It’s been a long time coming for the Toronto Six, the first Canadian team in the NWHL. Heading into Lake Placid, New York, the only mystery was how far the hockey club would make it. Now four games into the season, there’s little doubt about a spot in the postseason.
Entering the Herb Brooks Arena, they weren’t sure what to expect in their debut, however, head coach Digit Murphy stated early that she wouldn’t be surprised if Toronto started off sluggish. While they did with back-to-back losses to the Metropolitan Riveters and Minnesota Whitecaps, they did get a better feel for each other while also entering with no prior experience.
If you look at Sunday’s game against the Whitecaps, you notice that the offence really started to click, as they saw three goals in a 15 minute span. This included the first in franchise history, scored by Lindsay Eastwood to take a 1-0 lead. While that got Toronto off to the races, this was followed by Mikyla Grant-Mentis, as she went bar down just two minutes later.
Proceeding with the opening frame, the Six took a commanding lead, as Breanne-Wilson Bennett finally scored her first goal. That came just one day after bring robbed at the crease by veteran forward Kelly Babstock.
With two of these three goals being assisted, you notice the full team effort iced early on. While that put Toronto up 3-0, the second frame saw Wilson-Bennett shine again with goal No. 4 for the league’s new expansion team. With just under two minutes left, defender Taylor Woods scored her first with the Six.
Thanks to assists from Emily Fluke and Shiann Darkangelo, it appeared to be leaning in Toronto’s favor before the Whitecaps came back and won 6-5 in the shootout. While the result wasn’t what they were hoping, the Six did the little things right, as they continued to mold, pouncing on all opportunities.
Speaking after the upset, head coach Digit Murphy said that the power play was clicking, they had some face-off success, but it was the details that caught them just short. This included letting up a goal, that being on the power play near the end of the second.
She also cited a costly turnover, resulting in two goals, off the power play and penalty kill. Recognizing what needed more work, Toronto entered on Tuesday with a renewed sense of energy. While giving up the first goal early on, the Six were certainly firing on all cylinders, and by all means, a more confident hockey club. Playing last year’s Isobel Cup co-champions, Boston was favoured to win, however, the Six secured the 2-1 victory.
Entering the matchup seeking a victory, it was anything but smooth sailing early, as Christina Putigna put the Pride up 1-0. That’s about as far as they would get, as Brooke Boquist later responded with her first of the season. Burying it past Lovisa Selander, it was the forward’s fourth point, leading the Six in that category.
Supported by backstop Elaine Chuli, all it took was one more goal, as Mikyla Grant-Mentis banked her second of the tournament. Each shift that Grant-Mentis is given, she gets involved in the play and tries to make something happen. This game against Boston was another example of that.
Promising just two days prior that the Six would play better and record their first win, the team certainly stuck to their word, as they did just that when they needed it most. Elaine Chuli, in her second start, had a much better game, keeping their rivals limited.
On Wednesday evening, the Six were thrown a surprise when they were asked to play on just six hours notice. Originally a scheduled day off, Toronto took the place of the Riveters, who were asked to pull out with several members testing positive.
Taking on the Buffalo Beauts, which they would have done Thursday before things went awry, Toronto didn’t show any weakness, scoring early and often in a 4-2 victory. Brooke Boquist got the party started with her second of the season just two minutes in. Emma Woods and Natalie Marcuzzi earned their first points with the Toronto Six.
With missing assets such as Chesson and Accursi, the Toronto Six had the easy advantage. However, with a shakeup in their roster from last year, Toronto’s only concern was to get around the youngsters. With their defence faltering through parts of the first, it was Autumn MacDougall who was stealing the show, as she recorded two goals, the first two of her career.
From there, the team tightened up and it was smooth sailing from there, all in Toronto’s favour. With six minutes left in the second, Taylor Woods continued showing her offensive side, which tied the Six even with the Beauts at two apiece. Grant-Mentis once again contributed, this time assisting for her third point of the season.
Down to the final minute mark, it was Megan Quinn lighting the lamp for Toronto with her first of the season to put the Six up 3-2. With the defence really starting to click, her college teammate Lindsay Eastwood would pick up an assist. While that was her second point of the season, Sarah-Eve Coutu-Godbout added her first with the Toronto Six.
While that pretty much sealed the deal, Toronto’s defence kept the Beauts in their own zone, as they limited all chances while remaining on top. While the fourth line hasn’t really done much, veteran Emily Fluke, with just 12 seconds left, scored an empty netter on an assist from Lindsay Eastwood. The goal, her first for Toronto, would give them assurance and a two-game win streak.
So, if you review the roster top to bottom, you see how all components have really bought in, and thus, are pulling their own weight. That’s what’s gonna give them success if the lines remain in their next set of games. While Toronto has been off since Wednesday night, they look to extend their win streak at 7:00pmET on Saturday night January 30th. The Six will battle the Whitecaps while Boston and Buffalo start a best-of-three series.
On Sunday, the Six battle the Whale, and its anyone’s game with two stacked rosters full of talent. With Connecticut, a name to watch is Kayla Friesen, meanwhile, Wilson-Bennett is the hidden weapon for Toronto. Expect to see a goalie duel in this one, with Abbie Ives going up against Elaine Chuli. This game will get going at 6:00pm ET.
All games are streamed live on twitch.tv/NWHL. Following the three-game round-robin, both the semifinals and finals will be carried exclusively on NBCSN.
Additionally, streams and coverage will be available on the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com. It’ll mark the first time that women’s pro hockey is carried live in the U.S. on a national cable network. A stellar broadcast crew will have the call nationwide.
Image by: Michelle Jay c/o NWHL