As the Boston Pride enjoy hockey immortality as the first team in NWHL history to capture the inaugural Isobel Cup, they did so with a compassionate yet determined focus. After teammate Denna Laing suffered a career ending injury at the Women’s Winter Classic at Gilette Stadium, the first outdoor game in professional women’s hockey history, the Pride rallied around her. With all players in the NWHL wearing yellow colored stickers with number 24 on the backs of their helmets, Laing definitely held a special place in the hearts of many of her peers.
Leading up to the Isobel Cup playoffs, the final home game of the Pride was one where they showed their support for Laing with a fundraiser in her honor. A group of players, including Kelly Cooke, who also played with Laing at Princeton University, Marissa Gedman, Cherie Hendrickson and Brittany Ott, helped to organize the event. Despite being in a wheelchair, Laing came out to centre ice, adorned in a yellow blanket and scarf for a team photo. Resulting in a very emotional moment, Laing’s positive attitude in the face of such adversity set the tone for a team whose compassionate culture was strengthened by her resolve. Such a seminal moment was one that stood out for Cooke as Laing’s presence made organizing the event so much more fun.
“I think the most enjoyable aspect of organizing Denna Day was keeping the secret that Denna was going to be there to enjoy the day with us. Before the game, a number of teammates said they hoped Denna could come and how amazing it would be to see her, but they had no idea that Denna was actually in the building. That was probably the best part–seeing everyone’s reaction when Denna came into the locker room and feeling the overwhelming excitement in the air of having her back with the team for the first time.”
Hendrickson, whose father helped start the Boston Blades, was ecstatic at the chance to see Laing back on home ice. At the beginning of the season, both Hendrickson and Laing were classified among the four practice players that were on every NWHL roster. Such status enabled the two to get acquainted and their mutual love of the game and dedication to the Pride developed into friendship. Along with Laing, Hendrickson also had the privilege of suiting up for the Pride during the Women’s Winter Classic. Having admired her positive attitude since the beginning of the season, observing Laing’s continued strength and character is one that has made Hendrickson even more proud to call her a teammate and friend,
“To have her back in the rink and come on the ice for the picture was amazing. We were so happy to have her back. Her smile is contagious and to see the amazing progress that she’s made thus far is an inspiration to all of us.”
Ending the regular season with six consecutive victories, the Pride were hoping to honor Laing with a championship. Such a strong run enabled the Pride to overtake the rival Connecticut Whale and climb into first place overall in the league standings. With such strong momentum, the Pride swept the New York Riveters in the opening round of the playoffs. Although the second place Whale were hoping for an opportunity to redeem themselves in the finals against the Pride, it was not meant to be. The Buffalo Beauts would capture a Game 3 victory as Megan Bozek scored what proved to be the series clinching goal in a hardfought 4-3 outcome.
Hoping to finish their Cinderella season as Isobel Cup champions, the Beauts faced off against a powerhouse Pride team looking to maintain their undefeated streak. With Beauts goaltender and two-time Winter Games medalist Brianne McLaughlin denying the Pride in a scoreless first period in Game 1, an upset looked possible.
Making adjustments in the second stanza, the Pride would grab a 2-0 lead. Of note, Blake Bolden would score on McLaughlin for the first goal in Isobel Cup history. A few minutes later, fellow blueliner Gigi Marvin would score as well. Showing no signs of quit, the Beauts fired back, scoring three unanswered goals, keeping their Cinderella hopes alive. Shelby Bram would become the first Canadian to score a goal in an Isobel Cup final, snapping Brittany Ott’s bid for a shutout with 2:55 remaining in the second. Beauts captain Emily Pfalzer would score in the third period resulting in another comeback.
The Beauts would erase a two-goal deficit and take the lead, their first of the series. With both teams facing pressure due to the tie score, a penalty by Kacey Bellamy provided the Beauts with the opportunity to take advantage as Kelley Steadman, who scored the first-ever goals for the Beauts in both the regular season and the postseason, added to her growing legend and scored on Ott.
Despite their best efforts, it was not enough to contain Hilary Knight. Having captured the NWHL’s first scoring title, she would hit her stride in the third period, scoring on the power play, as overtime would be required to determine the winner, where Knight logged the first game-winning goal in Isobel Cup history, putting the biscuit in the basket via penalty shot, another first in Cup history.
In the second game, Brianna Decker, recognized by The Hockey News as the best women’s ice hockey player in 2015, provided the heroics for the Pride. After successfully nullifying a Beauts power play early in the first, Decker would soar on a breakaway, scoring top shelf against McLaughlin as a 1-0 lead quickly strengthened the Pride’s growing confidence.
With the second period one defined by penalties and scoreless play, the trend seemed to repeat itself in the third. Pride penalties to Jillian Dempsey and Marissa Gedman restored the Beauts’ championship hopes. Remaining solid between the pipes, Brittany Ott continuously denied the Beauts an opportunity to tie the game.
At the other end of the rink, McLaughlin played valiantly, looking to give her team every opportunity to win. Unfortunately, the combination of Knight and Decker proved to be too much. Despite stopping Hilary Knight on a breakaway near the midway point of the third, Decker tucked away the rebound, providing the Pride with a two-goal cushion. Just two minutes and 18 seconds later, Knight would score, as the game was slowly out of reach. Although Erin Zach would spoil Ott’s bid for a shutout, which would have been the first in Isobel Cup history, it was not enough to rally the Beauts as the Pride prevailed by a 3-1 mark to capture their first-ever Isobel Cup.
Although Ott did not get the shutout, she managed to leave her mark on hockey history as she became the first goaltender to win both the Isobel Cup and the Clarkson Cup in a career. Ott would start all four playoff games for the Pride, posting a 1.85 goals against average and .915 save percentage. Brianna Decker, who was a teammate of Ott when the Boston Blades captured the 2015 Clarkson Cup, was honored as the Playoff MVP as she tied with Knight for the playoff lead in points with nine.
The Isobel Cup is named in honor of Lady Isobel Stanley (later Gathorne-Hardy), the daughter of Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley, whom the Stanley Cup is named after. Weighing 15 pounds, its permanent home shall be the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Cup is a little over two feet tall as the sterling silver Cup itself is 14 ½” inches tall while its base is 11 inches. An image of Lady Isobel gracing the ice adorns the front panel of the base’s top layer. The names of the NWHL’s Founding Four teams are etched at the foot of the Cup, while the names of all winning players shall be etched into panels over the seasons to come.
For this elated group of newly crowned champions, the chance to visit Laing in hospital and present her with the prestigious Isobel Cup only enhanced the historic victory. Gathered by caring teammates, Laing was all smiles, beaming with jubilation at the gift of friendship and devotion that the Cup represented. Among the players during said visit was Marissa Gedman, who has known Laing since the two were teammates at Noble and Greenough. Her sentiments about such a longtime friend truly helped put into perspective the meaning of winning the Isobel Cup, as teamwork took on a much more insightful meaning, one in which a sincere respect and admiration translated into inspiration,
“Denna was inspiring before she was ever injured. I have always admired her ability to connect with people and teammates. Ever since I’ve known her it has been her best skill to make anyone feel welcome and loved and important.
Recently, it has become even more evident how incredible Denna’s will is. Her drive and passion for bettering herself has always been apparent, but her tenacity in the face of such adversity as her recent injury is something I think is truly unmatched by any other person in my life. She is the face of grit and determination and I can only hope that I’m learning something from how she’s handled herself in the past couple of months.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”