PWHL Boston’s title run comes up short against Minnesota


PWHL Boston’s inability to generate quality chances doomed them in a do-or-die Game 5 in Lowell.

PWHL Boston closed out its season on Wednesday in Game 5 of the Walter Cup Finals. Barry Chin / The Boston Globe

LOWELL — The inaugural season of PWHL Boston was a sweeping success. 

Such sentiment was validated by the nearly 6,400 raucous fans packed into a sold-out Tsongas Center in Lowell on Wednesday night, with a decibel-defying chorus of cheers fueling Boston in its march toward the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s first-ever championship. 

Those cheers echoed across Tsongas Center even as PWHL Boston’s players made their way off the frozen sheet for the final time this season. It was a fitting conclusion — one that would have been far sweeter had Boston skated off the ice with the Walter Cup in their grasp.

But after weeks of gutsy wins by coach Courtney Kessel’s battle-tested roster, PWHL Boston’s season came to a crushing end in Game 5 of the Walter Cup Finals, with Minnesota hoisting the coveted hardware after a 3-0 win in the do-or-die showdown. 

“Just so proud of our group and how we battled back all year,” Kessel said. “And here we are, one game short.”

Despite another sterling showing in net from PWHL Boston goalie Aerin Frankel (41 saves), Liz Schepers gave Minnesota a lead it would not relinquish at 6:14 in the second period. 

Down the other end of the ice, Boston’s offense struggled, with Minnesota’s relentless forecheck putting their opponent’s transition game in neutral. 

Minnesota finished the contest with a 44-17 edge in shots on goal. 

With a title on the line, it came as little surprise that both teams punctuated Wednesday’s contest with several bone-crunching collisions — with the officials putting away their whistles for most of the night. 

As cheers of “We want the cup!” roared across Tsongas, PWHL Boston tested Minnesota netminder Nicole Hensley across the opening 20 minutes — with a Susanna Tapani shot that sailed across the slot standing as Boston’s best look of the night.

Those Grade-A chances dried up for the home team as Wednesday’s game progressed. While Boston labored with breaking the puck out and carrying the biscuit cleanly into the attacking zone, Schepers broke the ice for Minnesota. 

After Sydney Brodt drew Frankel out of position, the Minnesota forward dished the puck into the crease, where Schepers hammered the offering home off the right post to make it a 1-0 game. 

Frankel kept her team in it, denying Michela Cava after the forward skated in unopposed down the slot later in the second. 

“That game in the second could have opened up a lot greater than a 3-0 deficit without Aerin in between the pipes,” PWHL Boston captain Hilary Knight said. “She stood on her head all year. She showed up every single day. And so we couldn’t be more grateful and proud of her performance throughout the year. 

“Hopefully we can help her a little bit more next year up front and relieve some of that pressure. But man, she’s the best goalie in the league — no doubt about it.”

But Cava was not denied in the final period of regulation, with Minnesota’s speed putting them on the ropes over the final period of play. After an extended O-zone possession, Minnesota secured its insurance after Cava’s backhand attempt slipped past a sprawled-out Frankel.

Kessel pulled Frankel with over four minutes to go in regulation in search of some scoring punch, but Kendall Coyne Schofield delivered the empty-net dagger at 17:54 to close out the championship-clinching win for Minnesota.

Wednesday’s result was a bitter pill to swallow for Knight and the rest of her teammates after fighting their way to a decisive Game 5.

But as cheers of “Thank You, Boston!” roared across their home barn, it didn’t take very long for Boston’s players to reflect on the greater significance forged from this groundbreaking season for women’s hockey.

“On one end of it, you’re just a human showing up to play the sport that you love,” Knight noted. “And when you get on the ice with the group, you see the young faces, you see faces from all over. You see signs, the candy bracelets, you hear it. And you realize how much you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

“And I think, while this loss — like we feel it in our room. It’s tough because we just so badly wanted it for not only the people in the room, but everyone who supported us along this journey.

“Because we understand what type of impact and the significance of what we’re doing through sport to have a positive inspirational point and have that impact in someone’s life. It’s a huge responsibility and I know no player takes lightly and we get to do it. It’s the best job in the world.”

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