Shelly Stands Tall, but Whitecaps' Late Rally Lifts Them Past Whale

by NWHL Media

By Mike Murphy

Despite an outstanding performance from Connecticut Whale rookie goaltender Sonjia Shelly, the Minnesota Whitecaps took their second win of the weekend in Danbury today.

The Whitecaps came out of the gate flying and were able to pour 12 shots on net in the first period, but were unable to solve Shelly. It was an impressive start to the game for the netminder, who was chased in yesterday’s game after allowing six goals on 30 shots.

Minnesota wouldn’t break through Shelly and Connecticut's defense until the 8:22 mark of the second period when captain Winny Brodt Brown set up her d-partner Sydney Baldwin on the power play. Baldwin’s rip from the high slot was helped by a partial screen from Allie Thunstrom. It was Baldwin's second goal and fifth point of the weekend.

"Being an offensive threat at the blue line is important," Baldwin said after the game. "It's really helpful having great forwards who backcheck and great supporting D. We just try to work off of each other and make things happen. Even if we can't score on the power play, we're always looking to it as an opportunity to create momentum."

After putting just over a dozen shots on net through the first two periods, the Whale started the third period on the power play. Second-year NWHLer Kayla Meneghin made the play of the game when she broke through the Whitecaps’ defense and beat Amanda Leveille while getting hauled down to the tie the game at 1-1. 

Less than eight minutes after Meneghin’s power play goal shifted the momentum, the Whale broke through again – this time at even strength. After winning a big offensive zone faceoff, Sarah Schwenzfeier buried a rebound generated by a blast from Shannon Doyle to give the Whale their first lead of the weekend.

After Schwenzfeier’s goal, the Whitecaps were able to tilt the ice again with their speed. Baldwin set up Stephanie Anderson on the doorstep and she made no mistake, burying a wrister to tie the game up with 2:31 left in the third period. Shortly thereafter, the Whitecaps went on the power play after the Whale took what proved to be a costly penalty. With just 31 seconds left in regulation, Jonna Curtis was able to lift a rebound over a sprawling Shelly to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead.

The Whale pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in the final 30 seconds of the game but were unable to beat Leveille and Minnesota’s defense. When the final horn sounded, the box score had the Whitecaps with a 45 to 23 edge in shots.

It was a bitter loss for the Whale - who were minutes away from their first-ever win against the Whitecaps-  but Connecticut made a statement today. There were definitely positives to take away from this loss for the Whale and Shelly’s 42-save performance against the reigning Isobel Cup champions is right at the top of that list.

“When you know your goalie is having a hot game, you are free to take more risks,” Shannon Doyle shared after the game. “Maybe you carry the puck a bit more and feel more comfortable making those plays. When your goalie is playing like Sonjia did today, it makes everyone that much more confident.”

Heading into the two-week Four Nations break, the Whale should also feel confident about feeling more confident about their offense now that 10 different skaters have potted at least one goal in the first chapter of the season, “Oh, 100 percent,” Doyle confirmed. “We feel better knowing that when we give our forwards opportunities by putting pucks in good places and by getting shots through from the point, they’re going to finish for us. That’s a great feeling, overall. We saw that this weekend and last weekend.”

For the Whitecaps, sweeping the Whale in the weekend series was just what the doctor ordered after three straight losses, "It was important for us to get these wins this weekend," Sydney Baldwin shared. "We were focused more on the process. When we do those little things right, everything else will fall into place. Of course, we wish we had a couple more goals and a couple more looks at the net, but we did the little things right."