Minnesota Whitecaps’ skating superstar Kendall Coyne Schofield. (Photo courtesy of The Ice Garden.)
The NWHL’s top players treated hockey fans in Nashville to an entertaining weekend, including the Skills Challenge at Ford Ice Center on Feb. 9 and the All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 10. A sold out crowd witnessed the impressive skills competition, while a record attendance of 6,120 enjoyed the weekend’s main event.
In addition to the thousands of attending fans, both events were streamed live on Twitter. Over the entire weekend, a combined viewership of nearly one million people tuned in for the pair of events. The teams were led by captains Shannon Szabados, goaltender of the Buffalo Beauts, and Minnesota Whitecaps defender Lee Stecklein.
During the Skills Challenge, in what was likely the most anticipated performance, Kendall Coyne Schofield won the fastest skater competition with a time of 13.9 seconds. This beat her own time at the NHL skills competition two weeks earlier. Beauts goalie Nicole Hensley edged out her teammate Szabados in the event for fastest goaltender.
Beauts forward Dani Cameranesi was the event’s most accurate shooter, while her teammate and defender Blake Bolden won the hardest shot competition at 80 mph. Fans voted on the Trick Shot Challenge, giving the win to Team Szabados for pulling off the Mighty Ducks’ “Flying V” tactic.
Team Stecklein took the Go for Goal Shootout Relay, knotting the competition at 3-3 and forcing a tiebreaker. Captain and goalie Szabados stopped two breakaway shots against captain Stecklein, giving Team Szabados the victory in the Skills Challenge.
At the All-Star Game, Team Szabados were in control during the first half, outshooting Team Stecklein 16-12. At the midway point of the opening half, Metropolitan Riveters forward Audra Richards scored to put Team Szabados ahead 1-0. About three minutes later, Connecticut Whale forward Katerina Mrázová extended her team’s lead to 2-0.
However, Team Stecklein pushed back in the second half and dominated for the most part. Beauts defender Lisa Chesson scored 55 seconds into the second half, cutting Team Szabados’ lead in half. Whale forward Emily Fluke later tied the game, forcing a shootout. Riveters star forward Amanda Kessel scored the lone shootout goal, giving Team Szabados a 3-2 victory.
Although Team Szabados left Nashville with a sweep of the all-star festivities, this event was not about winning. It was truly about growing women’s hockey and inspiring the next generation of female hockey players. Throughout the course of these two events, the NWHL All-Star weekend was successful in contributing to this ongoing process.