One of the brightest spots of the past two weekends of Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association action has been the play of goaltender Nicole Hensley.
The Lindenwood grad finished with a .970 save percentage in Saturday’s game at the United Center in Chicago, with the single goal surrendered coming in the final 10 seconds to her USA teammate Brianna Decker. Hensley finished with 34 saves on 35 shots.
It’s some of the best hockey Hensley has played in a long time, when she hasn’t been getting as consistent play since the inception of the PWHPA and she left the NWHL.
wowza! hensly with a massive save on skarupa, huge to keep her shutout going pic.twitter.com/0HKHn58KR2
— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) March 6, 2021
Maybe it’s no surprise she’s played as well as she has seeing the second-most shots of any goalie and coming out as the only goaltender with two victories to her name, along with a solid .953 save percentage over her two games in Chicago and New York.
There’s a good chance Hensley doesn’t make Team USA this Olympic cycle, between Maddie Rooney and Alex Cavallini being mainstays and Aerin Frankel likely working her way there. Then Katie Burt is always in the conversation, too.
The IIHF Women’s World Championship coming up in Halifax should be a better indicator, but it’s tough to imagine Frankel not being the first one to have the opportunity. Hensley doesn’t have a ton of chances to prove herself before then, but her play during these two games can only help, especially since she’s facing a fair share of national players.
[PWHPA: Ryleigh Houston an emerging star]
One of the challenges of the PWHPA is the consistent schedule making it tougher for players to see action, which is always going to affect goalies the most.
With the Buffalo Beauts in the NWHL following the Olympics in 2018, Hensley posted a .935 percentage in 15 games. Her two PWHPA games this tour season has been on par with those numbers.
There are no more scheduled PWHPA tour events as of Tuesday morning, though a partnership with the Toronto Maple Leafs hints there could be a Canadian stop or two in the coming weeks or months.
Now that the World Championships are scheduled for May, there’s a target date to centralize and prepare for a good majority of PWHPA players, which would seem to change the timeline at least in the next month.
The PWHPA hasn’t made clear what its next steps are, but if any of its marketing campaign is any indication, it doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Maybe we’ll get more of a feel in the coming days or weeks what might be next, especially for players who might not get a chance to play at Worlds.
For those vying for an Olympic spot or not, though, consistent play is important, so more games can only help. Especially for Canadian players who are yet to take the ice in the Dream Gap Tour this season, and are also preparing for Worlds and beyond.
Goalies like Hensley and others would surely appreciate it.
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Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.