Typically found centering U.S. Olympic team members Meghan Duggan and Alex Carpenter this season on the Boston Pride, forward Jillian Dempsey’s play might go unnoticed by some fans, given the star power of the company she keeps. It’s understandable that those in the stands might be distracted by the names on the back of the jerseys alongside her but Dempsey’s complete play will win them over before long.
Dempsey’s work ethic is famous among her teammates and her play has been nothing less than astounding since the middle of the NWHL’s inaugural season. Starting fresh this season and with a set of new lines, Dempsey’s on-ice work is quickly garnering well-deserved attention.
In a preseason interview with Today’s Slapshot, Brianna Decker spoke highly of Dempsey’s contribution to Boston and her ability to simply get things done on the ice.
“People underrate her,” Decker said. “I think she comes out of the woodwork at the right times and she’s always constantly working hard. Obviously there’s a lot of talented players on our team but I feel like she’s one that always comes through and shows up at every game.”
And Dempsey has done exactly that through Boston’s preseason games and its first two regular-season games. She moved from the third-line center spot to the second-line center spot over the offseason; while Dempsey was a strong contributor in the Pride’s inaugural season, she’s upped her game to become a truly dynamic role-player. Since the season began Dempsey has earned three points (1 G, 2 A) between Duggan and Carpenter and a spot on the power play.
Dempsey’s 16.7 scoring percentage isn’t too shabby, either; she’s tied with national team player Amanda Pelkey for third-highest on the team. Beyond the Boston roster, Dempsey is currently ranked fifth on a list of point leaders in the league.
It’s early days yet in the second season of the NWHL, and it bears mentioning that Hilary Knight has yet to play a game for Boston, which will likely push Dempsey a bit further down in the rankings when she does return. But Dempsey’s points are not – pardon the pun – the point.
While goals and assists help win games, so does determination, of which Dempsey is full to bursting.
Dempsey’s value is most clear in her ability to create opportunities for Boston: buzzing by the front of the net to distract the opposing goalie, drawing the defense away from the middle or scrabbling for the puck along the boards. Her speed and physicality are essential to Boston’s identity.
Her line might work so well because all three players are cut from the same cloth when it comes to work ethic and a willingness to do whatever it takes to earn a win for their team, which she gladly points out.
“We’ve had a lot of success last week,” Dempsey said of her new line. “The first few times we skated together in practice, we were really feeling it. It’s great because I think they’re both willing to go into the corners and battle and take the hits, make the plays.
“I think when everybody’s on board with that we’re going to be successful,” Dempsey continued. “Nobody’s above making the gritty plays and getting right in [our opponent’s] faces and fore-checking hard. It’s really great too, because they have great finesse. If Carpenter gets the puck, she’s going to snipe it. Duggs is going to battle and she’s going to finish really strong.”
Much of Boston’s success this season and last can be tracked back to the second line and Dempsey’s whirling-dervish style of play.
She was a large part of the Pride’s two-game win over the New York Riveters in the postseason of 2016, logging a large number of minutes and using her physicality and speed to tire New York out early. While she was quieter in the Isobel Cup Final against the Buffalo Beauts, Dempsey has shown in her play against Buffalo this season – the Pride’s first two games have only been against Buffalo – that was a temporary reprieve.
“There’s never a [thought] in anyone on the bench that we’re going to lose,” Amanda Pelkey said after the Pride’s second game of the season. “That’s not to come off as a cocky thing but we’re very, very confident in our abilities to bounce back.”