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3 things to know as the Boston Pride begin Isobel Cup defense

With a talented roster, Boston will once again be one of the league's favorites.

NWHL
Boston Pride players cheer as coach Paul Mara hoists the Isobel Cup trophy after the team's win over the Minnesota Whitecaps in the March championship game in Boston. AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, File

After becoming the first team in history to win the Isobel Cup twice, the Boston Pride begin anew on Saturday as one of the league’s frontrunners yet again.

The recently rebranded Premier Hockey Federation (formerly the National Women’s Hockey League) starts the 2021-2022 season with a full slate of games, including a championship rematch. Boston faces off against the Minnesota Whitecaps at Warrior Ice Arena at 7 p.m.

According to the Pride, the season opener is sold out. And in another continued sign of the league’s growing popularity, games will be streamed on ESPN+ in what PHF commissioner Tyler Tumminia called a “historic” deal.

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Before things get underway, here are a few things to know:

Recent history

Since winning the Isobel Cup in the league’s inaugural 2015-2016 season, the Pride have never failed to at least make the semifinals each year.

In the 2019-2020 campaign, Boston reached a new level of dominance. After going 23-1 through the regular season, the Pride were on the precipice of a second championship when the Isobel Cup was canceled due to the onset of the pandemic.

The attempt to return to the ice last season was limited due to COVID-19, and a bubble tournament at Lake Placid ground to a halt after team outbreaks forced the knockout round to be paused.

For the Pride, the bubble initially began disastrously. Despite a talented roster, Boston lost three of its first four games. But after multiple teams were forced to withdraw due to COVID outbreaks, Boston was inserted as part of a reshuffled set of semifinal match-ups that were postponed for a month.

When the season resumed in Boston, the Pride were re-energized. Boston toppled top-seed Toronto before clinching a second Isobel Cup with a 4-3 win over Minnesota.

Offseason changes

Following the championship, Boston felt the winds of change both on the team’s roster and also in the front office.

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At the top, team president Hayley Moore departed to become vice president of hockey operations for the American Hockey League. Colleen Coyne, a member of the 1998 gold medal-winning U.S. team, takes the role of president.

In addition, general manager Karilyn Pilch left in the summer to become a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks, with Danielle Larouco stepping in.

On the ice, the team will have a different look following several departures, including Lexie Laing, Taylor Turnquist, and Tereza Vanišová.

Boston, aiming to repeat as champions, added some strong reinforcements in the form of goaltender Katie Burt, defenders Amanda Boulier, and Abby Cook, as well as forwards Kayla Friesen and Katelynn Russ.

Expectations for the new season

The Pride return several of the team’s stars, including team captain Jillian Dempsey, McKenna Brand, and Christina Putigna up front. In defense, 2020 Defender of the Year Kaleigh Fratkin will feature alongside Boulier.

And Boston’s goaltenders, led by Lovisa Selander, are arguably the deepest group in the PHF.

As for what’s expected of the team through the 20-game season, Larouco recently acknowledged that “expectations are high, I’m not going to lie” in an interview with Boston Globe reporter Matt Doherty.

The Pride, as ever, will be considered one of the league’s favorites for the coming season.

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