The Boston Pride could not have wished for a better ending to their season.
Four straight playoff wins, each exciting and exemplary of their skill, carried them to the moment when NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan and director Erika Lawler presented Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight with the Isobel Cup.
This was not even the Pride's most complete victory. Their usually roaring power play unit was shutdown by Buffalo's defense, wasting all five of their man advantages. They let Buffalo get a little too confident in the second period as they pushed back and put pressure on Brittany Ott before finally overpowering them in the third period.
But it was, obviously, their most important win, and one that cemented their place in the league's history. The Pride were the best team in this league all season. Sure, they had a couple bad games that they lost to the New York Riveters and a particularly shocking overtime loss to Buffalo. A truly great team is not necessarily one that doesn't lose, but one that learns to recover from mistakes like bad passing and turnovers to improve itself.
That is exactly what the Pride did. They ended their season on an unprecedented 11-game winning streak, the Connecticut Whale's eight-game streak long forgotten. The Pride's first line of Decker, Knight, and Jordan Smelker was the best offensive line in the entire league. Knight scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in Friday night's overtime thriller, while it was Decker who took on that role on Saturday. The co-captains comprise the most lethal one-two punch in the NWHL. Decker was named the Isobel Cup Finals' Most Valuable Player, although the honor, like the captaincy, could easily have been shared between herself and her linemate.
Speaking of Lady Isobel, she would be proud to know that these players are carrying on her legacy. The Cup is named after the daughter of Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley himself. She was one of the first known female hockey players in Canada and helped dream up the idea of awarding a Cup to Canada's best amateur hockey team. Now, the NWHL honors her trailblazing spirit with the Isobel Cup, which bears her image. The Cup will be engraved with the names of every member of the winning team. The inscription reads, "All who pursue this Cup pursue a dream; a dream born with Isobel, that shall never die."
The NWHL has had and continues to have its problems. From the frequent lack of transparency and information to the rather abrupt, unceremonious and frankly inconsiderate hint at Canadian expansion on the eve of the CWHL's Clarkson Cup Final, there is much that can be improved upon. Despite the shortcomings, the NWHL has done something historic: For the first time, women got paid to play in a professional hockey league. The stands of the Prudential Center Practice Facility were packed to standing room only on Saturday night. Those who say that women's hockey lacks a fanbase and is not profitable should have been there to see and hear those fans.
During the on-ice postgame celebrations, Kelly Cooke skated over to the Beauts' bench where a group of young girls, all carrying signs and wearing Pride gear, watched with huge smiles as Cooke brought the Cup to them. This league gives young female hockey players something to strive for and proves to them that their dream of playing professional hockey is very attainable.
This was also for Denna Laing. From the handmade #24 that hung behind the bench for the past three months, which was lifted in the air during the celebrations, to the T-shirts and hats that Ott and Knight draped over the Cup, her teammates were thinking of her. Someone called her on FaceTime and her teammates held the Cup up for her to see and pressed the iPhone against the silver so she could kiss it from afar. According to a press release from the league, each player will have a day to spend with the Cup. I would bet that Laing gets it first.
The Boston Pride's first season was not ideal or perfect, but it ended in the best way possible.