Hilary Knight and Alex Carpenter each had two goals as the defending National Women’s Hockey League champion Boston Pride moved into the Isobel Cup championship game for the second straight year with a dominating 8-2 win over Connecticut Pride on Thursday night at Warrior Arena in Boston.
Carpenter had the first two goals of the game for the Pride while Knight had the final two goals of the game. Carpenter added three assists for five points while Knight had two goals and two assists for four points.
Boston, who have won 17 of 18 games they’ve played this season, will face the winner of Friday’s semifinal game between New York and Buffalo in Sunday’s championship game at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell at 6 p.m.
Prior to the game, league commissioner Dani Ryan expressed her support for members of the U.S. national team that have said they will boycott the upcoming World Championship tournament in Plymouth, Michigan over fairness in wages and respect from U.S. Hockey.
Instead of announcing the starting lineups, the four members of the Connecticut Whale and the seven members of the Boston Pride on the U.S. national team were introduced on the ice and the crowd cheered in support of the players and the national team.
Boston won their first 16 games of the season and had a 25-game winning streak before dropping a 3-2 decision to New York on Sunday – the final day of the regular season. Against the Whale in this one-game semifinal playoff game, the Pride played with speed and passion.
They took a 2-0 lead in the first period on a pair of goals from Carpenter. The first goal came from behind the goal line when Carpenter banked a shot in off the back of Connecticut goalie Nicole Stock’s leg. The second goal came on a rebound that Carpenter poked away from Stock and through her legs.
It’s been no secret to Connecticut fans that the Whale have struggled defensively all year. And it was no different against a speedy and opportunistic Boston squad.
Boston made it 3-0 when Alexandra Bender, trailing the play, jumped on a loose puck in the slot and ripped it past Stock with 3:04 gone in the second period.
Connecticut got on the board when rookie forward Dana Trivigno took a pass from Haley Skarupa in front of the net and flicked it past Boston goalie Brittany Ott with 10:34 left in the second period.
But four minutes later, a wide-open Brianna Decker made it 4-1 on a beautiful give-and-go with Carpenter. When Decker fed the pass back to Carpenter, two Whale defensemen turned toward Carpenter, who promptly fired the puck back to a Decker, who has scored goals in five consecutive games and was recently named the league MVP. Jillian Dempsey’s goal made it 5-1 after two periods.
Kelli Stack scored for Connecticut in the first two minutes of the third period but Boston’s Gigi Martin had a shot deflect off Stock and into the net and Knight had two goals for an 8-2 advantage.
Ott made 24 saves for her first playoff win of the year and her 11th victory in 12 games this season. Stock made 27 saves for the Whale.
Connecticut finished their second year with 10 losses in their final 11 games. They dropped a 2-1 best-of-three series in last year’s Isobel Cup semifinals to Buffalo. This year, the playoffs were condensed to allow the league to complete the season and allow players to represent their respective national teams at the upcoming World Championships.
On Wednesday, members of the U.S. women’s national team said they would not be playing in the upcoming World Championship tournament in Michigan beginning on March 31, citing more than a year of stalled contract negotiations with USA Hockey to secure fair wages and support.
The United States is the reigning world champion and has won the gold medal in six of the last eight World Championship tournaments.
Connecticut forwards Haley Skarupa, Kelli Stack, Dana Trivigno and Zoe Hickel are on the national team along with Boston defenders Kacey Bellamy and Gigi Marvin along with forwards Alex Carpenter, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Amanda Pelkey.
Training camp for Team USA was set to open March 21. Stack and Skarupa were named to the world championship team along with Bellamy, Carpenter, Knight, Marvin and Pelkey.
The players told USA Hockey that unless meaningful progress is made, they won’t report to training camp nor will they play in the World Championship tournament in Plymouth, Michigan.
“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” national team captain Meghan Duggan said. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”
According to the players on the U.S. national team, USA Hockey has provided the players with only $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period in the past. During the remainder of the four-year period, USA Hockey pays virtually nothing, the players said, despite its expectation that in each of the non-Olympic years, the players train full time and compete throughout the year, including in the World Championships.
The players said that at the younger levels, USA Hockey spends approximately $3.5 million dollars annually to support a schedule of more than 60 games a season for boys participating in its National Team Development Program. There are no comparable development opportunities for girls, and the women’s national team plays only nine games in non-Olympic years.
USA Hockey in a statement that each player could receive nearly $85,000. But the players said a majority of those funds come from the U.S. Olympic Committee and that includes incentives for winning medals at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
USA Hockey said they are committed to continuing discussions with the U.S. national team. But they will field a competitive team for the upcoming World Championship tournament.
“In our role as the national governing body, USA Hockey trains and selects teams for international competition,” said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey in a statement. “USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so. USA Hockey will continue to provide world-leading support for our athletes.”
Dani Ryan, commissioner of the NWHL, expressed her support and the league’s support.
“These national team players have elevated our professional league and worked tirelessly to develop the game and serve as role models to the next generation of players. Their commitment to equality is admirable, and we will continue to fight for them and alongside them,” Ryan said. “To the amazing athletes and women of the USNT, we have deep respect for the way you have brought this issue to the forefront. The NWHL fully supports you. We are incredibly proud to have such strong and empowered pioneers in our league.”
Boston 8, Connecticut 2
Connecticut (0-1) 0 1 1 — 2
Boston (1-0) 2 3 3 — 8
Boston 1, Alex Carpenter (Hilary Knight) 10:19, Boston 2, Carpenter (Blake Bolden, Brianna Decker), 15:06; Penalties: Kelly Babstock (CT) tripping, 2:45
Boston 3, Alexandra Bender (Carpenter), 3:04; Connecticut 1, Dana Trivigno (Haley Skarupa, Kelli Stack), 9:26 (pp); Boston 4, Decker (Carpenter, Knight), 13:07; Boston 5, Jillian Dempsey (Meghan Duggan), 15:06; Penalties: Rachel Llanes (B), holding, 8:23; Kelli Stack (CT), tripping, 16:07
Connecticut 2, Stack (Skarupa, Jordan Brickner), 1:06; Boston 6, Gigi Marvin (Kacey Bellamy), 2:48; Boston 7, Knight (Decker, Carpenter), 5:21; Boston 8, Knight (Decker, Bellamy), 13:41; Penalties: Haley Skarupa (CT), body checking, 1:26; Decker (B) roughing, 11:15; Trivigno (CT) roughing and game misconduct (ejection), 17:16
Power plays: Boston 1-4, Connecticut 1-2
Shots: Boston 35 (13-13-9), Connecticut 26 (9-10-7)
Goalies: Boston – Brittany Ott (W, 1-0), 26 shots, 24 saves; Connecticut – Nicole Stock (L, 0-1) 35 shots, 27 saves