Minnesota defeats Boston 3-0 in Game 5 to win first-ever PWHL championship

Minnesota defeats Boston 3-0 in Game 5 to win first-ever PWHL championship

Minnesota defeats Boston 3-0 in Game 5 to win first-ever PWHL championship

Minnesota won the inaugural championship of the Professional Women’s Hockey League on Wednesday night, getting 17 saves from Nicole Hensley to beat Boston 3-0 in a winner-take-all Game 5 and claim the Walter Cup.

Three nights after prematurely celebrating a would-be game-winner in double overtime that was waved off for goaltender interference, Minnesota finished the job early to bring the new league’s title back to the state that calls itself the “State of Hockey.”

Liz Schepers scored to break a scoreless, second-period tie, Michela Cava made it 2-0 midway through the third period and Kendall Coyne Schofield added an empty-netter with two minutes left. Hensley, a two-time Olympian from Colorado, earned her second shutout of the playoffs after posting one in 14 regular-season games.

Boston goalie Aerin Frankel, dubbed the “Green Monster” in her forest green home sweater, made 41 saves for the runners-up. The sold-out crowd at the Tsongas Center, about an hour north of Boston, chanted her name and “Thank you, Boston!” after the final buzzer, even as the Minnesota players celebrated on the ice and league officials set up the podium for the trophy presentation.

Boston forced a decisive fifth game only after Sophie Jaques’ apparent goal in double overtime in Game 4 was taken off the board because of goaltender interference. The Minnesota players, who had already streamed onto the ice to celebrate, throwing their equipment in the air, gathered up their gloves and sticks, and the game resumed.

One minute later, Alina Muller scored to send the series back to Boston.

The crowd was eager to see the home team claim the new trophy, named for league benefactor and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, chanting “We want the Cup!” just like Bruins fans do down in Boston. A Fenway-style “Sweet Caroline” singalong kept them busy during the second break.

But with the game scoreless early in the second, Minnesota forward Sydney Brodt skated through the slot toward the goal. She whiffed on a wrist shot, drawing Frankel out of position, then slid around to the right side and centered the puck behind her, where Schepers tipped it in.

It was still 1-0 when Cava circled behind the net and stuffed the puck between Frankel’s pads; it trickled toward the net before the goalie knocked it over the line when she reached back to save it with her stick hand.

The PWHL has packed arenas during its inaugural year. Fans of Team Minnesota set attendance records at the Xcel Energy Center during its home opener and the momentum has never slowed.

“It’s been amazing to see so many happy fans,” said Mary Rohr, a manager at A Bar of Their Own.

The bar opened earlier this year, solely showcasing women’s sports. It’s been non-stop since the first day.

“I’ve had ladies at my bar crying because they never thought they’d see this in their lifetime,” said Rohr.

Women’s athletics are having a moment, from this championship series to the popularity of the Minnesota Aurora to the attention to women’s college basketball.

“I just think there’s this momentum and we want to capture it,” said Wendy Blackshaw, the CEO of Minnesota Sports and Events.

The regional sports commission is currently planning the men’s and women’s gymnastics Olympic Trials in Minneapolis in June. Minnesota Sports and Events successfully bid to bring the Women’s Final Four to Minneapolis in 2022 and the Big 10 Championship to Minneapolis in 2023 and 2024.

“It is such an exciting time,” said Blackshaw. “We were the first city to ever sell out a women’s Big 10 Championship. We also broke records for economic impact. […] The economic impact for the Big 10 was 30 million dollars.”

She said their goal is to become the top state in the country for hosting women’s events.

“I think there is just so much interest, especially basketball,” she said. “A person like a Caitlin Clark, she sold out WNBA arenas all over the country.”

Increased media exposure for women’s sports is also helping boost interest. For example, ABC has started broadcasting the Women’s College Basketball Championship Game. It drew more than 18 million viewers this year, which makes it the most-watched basketball game since 2019.

“It’s not just that women’s sports have now become amazing, they have been amazing, it’s just that we haven’t seen them on primetime,” said Nicole M. LaVoi, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport. “Now that we’re seeing investment, and visibility and coverage of women’s sport, those fans that were sort of on the fence can now become primetime fans of women’s sports.”

LaVoi said the investments, visibility and sponsorships across all women’s sports is creating a snowball effect. It’s contributed to the success of the PWHL after the Premier Hockey Federation failed to gain momentum.

“It’s the right investment at the right time,” she said of the league. “This is the moment for women’s sport.”