While most Minnesota sports teams will get your hopes up, tug on your emotions, and ultimately break your heart come playoff time (looking at you, Twins and Vikings), we have one electrifying home team that’s simply a cut above the rest. I’m talking about the NWHL superstar Minnesota Whitecaps.
This weekend, the defending NWHL National Champions kicked off their 2019-2020 home season at TRIA Rink against the Metropolitan Riveters. The Whitecaps opened their first home game of the season with a commanding 9-2 win over the Riveters. Their second game was not as fortuitous, as the Whitecaps came out on the bottom losing 3-4, splitting the series.
Whitecaps forward and Maplewood, MN native Allie Thunstrom shared some thoughts after Sunday’s fall to the Riveters. “It wasn’t the outcome that we wanted, but you have to hand it to the Riveters.” Thunstrom said. “To come back out today after yesterday’s game, they played phenomenal and played us hard. We didn’t get those bounces this game but we still did a lot of really positive things.”
It’s no surprise that the Whitecaps may be expecting teams to press against them a little bit harder this season. After last season’s triumphant success as the Isobel Cup champs, the expectations are high for the Caps.
“I think we knew we had a target on our back going into this season.” Thunstrom says. “The Whitecaps themselves have been around for years, but we were the new kids on the block last year. People who follow the league didn’t necessarily know what to expect with us joining the league last year. This year I think there’s a little bit more pressure. People have higher expectations of our team, but we’re keeping it business as usual. We’re here to compete every day and hope for the best outcome but we’re not adding any extra pressure ourselves.”
Although splitting the series may not have been the ideal outcome, Thunstrom mentions there are plenty of positives to take away from the series. “Last year we started out the season 8-0, so taking some of those knocks early this season is going to help our group. We have plenty of depth to put pucks in the back of the net.”
It’s no question that the excitement for the Whitecaps season home opener was felt among the entire community. Nestled on top of the 5th floor of the Treasure Island Center in downtown St. Paul, TRIA Rink is a hidden gem that quickly fills up with hockey fans of all generations. When I entered the rink, I was warmly greeted to the sight of packed stands, with many people proudly sporting the blue and white.
I was especially delighted to see an entire young girls hockey team front row, wearing their team jerseys and cheering the Whitecaps on. As someone who grew up playing competitive girls hockey, I couldn’t help but to feel slightly sentimental. It’s so special to see women’s hockey so positively supported and passed down to younger generations of players and fans, and Thunstrom shares the same sentiment.
“For the older players on our team, there wasn’t really women’s hockey when we were growing up. We grew up watching the NHL stars and going to those games, and when you’re young it never really clicks that it’s something that isn’t necessarily for you. We of course had those dreams of scoring the game seven winning goal of the Stanley Cup final, and at the time it wasn’t really a reality. So to be able to have a professional women’s team in Minnesota so we can be those role models for the young girls playing hockey all over our state is special.”
Shared love and enthusiasm between team and fans, The Whitecaps home opener proved that The State of Hockey is capable of showing just as much love and adoration to women’s hockey as it does the boys. If you haven’t already, make sure to come out to a game and experience the fun yourself.
“Come out and support women athletes and women’s athletics.” Thunstrom says. “There’s a lot of momentum and success in women’s sports right now. Whitecaps games are fun to watch. It’s a slightly different game from men’s hockey being as it’s not as physical, but there’s a lot of skill and finesse involved. I think people always walk away (from our games) being impressed and it’s honestly just a super fun atmosphere. So give it a chance, you might actually love it. Most people do.”