THE BOSTON PRIDE’S success has prompted Jenna Rheault to adjust her game.
Boston has been such an offensive powerhouse in the Premier Hockey Federation this year that the stay-at-home defenseman from Deering has had to get comfortable spending more time in the neutral and offensive zones.
Rheault, a 2019 University of New Hampshire graduate, is in her fourth PHF (formerly NWHL) season playing for Boston, which opens the postseason tonight looking to capture a third straight Isobel Cup.
The top-seeded Pride (19-4-1) and the fourth-seeded Minnesota Whitecaps (10-11-3) will begin their best-of-three semifinal series tonight (7) at Bentley Arena in Waltham, Mass. The series will be streamed on ESPN+ and NESN+ and the winner will advance to the one-game Isobel Cup final on Sunday, March 26 at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona.
“I have been pretty consistent with blocking shots and trying to move the puck quickly but I do think this team does spend a lot of time in the offensive zone and even the neutral zone,” Rheault said. “It’s definitely a transition to be in the offensive zone and the neutral zone more often and those quick transitions can really make or break those offensive plays because our forwards are so talented. If you’re able to get the puck up to them quickly, they can be a real threat to the other team.”
Boston, led by head coach and former NHLer Paul Mara, scored the most goals in the seven-team PHF (92) during the regular season and allowed a league-low 52 goals for a plus-40 differential.
First-year Pride forward Loren Gabel, a Clarkson University graduate and the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, led the PHF in points (40), goals (20) and assists in the regular season.
Rheault’s former UNH teammates Taylor Wenczkowski and Meghara McManus, both forwards, have also contributed to Boston’s offensive success.
Wenczkowski, a 2020 UNH graduate from Rochester, recorded nine points (two goals, seven assists) and went 142-132 on faceoffs over 24 regular-season games. Wenczkowski, who is in her third season with the Pride, scored the game-winning goal in each of the past two Isobel Cup finals. The 25-year-old was named the Isobel Cup playoff MVP last year after scoring a goal in each of Boston’s three postseason games.
Wenczkowski’s seven assists this season ties her career-high mark that she set with her 15-point campaign last year.
“Taylor’s a great, strong player,” McManus said. “She can shoot the puck and she also plays the game the right way. ... She’s a good teammate and we always look to her.”
McManus, a 2020 UNH graduate, has tallied three assists in her third season with the Pride. The right wing from Milton, Mass., has skated alongside Kayla Friesen and Taylor House on Boston’s fourth line for about a month.
McManus, 24, said the Pride have done well cycling the puck down low, looking for the soft spot in the slot, crashing the net for rebounds and creating transition opportunities on offense.
When McManus is on the ice with her line, she tries to have a strong stick on the backcheck, forecheck hard and get the puck out of the defensive zone.
McManus has also spent time after most practices this season helping Rheault improve her transition game and getting the puck quickly up to Boston’s forwards. Rheault, 26, said she works with McManus on dumping the puck lightly and then getting it right back up to her in the neutral zone.
Those “quick-up” drills have also greatly helped McManus improve in areas like her tape-to-tape passes, she said.
“I think focusing on the little things and doing the little things right really translates to the game and helps gain that confidence moving forward,” McManus said.
Rheault has helped lead the Pride’s defensive core. Boston has played most of the season with five defenseman (Rheault, Kaleigh Fratkin, Aneta Tejralova, Kali Flanagan and Olivia Zafuto) due to Lauren Kelly suffering an ankle injury in the preseason.
Rheault (one goal, four assists) has played with all of her fellow defensemen at different points but mostly skates alongside the offensive-minded Fratkin (three goals, nine assists) and Flanagan (three goals, 13 assists). Rheault and Tejralova are tied for the team lead in blocked shots (26).
That defensive core played 22 regular-season games in front of first-year Boston goaltender Corinne Schroeder, who set the PHF single-season records for wins (19) and saves (761). Schroeder played a graduate season at Quinnipiac University last year after four seasons at Boston University.
All of the Pride’s defensemen know their role and each other’s strengths, Rheault said.
“We have some offensive D that really step into the rushes and we have those defensive defenseman that win those battles and block shots,” Rheault said. “This year we have had moments where we might be taking on different roles and those offensive players are blocking shots and those defensive players are stepping into the rush. I think it’s important to first start with those strengths that we have as D and then try to build on that.”
As a veteran on the team, Rheault considers herself among Boston’s leaders. McManus called Rheault a spokesperson in the locker room and said she is always talking on the bench during games, giving compliments or critiques.
Rheault said her message to Boston’s new and younger players entering the postseason was that everyone has to be their best self and play as a team to reach the Isobel Cup final.
“We have to look at what we’re going to be able to do to contribute to the team’s success,” Rheault said, “and, I think, just really focusing on the little things — winning one-on-one battles and making good passes and making smart plays. I think it comes down to those things.”