In only her second season as a professional, McKenna Brand has proven to be one of the best players in the National Women’s Hockey League.
The 2014 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School had a phenomenal second season, finishing second in the league in goals scored with 19 and in points with 36 while leading the NWHL with six game-winning goals. Brand also competed in the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game, finished third in the league MVP voting, and helped lead the Boston Pride to first place in the NWHL standings with a 23-1 record and a spot in the Isobel Cup final.
“My second season playing for the Boston Pride was so awesome. We had such a great group of girls that pretty much clicked and got along right from the start,” said Brand. “Our leaders, coaching staff and organization did an incredible job at setting the standards for our team right away. Basically after our first practice I knew this was going to be a special season based on the character that encompassed our entire organization.”
The Pride dominated the NWHL by winning their first 19 games and outscoring their opponents by a 120-43 margin. The 120 goals scored and 43 goals allowed led the league.
In the season opener, Brand scored a goal in Boston’s 4-2 win over Metropolitan on Oct. 5 and followed with an assist in the Pride’s 4-2 win over Buffalo on Oct. 12. Brand then recorded a natural hat trick (including the game-winner) and an assist in an 8-1 win over Buffalo on Oct. 13 and scored the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win over Minnesota on Oct. 19. Brand had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 victory over Minnesota on Oct. 20 and scored the game-winner while adding two assists in a 7-2 win over Metropolitan on Oct. 26. After tallying an assist in a 5-3 win over Metropolitan on Oct. 27, Brand scored two goals in a 6-1 win over Buffalo on Nov. 16, had a goal and an assist in an 8-0 win over Connecticut on Dec. 23, scored a goal in a 5-2 win over Metropolitan on Nov. 30, and scored the game-winner and had three assists in an 8-3 win over Metropolitan on Dec. 7.
After seeing her 11-game scoring streak end in a 4-3 win over Buffalo on Dec. 21, Brand had an assist in a 4-2 win over Buffalo on Dec. 22 and scored goals in back-to-back games against Connecticut. Brand opened the scoring in a 2-1 win on Dec. 28 and scored the game-winner in a 7-2 win on Dec. 29. Brand then tallied an assist in a 5-2 win over Buffalo on Jan. 4.
Brand was held scoreless in a 7-2 win over Buffalo on Jan. 5 and in a 4-2 win over Connecticut on Jan. 12 before scoring a goal in a 5-3 win over Metropolitan on Jan. 20, tallying a goal and two assists in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota on Jan. 25, and scoring a goal in a 4-2 win over Minnesota on Jan. 26.
At the NWHL All-Star Game, Brand had an assist in helping Team Packer defeat Team Dempsey 5-2 before a sell-out crowd at Boston. Brand also competed in the All-Star Game Accuracy Shooting contest.
“Both (playing in the All-Star Game and finishing third in the NWHL MVP voting) were such a great honor and very humbling considering all of the great players in our league,” said Brand. “The All-Star Game was such a fun experience and being able to share that with my teammates was awesome. Also having my parents (Craig and Cami) out there was something that was very special considering all they have done for me and my hockey career.”
Brand ended the regular season with two assists in a 4-1 win over Connecticut on Feb. 15, the game-winning goal in a 3-0 win over Connecticut on Feb. 22, and a goal and an assist in a 5-0 win over Metropolitan on Feb. 23.
Following Boston’s 46 points in the final regular-season NWHL standings were Minnesota (17-5-2 for 36 points), Metropolitan (10-11-3 for 23 points), Buffalo (8-15-1 for 17 points) and Connecticut (2-20-2 for 6 points).
Brand finished the season with a +31 rating with 17 assists, two blocked shots and 178 shots while scoring a point in 21 of the team’s 24 regular-season games. Teammate Jillian Dempsey led the league in scoring with 40 points, including a league-best 23 assists, while Minnesota’s Allie Thurstrom led the league with 21 goals. Dempsey and Thurstrom shared the NWHL MVP award.
“It was obviously a great feeling (being among the league’s top scores), especially when you know that your role on the team is to put the puck in the net. It’s also nice to see all of the hard work that you put in during the off season paying off,” said Brand, who had 17 points (six goals and 11 assists) in 16 games last season. “Going into every season I have the mindset of doing everything that I possibly can for my team to be successful. I wanted to build upon the season that I had last year and continue to grow as a player and step up more as a leader.”
Boston received the No. 1 seed for the NWHL playoffs and opened with a 5-1 win over No. 5 Connecticut on March 8 as Brand contributed an assist. The Pride were scheduled to play No. 2 Minnesota for the Isobel Cup on March 13, but that game was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That championship game is hoping to be played once the pandemic is over.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was surprised with how well we did because I know a lot of the girls put in the hard work during the off season to be fully prepared to come back this season and have the goal of winning the Cup. I would say that I was much more comfortable coming in this year and playing under the same coach and with the same line mate. I knew that if I worked hard and stayed positive, I would be successful. I also knew that we had a locker room full of hard workers, and if we showed up to every game with a worker mentality we would dominate the league, which is exactly what we did,” said Brand. “I knew based on paper we were going to be a very skilled team that would be well coached so I definitely had the expectation and goal of winning the Isobel Cup. It was a great feeling to make it to the finals and be one step closer to reaching our goal. Obviously we are all pretty devastated that we couldn’t play in the game with everything that is going on right now. We were basically 48 hours away from playing for the Cup when we found out, but we understand that for health reasons it wouldn’t have been smart for Minnesota to fly out to Boston. We are still hopeful the game will be played and we will raise the cup in Boston!”
After stepping up her game in her second season, Brand is looking forward to taking her game to the next level during the 2020-21 campaign.
“During the off season I did power skating and skill sessions with a few of my teammates, which I think was a big contributor to bringing my game to another level. Being able to skate with them and having us all push each other was key and I’m looking forward to doing that again this summer,” said Brand, who graduated from Northeastern University as the all-time leader in games played at 150 while finishing with 111 career points. “I think we should have a lot of the same girls returning, so I expect us to just continue to build upon where we left off this year. Other teams are going to continue to get better and stronger, so we need to do the exact same.”