The PWHL this week: Ottawa back in playoff picture after busy trade deadline

Looking at his roster after 17 games and sitting one point out of the playoff picture, PWHL Ottawa GM Mike Hirshfeld felt like his team was close to firing on all cylinders.

Ottawa has lost six games in overtime this season; more than any other team. Three regulation losses were decided by one goal.

Despite what the standings have shown, there have been things to like about Ottawa’s play. That includes two balanced power-play units clicking at nearly 27 per cent — the best in the league.

“I think that we’re right there and we just need to be a little more focused,” Hirshfeld said on Tuesday, pointing out that his team has made some “untimely mistakes.”

Hirshfeld was the most active GM on trade deadline day, acquiring a top-six forward in Tereza Vanišová and a bottom-six veteran centre in Shiann Darkangelo. They’re players Hirshfeld feels could put his team over the edge in the close games that haven’t been going Ottawa’s way.

A big 3-0 win Wednesday over New York, combined with a Boston regulation loss, vaulted Ottawa into the final playoff spot. The regulation win also took points away from New York, making it harder to catch Ottawa.

To get the win, Ottawa weathered being down two players for two minutes in the third period.

PWHL Ottawa captain Brianne Jenner scored a goal in her team’s 3-0 win over New York on Wednesday. (Nala Burton/PWHL)

“I think it was a big moment for us,” head coach Carla MacLeod said about the long penalty kill. “Because it was done so well with all those blocked shots, it really does rally a group. I think it gave us a little bit of our energy back.”

Next up for Ottawa is a game against Toronto on Saturday. The league will break for the world championship next Tuesday and resume on April 18.

Grant-Mentis earns big opportunity

On the second day of the PWHL season, in front of more than 8,000 fans inside TD Place, it looked like Mikyla Grant-Mentis had scored the first goal in Ottawa franchise history.

The goal was overturned after it became apparent the puck went under the net. But it’s a moment Grant-Mentis won’t soon forget.

“It was mind blowing,” she said. “I honestly couldn’t even hear myself think because they were so loud.”

Even though the goal was overturned, Grant-Mentis left an impression on the Montreal bench that night.

After her release from Ottawa last month, Montreal got in touch. Grant-Mentis was added to the team’s reserve list earlier this month, signing a 10-day contract before last Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh.

A female hockey player in a white PWHL jersey appears on the ice.
Mikyla Grant-Mentis was added to Montreal as a reserve player earlier this month, and signed a 10-day contract last week. (Arianne Bergeron/PWHL Montreal via X)

Her play in that first game on Jan. 2 came up in conversations Grant-Mentis had with Montreal’s leadership.

“[Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie] was talking about how fast I was,” Grant-Mentis said last week, after her first two practices with her new team.

“She saw the potential in me in that game. She was really excited for me to hop on board with them and use my speed against other teams.”

Grant-Mentis played 11 minutes, 15 seconds in her debut with Montreal on Sunday. One has to think having Grant-Mentis and reserve player Mélodie Daoust in the fold made it a bit easier to let go of Vanišová in the trade with Ottawa.

A former Premier Hockey Federation MVP, Grant-Mentis indicated she doesn’t know why she was released in Ottawa, though she said the experience was “a good one.” She had three points in six games before being scratched for three games prior to her release.

Ottawa’s GM said it was a hockey decision.

“She didn’t quite fit what we were looking for in our third and fourth lines, and so we wanted to give her the opportunity to find another team,” Hirshfeld said. “I’m glad she’s landed in Montreal and I wish her all the best.”

Asked about Grant-Mentis last week, GM Danièle Sauvageau suggested it’s about finding the right role for players. She used a flower metaphor: sometimes flowers aren’t in the right pots and other times they need more water or sunlight.

Grant-Mentis said she didn’t think she was able to show her full potential in the time she was in Ottawa.

“Kind of just to prove myself, to really get myself going here,” Grant-Mentis said about the opportunity with Montreal. “If I’m able to get in the lineup, just to make sure I’m continuing basically what I started in Ottawa to pretty much produce and do things for this team.”

Toronto keeps winning

Toronto’s win streak looked to be in peril over the first 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game against Boston. 

Toronto wasn’t moving the puck effectively out of its own zone, getting outshot 21-9 over the first two frames. Stellar goaltending from backup Erica Howe kept the team afloat.

But Toronto came out for the third period a different team. Two Boston penalties sent Toronto to the power play twice, and they capitalized both times on goals by Renata Fast and Natalie Spooner.

WATCH | Toronto defender Renata Fast mic’d up:

’Soupy’s too good’: Toronto’s Renata Fast in PWHL Mic’d Up

Join the 29-year-old defender from Burlington, Ont., on the ice against Boston as CBC Sports presents Mic’d Up.

Speaking to Rob Pizzo on Hockey North this week, Toronto forward Sarah Nurse said the team went into a game at the end of January feeling like it was a must-win after losing five of their first seven games.

“Not necessarily a mindset shift, but it was a little bit more focus on execution, the little things that were going to make us successful,” Nurse said.

“Once we started executing, obviously that belief grows in yourself and in your teammates. It’s just been great. We’ve been having fun.”

WATCH | Siblings Sarah, Isaac Nurse are each other’s biggest fans:

Nurse siblings Sarah and Isaac are each other’s biggest fans

Host Rob Pizzo is joined by PWHL Toronto’s Sarah Nurse and her brother Isaac Nurse, fresh off his UNB Reds historic undefeated run to a 2nd-straight U Sports men’s hockey championship.

The next challenge will be returning Toronto’s roster healthy after the world championships. Seven Toronto players will compete at worlds beginning April 3 in Utica, N.Y.

After that, Toronto will play all three of its April games on the road.

Draft prospects on display

The winner of the 2024 Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the best player in women’s college hockey, will be announced Saturday.

Some of the best players in the league, including Sophie Jaques, Taylor Heise and Alex Carpenter, are former recipients of the award.

This year, the race has been narrowed down to three forwards, all of whom could be future stars in the PWHL: Cornell’s Izzy Daniel and Wisconsin’s Kirsten Simms and Casey O’Brien. All three have been invited to USA Hockey’s evaluation camp ahead of the world championship.

A female hockey player in a white jersey with a W on the sweater handles the puck during a game.
Wisconsin Badgers forward Kirsten Simms is one of three players in contention for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the best female college hockey player. The winner will be announced on Saturday. (Samantha Madar/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Simms, the youngest of the three, racked up 74 points in 37 games with Wisconsin in her second year of college and was named player of the year in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. She scored a goal in her debut with the U.S. senior national team at the Rivalry Series in December.

She and O’Brien, who has 71 points in 39 games, will take on Colgate University on Friday for a spot in the NCAA championship game. Clarkson and Ohio State will play in the other semifinal.

Daniel posted 59 points in 34 games with Cornell and was named the player of the year in the Eastern College Athletic Conference.

O’Brien and Daniel are both seniors and could hear their names called early in this summer’s PWHL draft, should they decide to declare.

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