Ottawa Is Finding Itself

The frustrated fan will sometimes lament that their team “has no identity.” This is up there with “they play with no heart” and “[coach] has lost the locker room,” expressions that confuse symptoms of losing with the cause. Most often what the fan means is that the team does have an identity, and the identity is “being bad.”

Still, however dubious the concept, it was fair to wonder at the beginning of the PWHL season, before Ottawa had won or lost any games, what exactly the team was supposed to be. You could look over to Toronto, its roster nearly all Canadian and its stars mainstays of that national team—that was an identity. You could see an elite defensive group taking shape in Boston. Or a Minnesota team full of homegrown talents. But Ottawa? “A lot of us are foreigners. I don’t think anyone is local to Ottawa, even,” the team’s alternate captain Jincy Roese told the AP before the season started. She said a team-bonding activity had been learning to say “Let’s go!” in different languages; Ottawa’s roster includes players from Germany, Hungary, Czechia, and Japan. They’re all saying “Let’s go!” pretty often these days. In the final stretch of the PWHL’s regular season, the youngest team in the league is beginning to figure itself out.

For much of the season, Ottawa’s stayed in the hunt thanks to loser points. Their much-needed shootout victory over Boston last night, a win that put them in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth, snapped a bizarre streak: In games that went past regulation, Ottawa had an 0-6 record. Now, all of a sudden, Ottawa has won five of their last six, having won just four of the 15 games before that.

See also  The First CBA In Women’s Hockey Is A Picture Of The Future, And A Story Of The Past

The turnaround owes to some newfound offensive chemistry. Scoring was a struggle early in the season for Ottawa, but captain Brianne Jenner, Katerina Mrázová, and Daryl Watts are all among the league’s top 10 scorers now, and they make up one of the best lines in the PWHL (and the best power play). Jenner, named MVP of Team Canada at the 2022 Olympics, has established herself as one of the sport’s smartest playmakers, but her linemates have been the real revelations. The 31-year-old Mrázová was an eighth-round draft pick, and she’s won games with her craftiness, like in the silky shootout game winner Wednesday night, one of her two shootout goals. “She’s the heartbeat of our team. The backbone. She’s so calm, cool, and collected, as we all saw in the shootout,” said teammate Emily Clark.

On Mrázová’s wing is another high-upside draft pick who’s hit big: Watts retired from hockey after graduating in 2022 and being overlooked by the Canadian national team, but returned to sign with the Toronto Six of the PHF in 2023. She looked rusty in her first season of professional play, putting up just seven points in 12 games, and the PHF folded not long after she signed a contract to become the highest-paid professional player in the sport. After a snakebitten start to her PWHL career, she’s found her footing. Watts put up her 13th point in her last 12 games yesterday, assisting on a Jenner goal that evened the game up after Hilary Knight scored early for Boston. A second line of Clark, Hayley Scamurra, and Gabbie Hughes creates together on the forecheck, giving Ottawa some scoring depth. (And yes, as tends to be the case with team hot streaks, the goaltending hasn’t hurt. Emerance Maschmeyer’s strong run of performances in net includes a 35-save shutout of Minnesota last Saturday.)

See also  When will Nika Muhl play for the Seattle Storm? Behind the visa issue sidelining the former UConn star

The playoff implications make Wednesday night’s win over Boston their biggest of the season, but Ottawa’s coolest win arguably came last month over a Toronto team riding an 11-game win streak at the time. As Ottawa clung to a 5-3 lead in the final minutes of the third period, the crowd chanted “End the streak!” It was Watts who ended the streak with a third-period goal that ended up being the game winner. “When we score it just feels electric. I know people use that word lightly, but it really feels electric,” she said after the game. “Every time we score I get chills in my body. It’s crazy.”

Montreal may have just set a women’s hockey attendance record, and the crowds in Toronto and Minnesota are nothing to sneeze at. But the atmosphere in Ottawa has made their home games the most fun to watch. It says something about the fanbase—about their commitment and sprit—that they’ve stayed boisterous through the early-season lows, that they were legitimately angry at the trade that sent fan favorite Lexie Adzija to Boston at the March deadline, and that Adzija received one of those tribute videos upon her return to town last night, even though she was only there for 17 games. This afternoon, the team announced they’ll have their logo at center ice for their regular-season finale against Montreal on Saturday, and presumably for the playoff games to come. Whatever Ottawa’s identity, the city has embraced it.

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *