Without question, Mikyla Grant-Mentis was the breakout star of the 2021 NWHL regular season. Her form, though sluggish in the initial few games was nothing short of impressive as the Isobel Cup tournament progressed. She finished the season on a high with back-to-back massive three-point games and a combined +6 (as much credence as one can give to +/- these days).
Heading into the 2021 NWHL Isobel Cup playoffs, can Grant-Mentis sustain this scintillating form?
History at the collegiate level tells us that Grant-Mentis has a tendency to let the pressure get to her. Over a two-game series with the Merrimack Warriors against Providence in 2019, Grant-Mentis failed to register a single point in both of these games, getting no more than three shots off each game. This isn’t anything new – in the quarterfinal against Boston College in 2016-17 she had no points across both games in the series. That being said, Merrimack were never the favourites in any of these series, never finishing higher than fifth with an average position of eighth at the conclusion of the regular season.
In her sole NWHL playoff appearance with the Buffalo Beauts in 2019-20, Grant-Mentis improved, registering a goal and an assist. Still, her face-off percentage was a meager 42.9 per cent. Buffalo were eliminated 5-3 at the hands of the Connecticut Whale, meaning that Grant-Mentis hasn’t been on the winning side of a single playoff game, let alone a series since her junior days. Grant-Mentis likely is aware of this more than anyone else — look to her to use this to fuel her 2021 Isobel Cup performance.
Hungry for Glory
It’s clear that Grant-Mentis hasn’t fared strongly in the playoffs, but it’s also evident that she’s been unfortunate to have been a part of some underwhelming team performances. How big of a contributor was she to those losses?
Faceoff wins result in puck possession, there’s no denying of that. In the playoffs, puck possession is paramount. It is well known that teams with higher puck possession metrics tend to have better results, especially against teams with lower regular-season puck possession averages. An analytic such as Net Shots Post-Face-Off can back this theory; it takes into account shot flow in the 10 seconds following a face-off in 5-vs-5 play. Three of the top 15 NHL players in 2020-21 so far are members of the 2020 Stanley Cup champions and Central Division leaders Tampa Bay Lightning (Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, Steven Stamkos). Comparatively, three of the bottom 15 are Ottawa Senators (last in the North Division) with Josh Norris and Derek Stepan being the outright worst two in the league.
Grant-Mentis posted a near identical regular season face-off winning percentage in both 2019-20 and 2020-21 – 61.0 and 61.1 per cent. What’s concerning is her post-season decline to 42.9 per cent in the 2020 playoffs and in that single game she was also responsible for two turnovers. For perspective, that’s at three times the rate that she did in the 2020-21 regular season. At the same time, it’s important to remember that it was just that – a single playoff game, and her NWHL playoff debut at that. If she can get this sorted by the time that the Toronto Six take on the Boston Pride later this month, the Six stand a greater chance of doing what no Toronto hockey team has done against a Boston team in the past decade: survive past the first round.
The last time these two teams met it ended in a 2-1 win for the Six. Grant-Mentis? Oh, she just happened to net the game-winner. This is Grant-Mentis’ moment to shine and prove the naysayers wrong. The hottest goal scorer in the NWHL, she’s proven us wrong before – why can’t she prove history wrong this time around?