After a stellar collegiate career at Northeastern University, McKenna Brand was confident in her abilities to compete as a professional for the Boston Pride of the National Women's Hockey League.
Even though she expected to contribute on the ice, the 2014 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School was a little surprised at how well she performed as a rookie at the professional level.
Brand finished second on the Pride and tied for fifth in the league in scoring during the 16-game regular-season schedule with 17 points. Brand scored six goals to tie for third on the team and tied for ninth in the league and had 11 assists to finish second on the Pride and tied for fourth in the league. For the season, Brand put 50 shots on net with one power-play goal, one assist on the power play and two game-winning goals while taking three penalties and posting a plus-11 rating. Brand, who was drafted 11th overall in the 2017 NWHL Draft, helped Boston finish third in the NWHL standings with an 11-5 record for 22 points.
"My first pro season definitely exceeded my expectations I had at the start of the season," said Brand, who tallied 56 goals and 55 assists for 111 points in a school-record 150 games in four years at Northeastern. "Going into the season, I really didn't know what to expect with only practicing two days per week and only playing a 16-game season. It is a very different set-up than the college season that I was used to. I knew that if I worked hard and played the way I knew I could play, that I would be able to hold my own. It also helped being able to play alongside Olympians, top former collegiate players and my line mate from Northeastern, Denisa Krizova. Being able to play with and against the best of the best was such an incredible experience and I believe made me a better hockey player."
Brand made an immediate impact at the professional level by scoring a goal in her first game as Boston defeated the Metropolitan Riveters 5-1 at home on Oct. 13. Brand followed by scoring the game-winning goal in the Pride's 4-2 win over the Connecticut Whales on Oct. 20. Brand tallied an assist in Boston's 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Beauts on Nov. 17 and had an assist in a 5-1 win over the Minnesota Whitecaps on Dec. 1.
In the second game against the Whitecaps on Dec. 2 at the TRIA Rink in St. Paul, Brand had her best game of the season with a goal and three assists to spark Boston's 7-2 victory.
"There are honestly so many great moments from my first season. Scoring my first goal in my first pro game was pretty special and was even cooler to be able to do it on home ice," said Brand. "Probably the biggest highlight of the season, though, was being able to come play in Minnesota in front of so many family and friends who have supported me from the very start of this crazy journey hockey has taken me on."
After scoring a goal in a 5-2 win over Metropolitan on Dec. 9, Brand ended the regular season by putting together a five-game scoring streak. That streak started with a goal in a 5-4 win over Minnesota on Jan. 12, an assist in a 4-1 loss to Buffalo on Jan. 26, an assist in a 3-1 win over Connecticut on Feb. 2, the game-winning goal and an assist in an 8-1 victory over Metropolitan on Feb. 18 and three assists in a 6-1 victory over Connecticut on Feb. 24.
Brand also played in a 3-2 loss to Metropolitan on Oct. 27, a 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 18, a 2-1 win over Connecticut on Dec. 30, a 5-0 loss to Buffalo on Jan. 5 and a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on March 2.
Buffalo's Maddie Elia led the league with 12 goals while Boston's Jillian Dempsey and Gigi Marvin tied Buffalo's Hayley Scamurra for second with 10 goals. Metropolitan's Amanda Kessel tallied 15 assists to top the league while Boston's Haley Skarupa and Buffalo's Blake Bolden tied for second with 12 assists. Scamurra led the league with 20 points while Elia and Minnesota's Jonna Curtis had 19 points. Skarupa followed with 18 points.
Minnesota won the regular-season title with a 12-4 record for 24 points. Buffalo was second with an 11-4-1 record and 23 points while Boston followed. Metropolitan (4-12 for 8 points) and Connecticut (2-12-2 for 6 points) rounded out the league standings. The Pride led the league by scoring 60 goals while allowing 36 goals.
"My role on the team this year was to be a hard-working and goal-scoring forward," said Brand. "Our team had so much depth and talent this year, which made it really easy to adjust and learn from those who have been playing in this league from the start. We had a great group of veteran leaders on our team that really helped us rookies adjust to the pro level."
Boston received the No. 3 seed for the Isobel Cup playoffs and was eliminated with a 4-0 loss to No. 2 Buffalo in the semifinals on March 9 in the single-elimination tournament.
The National Women's Hockey League was founded in 2015 with a mission of providing strong female role models for the community while fueling the continued growth of the sport and brand of women's hockey. The NWHL is currently comprised of nearly 100 players and attracts many of the best players in the world and allows them to pursue their careers professionally. When the puck dropped for the start of the inaugural season in 2015-16, the NWHL became the first professional women's hockey league in North America. For the first time, women were paid a salary to play hockey. The "Founding Four" franchises were Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and New York (now Metropolitan). Minnesota was added before the start of this season to comprise the current five-team league.
With a year of professional hockey behind her, Brand is looking forward to improving her skills and helping the Pride win the treasured Isobel Cup next season.
"I absolutely love the city of Boston and my teammates here, so I will definitely be wanting to play for the Boston Pride next year," said Brand. "Going into next season, I definitely want to continue working on my shot, being more comfortable shooting the puck from all areas of the ice and focusing on my speed/skating because I believe that is the most important part of the game. I want to continue to increase and progress my production on the ice and become more of a leader in the locker room. I just want to keep working hard and progressing in the sport I love and see where that takes me. As a team, we were very upset with our playoff outcome, so we will be ready to go next year to get the Isobel Cup."