Blayre Turnbull hat trick secures first pre-season win for PWHL Toronto over Boston

Blayre Turnbull’s hat trick was years in the making. 

About 14 minutes into the first period of the first pre-season Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) game, Toronto’s Blayre Turnbull put a puck past Boston goaltender Cami Kronish.

And then she did it again, and again. 

Powered by Turnbull’s three goals, Toronto defeated Boston 5-3 in pre-season action in the PWHL on Monday in Utica, N.Y., where teams have gathered all week for games, meetings and practices before the inaugural season begins on Jan. 1.

Four and a half years have passed since the 30-year-old Turnbull got to play regularly with a team. She lifted the Clarkson Cup in the spring of 2019 with the Calgary Inferno without knowing they’d be the last team to lift the silver cup, as the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded soon after.

“It’s been a long time for not only me but so many of these girls who have been waiting for so long to play hockey at this level,” Turnbull said after Monday’s pre-season game.

“For it to all come together, even though it is pre-season, rosters aren’t finalized yet, everybody I feel is feeling the same emotions. We’re all really excited and happy for this moment to finally be here.”

On her national team, the Stellarton, N.S. native has often played a defensive role, but the creation of the PWHL is seeing her take on more importance. On Monday, she played on the top line with Sarah Nurse and Victoria Bach.

“In this league, she’s going to be expected to score and produce a little bit,” Toronto head coach Troy Ryan said of Turnbull, who was one of the team’s marquee free-agent signings in September.

Toronto’s Sarah Nurse had a goal in Toronto’s pre-season victory over Boston on Monday. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

And score she did, notching her second goal on a break and her third as Toronto enjoyed a 5-on-3 advantage.

Nurse had Toronto’s other goal, with Brittany Howard logging two assists.

Last chance for GMs to evaluate rosters

The games on Monday were closed to fans, but players and staff from other teams were scattered through the crowd at the Utica University Nexus Center, taking a first look at their competition before the games start to count.

For general managers, it’s the last opportunity to see what they’ve got on their rosters. First cuts happened last week, bringing each team’s roster down to 27.

They’ll need to make last cuts by the end of this week, with final rosters — including 23 players on contract and two reserve players — due by Dec. 11.

Boston looks to be one of the strongest teams in the league on paper, with a solid goaltending tandem and first defensive pair, a rising star in Swiss national team star Alina Müller, and a veteran presence in Hilary Knight.

A female goaltender smiles on the ice. She is wearing red, white and blue pads with an American flag on her mask.
Boston goaltender Aerin Frankel smiles during practice in Utica, N.Y., on Monday. Boston sat several of its top players, including Frankel, for Monday’s game as the team prepares to make its final cuts later this week. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

But many of Boston’s top players, including Knight, defender Megan Keller and starting goalie Aerin Frankel, didn’t play on Monday.

Instead, head coach Courtney Kessel gave more ice time to depth players who are vying for the final spots on her roster. A couple of those players were selected to shoot in the shootout that follows every pre-season PWHL game.

“I think everyone deserves a fair shot to crack the roster and what a better opportunity than to get them in some key moments,” Kessel said. “They scored some goals too in the shootout, so it was great to see that.”

She said the team is aiming to get each of their 27 players into at least two games this week.

Different pre-season strategies

Kessel was impressed with her team’s play during three-on-three overtime and felt their transition game improved as the game went on.

The team did get one regulation goal from Sophie Shirley, who played primarily with Jamie Lee Rattray and Müller.

It’s still early, but she sees Boston’s identity as being a big team with a lot of speed. 

“I think at the start, we were really focused on physicality and we wanted to make sure that we were laying the body as much as we can and really creating contact in the corners and all over the ice,” Shirley said.

Toronto took a different approach with its first pre-season game, playing most of its stars. That included starting goaltender Kristen Campbell, who had a stellar performance in net.

A group of female hockey players, some wearing black jerseys and others in white jerseys, gather together in a huddle on the ice.
PWHL Toronto players gather after a practice in Utica, N.Y., on Sunday. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

The team is still carrying four goalies, with a decision to make at the position this week. Despite that, Ryan opted to start Campbell to help get her ready for January.

“Although we had some key players out of the lineup, we’re looking to have a good start and make sure we’re starting off our year on a good foot,” Ryan said.

Rule experimentation(s)

By the end of the third period, Toronto led 5-1. Still, the game went to 3-on-3 overtime, followed by a shootout, which led to the final score of 5-3.

That’s because every pre-season PWHL game will include a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime followed by a five-player shootout, regardless of the score. It gives GMs and coaches a chance to see their players in different situations as they prepare to make their final decisions.

The camp is also about experimenting for the league office as their staff prepare for games to begin in January.

That includes experimenting with different rules. Each day of camp includes a different variation on penalty kill situations. On Monday, all two-minute penalties were served in their entirety even if a player scored on the power play, while Thursday’s games are set to be played with no icing for teams playing shorthanded.

Female hockey players, dressed in blue and white jerseys, play hockey on the ice.
The PWHL is experimenting with different rules throughout its pre-season evaluation camp in Utica, N.Y., including different variations on penalty kill situations. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

Teams also had long changes in the first and third periods instead of in the second, which could lead to more scoring throughout the game. 

“I think you have to be a little bit smarter with your puck management and with your shift management as well,” Turnbull said of the change.

Monday also offered a first look at players on the ice wearing their team colours. They didn’t wear the jerseys that were unveiled last month, which have the city name written across the chest, but each team wore a jersey with the PWHL’s logo on the front.

Minnesota tops Ottawa

Eight different players scored in an offensive outburst from Minnesota, which rallied to beat Ottawa in the second pre-season game on Monday evening in Utica. Minnesota led 7-4 at the end of regulation before adding another in 3-on-3 overtime and winning the shootout.

But Ottawa defender Jincy Roese sees a lot the team, which has placed an emphasis on building its culture in training camp, can build on going forward.

“We’re learning, we’re growing,” she said. “There’s good, there’s bad. At the end of the day, we’re building and I could not ask to be a part of a better group to build with.

A female hockey player looks over her shoulder. She is wearing a white jersey with a stylized W written on it.
PWHL Minnesota forward Susanna Tapani (77) recorded a goal and two assists during her team’s 9-4 victory on Monday. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

Ottawa caused damage first, with Roese opening the scoring in the first period. The team led Minnesota 3-1 early in the second before Minnesota piled on five goals in a row.

“They took it to us in the neutral zone with rushes,” Minnesota head coach Charlie Burggraf said after the game.

“They just overwhelmed us a number of times — a tsunami for lack of a better word, but it kind of captures it. I think that response to that style of hockey, we had to adjust. They maintained some momentum there but we were able to slow it down.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *