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PWHL Toronto's Natalie Spooner skates away from the net after scoring against PWHL Minnesota goaltender Maddie Rooney, who is colliding with her defender. The puck is in the back of the net
Recaps Sports

PWHL Toronto clinches top spot with 4-1 victory over Minnesota

By Keiran Gorsky

Toronto secured their spot atop the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) with a confident 4-1 win over Minnesota at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) on Wednesday night. 

The team celebrated its Pride Night, with many sporting pride tape on their sticks in their warmup and some keeping it on the tops of their sticks during the game. The occasion brought out a passionate crowd, which the team thrived on.

Predictable suspects filled the scoresheet for the home team. Another in a slew of standout performances from forward Natalie Spooner sealed the deal.

“It’s amazing getting to play with the best players in the world,” said Spooner with a smile after the game.

The first period got off to a furious start even as both teams effectively held the opposition to the outside. A staunch Toronto defence didn’t stop Minnesota forward Michela Cava tipping Maggie Flaherty’s lob from the point through the legs of Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell off defender. The capacity crowd was temporarily quieted. 

Neither the crowd nor Toronto’s offence stayed quiet long, though. A high-sticking penalty from Minnesota forward Clair DeGeorge allowed Toronto’s power play to get to work. 

Forward and PWHL assists leader Emma Maltais orchestrated a quick passing play in combination with Sarah Nurse and Hannah Miller. The finish from Miller, just inside the faceoff circle, left little chance for a sprawling Minnesota goalie Maddie Rooney. 

Campbell faced a battle of her own as the period wound down. A cross-crease pass from Minnesota forward Taylor Heise left both teams to tumble into the home team’s star goaltender. Campbell managed to keep the puck out, as she would for the rest of the game.

“It’s exactly what we expected from [Campbell] at this point in the year,” said head coach Troy Ryan. “She played confident.”

With the score knotted at 1-1, Toronto entered the second period two players down, as Maltais was sent to the box for hooking at the end of the first. Thanks to stalwart defending from Toronto’s penalty killers, the visitors were unable to break into the slot, registering just a single shot during their advantage. 

“It might surprise people that we don’t practice the [penalty kill],” said Ryan. “But we talk about it a lot. We just trust them that they’ll use their instincts.”

The penalties didn’t keep the league leaders from maintaining a sharp, physical edge. A booming hit from Renata Fast left Minensota’s Liz Schepers flat on the ice.

As the game went on, the home team exchanged their casual cycle play in favour of a growing willingness to crash the net. Toronto forward Jesse Compher and defender Jocelyne Larocque were denied odd man rushes in the span of 15 seconds. Rooney robbed Miller of her second of the game soon after.

 PWHL top scorer Natalie Spooner would break the deadlock on the power play. Nearly replicating the Cava effort, her deflection off a frisk Fast flip on net beat goaltender Rooney through the five hole. 

“Good things happen when you’re shooting the puck,” Fast said after the game. “The mentality is to just get pucks on net.”

  • Fans in rainbow masks wave various pride flags in the air in the crowd at a PWHL Toronto game
  • PWHL Toronto's Maggie Connors and Jocelyn Larocque pose for a picture in the tunnel
  • PWHL Toronto's Hannah Miller stares down at the bench with green water bottles on it. Water molecules are spraying up at her
  • PWHL Toronto goaltender gets off the ice onto the bench with Pride Tape on the blade of her stick

With the scales tipping to Toronto’s side, Minnesota left the second period down only one. A defensive chess match to start the third was spoiled by Spooner, who stripped Minnesota defender Lee Stecklein of the puck seven minutes into the final frame. Both Minnesota defenders tried to grab hold of the two-time Olympic gold medalist at the blueline but Spooner broke away and beat Rooney with a deke for her second goal of the game.

Campbell padded her .925 save percentage in the time that remained, plucking the puck away from Schepers in another clash that left both teams falling over her. An empty netter from Maltais, her fourth goal of the season, quashed any hope for a Minnesotan miracle.

Standing at the top of the league, Toronto is in a unique position to act upon a PWHL rule allowing the top team to pick their semi-final opponent. Ryan was predictably coy about what his team will do. 

“I’m excited to get some thoughts from players,” he said. “We have all the data and analytics we need to make the decision. It’ll be more of a collaborative [decision] than most people would think.”

UP NEXT: Toronto play their last game of the regular season on Sunday against Ottawa at the MAC. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.

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