NWHL heads into semifinals after second team withdraws from tournament

[UPDATE: The 2021 NWHL season has been suspended due to COVID concerns.]

The 2021 NWHL season in Lake Placid certainly hasn’t been quiet.

The Metropolitan Riveters pulled out mid-week due to a Covid outbreak around the team, and Tuesday the Connecticut Whale announced their departure. There were no new positive tests on the team — they had one a week ago, and were staying in the same hotel as a Riveters — but decided as a group it would be safer to refocus on next season.

That leaves four teams left to compete for the Isobel Cup, with the semi-finals featuring the Toronto Six vs. the Buffalo Beauts and the Boston Pride vs. the Minnesota Whitecaps.

On the ice, the action has been thrilling, and there’s a lot to keep an eye on heading into the final three contests of the season.

Best player

Mikyla Grant-Mentis: The Toronto top center has broken out in a big way over the course of the season. With just two NWHL contests under her belt prior to joining the Six, Grant-Mentis has thrived with consistent playing time and has jumped off the ice.

The Brampton, Ontario native has generated five goals and four assists while playing 19:11 a night, including nearly four minutes of power play time per game.

It’s not just her quantity numbers that leap out at you. She’s landed 60 percent of her shots on net and won 61 percent of her faceoffs, according to InStat.

This tournament has been a coming out party for plenty of rookies and young players, but Grant-Mentis has made a legitimate push as not only Toronto’s best player, but the best player on the ice every night.

[MORE: NWHL Preview: 2021 Isobel Cup Playoffs]

Best goal

Grant-Mentis has been a star, but perhaps she shone brightest in Saturday’s win against the Whitecaps.

Toronto had come back to tie Minnesota three times and it looked all but settled it would head into overtime until, with the clock winding down to 23 seconds, Grant-Mentis made sure it didn’t get that far.

Best goaltender

Amanda Leveille: There’s a lot of good goalies in Lake Placid. Last season’s goalie of the year, Lovisa Selander, didn’t nail down her first win until Sunday but her .947 save percentage is no joke.

Rookies Abbie Ives and Carly Jackson have also stood out when called upon, but in the upcoming single elimination spotlight, the goalie who has been in this spot, Leveille, has an advantage too.

Leveille started the tournament hot with a win over Boston and has stayed consistent throughout, with just a single loss to Toronto on Saturday afternoon. Her .936 save percentage ranks just below Selander for best in the tournament of the remaining squads, and she takes on the Pride again in the semi finals.

Best rivalry

Boston and Toronto: These two can only match up again if they make it to the NWHL Isobel Cup.

The Six, ranked as the top seed in the league following a win over Connecticut on Sunday, will face their cross-border rival Buffalo, who has won just a single game, for a chance to get to the title contest.

Boston, meanwhile, will deal with a Whitecaps team with just one loss. However, the Pride squad that dropped the opening game to Minnesota is a lot different now, even if it is two thrashings of the bottom-seeded Beauts.

Toronto earned its first ever franchise win with a victory over Boston last Tuesday night, and hasn’t looked back. A battle between those two for Isobel would be a can’t-miss event.

Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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