Hockey: McKenna Brand helps Boston Pride defend Isobel Cup
The 2014 Park Rapids graduate wins back-to-back professional hockey titles.
TAMPA – It wasn’t easy, but McKenna Brand and the Boston Pride successfully defended the Isobel Cup.
The 2014 Park Rapids graduate, who is in her fourth professional season playing for the Pride of the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League), helped Boston win the Isobel Cup with a 4-2 victory over the Connecticut Whale at AdventHealth Center Ice near Tampa, Florida, on March 28. The game was televised on ESPN2.
The Pride used goals by Evelina Raselli and Taylor Wenczkowski 12 seconds apart in the third period along with an empty-net goal to overcome a 2-1 deficit and win the Isobel Cup for the third time in franchise history.
“It was definitely very challenging. It always seems like everyone is rooting against Boston, but we like that. Our team thrives off trying to prove people wrong. I don’t think many people thought we were going to win this year except us,” said Brand. “We were celebrated at the Bruins game last week and have an event with the Mayor of Boston this week, so it has been so fun sharing the Cup with the city and feeling the love from them again. It feels incredible.”
Tough road to the Cup
Despite dominating in the playoffs, the regular season was a grind for Brand and the Pride.
After opening the season with a 7-2 record, Boston ended the regular season with a 3-8 mark for a 10-10 overall record and 32 points. Connecticut won the regular season title with a 15-5 record and 47 points with Toronto right behind at 16-4 and 46 points. Metropolitan (7-13 for 21 points), Minnesota (6-14 for 19 points) and Buffalo (6-14 for 15 points) rounded out the six-team league standings.
Brand scored five goals and had 10 assists for 15 points to rank tied for 12th in the league in assists and tied for 14th in the league in points. The Boston forward also had 83 shots on goal, 90 total shots and four blocks in the 20 regular season games.
Brand had a goal and an assist in a season-opening 6-4 win over Minnesota on Nov. 6 and scored the game-winning goal shorthanded in a 1-0 victory over Minnesota on Nov. 7. Brand followed with assists in a 4-3 win over Connecticut on Nov. 13, a 2-1 win over Minnesota on Nov. 21, a 2-1 win over Toronto on Dec. 4 and an 8-2 victory over Toronto on Dec. 5. Brand tallied two assists in a 3-1 win over Metropolitan on Jan. 22 and had an assist in a 6-1 loss to Connecticut on Feb. 6. Brand had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win over Buffalo on Feb. 26, two goals in a 4-3 loss to Toronto on March 13, and an assist in a 2-1 loss to Buffalo on March 19.
“Obviously we reached the end team goal and that is really all that matters at the end of the day, but our team overall struggled with scoring this year. Production was down across the board during the regular season. There were times where we would have so many chances during a game, but nothing was finding the back of the net,” said Brand. “We just kept saying ‘If we keep working hard, they will have to go in eventually, right’. And they finally did during the playoffs! So I would have obviously loved to have produced more during the season, but I am proud of the way my teammates and I battled through the droughts and were confident it would come eventually.”
Boston, which lost the final five games of the regular season in overtime, received the No. 3 seed for the playoffs. Despite not carrying momentum into the tournament, Brand and her teammates relied on the experience gained during last year’s run to the title to bring the Isobel Cup back to Boston.
“Confidence was a little low after those five games, but after our last regular season game we all decided that it was a new season and we were confident with who we had in the locker room. We knew we had all the talent and just needed to match that with heart and raise our compete levels and that is exactly what we did,” said Brand. “I think that (winning the Cup last season) played a huge role in winning the Cup this year. We had a large group of rookies last year, so having a team with pretty much all returning players with experience playing in big games was I think the biggest part of our success.”
Boston opened the single-elimination playoffs with a 6-0 win over Buffalo on March 25 as Brand assisted on two goals and followed with a 5-1 win over Toronto in the semifinals on March 27 as Brand tallied an assist.
“I think playing three games in four days was actually good for us. We were able to get on a roll and kept that momentum going throughout the playoffs,” said Brand. “Each championship season had their own struggles, last year having an abbreviated season with COVID and then this year our team struggled more than usual during the regular season. To put it all together in the end was such a great feeling. We knew we could do it and confidence was high going into the playoffs. I'm just so proud of the group we have and how we persevered throughout the season.”
In the finals, Connecticut took a 2-1 lead early in the second period and had a five-minute power-play opportunity. Boston was able to skate off that major penalty with no further damage. That was key to setting up the game-winning rally in the third period.
“That was huge. I remember everyone saying on the bench after we killed that penalty off that we were going to win this game. We felt the momentum switch in that moment and went into the locker room feeling really good,” said Brand. “The Whale are a great team. They have some very young talented players and are well coached. We knew it was going to be a much tighter game and tougher than our earlier playoff games against Buffalo and Toronto, but we knew if we played our hearts out and left everything out there we would be champions again.”
Looking to ‘3peat’
After winning back-to-back Isobel Cup titles, Brand and the Pride will look to ‘3peat’ next season.
“Expectations are high again next year. I assume most players will be coming back to try for another Cup,” said Brand, who has 33 goals and 42 assists for 75 points during the regular season and one goal and five assists for 6 points in seven playoff games during her career. “We will have an even bigger target on our backs and everyone will be coming for us, giving us their best game. And like I said before, we love that target and thrive with that. We will do whatever it takes to win again.”