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NWHL

Boston Pride Claw Their Way Back to First Place

Emotions were running high for the Boston Pride when their teammate, Denna Laing, surprised them in the locker room before the game. Laing, who suffered a devastating spinal injury in an on-ice collision with the boards at the Outdoor Women’s Classic while playing for the Pride, has a long history with this group, having played with a number of them on the Boston Blades of the CWHL, as well as at Princeton, and even while growing up in and around Boston. When Laing joined them on the ice, she was warmly greeted by her teammates, who kissed, hugged and fist-bumped her in the huddle before heading to their positions for puck drop.

It was an emotional night, star forward Hilary Knight admitted after the game.

“It meant a lot (to have Denna on the ice with us today),” said Knight. “I was joking to a former teammate when we went into the faceoff dot, saying, you know, ‘oh, that’s not emotional or anything,’ and they drop the puck. But Denna is an integral part of our team and always has been. Now, (she’s) even more so.”

That energy carried the Pride through an offense-laden game where they put away four goals against Connecticut and allowed only one shot on goal for the Whale during the whole of the second period.

The Whale didn’t put up much of a fight. Missing National Team player and dynamic goal-scorer, Shiann Darkangelo and starting goaltender Jaime Leonoff to injury, the Whale appeared discombobulated on offense despite the return of forward Sam Faber. They started out strong in the first period, but after a quick cross-crease wrister from Pride forward Jordan Smelker that went five-hole on Whale goaltender Nicole Stock, they quickly deflated.

“I was coming off the bench and Dempsey had a lot of speed; she was putting a lot of pressure on net below the goal line. I think she picked it up below the goal line and made a good move, brought it to the front of the net and had a good shot. It was kind of just laying there in front of me so…I just shot it,” Smelker laughed.

“I just put it on net, because that’s what they always tell you, just put it on net and things will happen. Luckily it went in,” Smelker smiled.

Rachel Llanes, Hilary Knight, Alyssa Gagliardi and Jordan Smelker celebrate Smelker’s goal at NWHL Boston Pride at Connecticut Whale Jan 31 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

An inopportune penalty by Kelli Stack put the Whale on the penalty kill at the end of the first and going into the second. Pride forward Brianna Decker, second in the league in points and assists and third in Corsi For percentage, scored a tip-in goal on the power play. Even though the second period saw no goals from either team, Boston dominated play, putting up easily ten times the number of shots the Whale did and spent the majority of their time in the offensive zone.

Brittany Dougherty scored her first goal as a Whale player to start the third, halving Boston’s lead to 2-1, but Jordan Smelker answered back right away with a glove-side wrister on Stock that flew right in.

Although the Whale seemed to find their stride for the third, with Kelly Babstock netting a goal five-hole on Ott, the Pride were able to keep them to two goals. Pride defender Gigi Marvin rubbed a little salt in the wound for good measure when she scored an empty-net goal with 40 seconds left in the third, bringing the final score to 4-2.

“It was pretty emotional having Denna there today,” Smelker said solemnly. “I guess we just had a lot of energy around here. We just felt really cohesive as a team, you know? We just felt a lot of pride out there – hence the name – and playing for each other is, like, the best thing ever.”

The Pride are looking ahead to the Isobel Cup Semifinals, where their seeding as first or second will determine who they face off against: Buffalo or New York. Though they’ll have the home-ice advantage, it’s been a rockier road than anticipated for the team out of Boston but they’ve pulled together in time for the postseason.

“I think with any team it’s a long journey,” said Knight. “You just have to figure out how to come together at the right moment. I think everyone’s pulling their own weight right now; it’s great to see it. One line’s working, the other line’s working after that. So it’s great to see our journey as we’ve progressed so far this year.”

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