I was confident the entire game that we were going to get the job done. When Minnesota went up 3-2 in the third, I got a little worried, but my mindset was to just make the next save to keep it at 3-2.
Once Woods got the third I had a pretty good feeling we were going to win, especially once it went into OT. We had been practicing OT the last few weeks at practice and we have a very skilled group of players.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated “
Featured image by Lori Bolliger @loribolliger