The Premier Hockey Federation's Isobel Cup Final will be a clash between one first-time championship contender, and one former title holder looking to add another.
It took a sensational overtime win in the semifinals for the Toronto Six to eventually punch their ticket to a Final. Toronto's opponent -- the Minnesota Whitecaps -- had to top the league's defending back-to-back champions to make their third Final appearance in four seasons.
Now the plucky upstarts and wily veterans will meet in Sunday's finale at Mullet Arena in Arizona. When they do, it'll mark the first Isobel Cup Final to feature two teams led by female coaches, in Toronto's Geraldine Heaney and Minnesota's Ronda Engelhardt.
Puck drop is 6 p.m. MDT/9 p.m. EST with coverage airing on ESPN2 and TSN.
Given the road both clubs took to the Final there's no doubt it'll be dramatic. Get ready with the names, news and notes to know before Toronto and Minnesota take to the ice.
How the (Mid)west won
It was one thing for Minnesota to defeat the two-time defending champion Boston Pride.
It's quite another that the Whitecaps swept Boston out of the postseason with two straight wins in their best-of-three semifinal series. Talk about a turnaround.
Minnesota was 0-4 in their previous meetings against the Pride and stumbled their way into the playoffs with eight consecutive losses. The Whitecaps had an underwhelming regular season overall, grabbing a fourth-place finish with just 33 points.
The postseason, of course, is its own beast. Minnesota wasn't rattled by it's previous results, and jettisoned Boston by a combined score of 9-3 in their postseason matches. The Pride hadn't previously lost two straight games all year.
The Whitecaps feat sent them back to the franchise's third Final in four seasons. Minnesota hasn't won it all since 2019, when they topped the Buffalo Beauts 2-1 in overtime. The Whitecaps followed that up with a 4-3 loss to Boston in the 2021 Final. Those two sides were meant to square off in a Final the season before as well, but the PHF cancelled that tilt amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Whitecaps have another chance to be the PHF's reigning champions -- if they can hold off a surging Six team.
This won't just be Toronto's first Final opportunity. It's also the first time a Canadian PHF team has reached the championship bout.
And it nearly didn't happen at all.
The Six were already down 1-0 to the Connecticut Whale in their best-of-three semifinal series and facing elimination in Game 2 before rallying from a two-goal deficit to force overtime. That's where Emma Woods scored the most important goal in Six franchise history to not only keep Toronto's championship hopes alive in a 3-2 victory but mark the franchise's first-ever postseason win (the Six were previously 0-3 in the playoffs).
That momentum carried Toronto into a decisive 3-0 win in Game 3 to set the stage for Sunday's appearance.
It's the next chapter in what's been a strong season for the Six. They finished second in league standings with 51 points, just three back of the top-seeded Pride. But don't let the 18-point gap separating Toronto and Minnesota fool you -- it's winner-take-all in Tempe. And there's firepower on either side capable of carrying their team towards hosting a Cup.
Who to watch: Whitecaps
Minnesota might have avoided so many regular season struggles if goaltender Amanda Leveille had been available.
The Whitecaps netminder -- who produced a .923 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average, both ranked second in the league -- was sidelined by injury for six of their final eight games. Leveille looked better than ever making 47 stops in Game 2 to send Boston packing. Minnesota's 4-1 win was just the second time all season the Pride were held to a single goal, more testament to Leveille's game-changing ability that the Whitecaps will lean on again in the Final.
The team's attack up front has been led by forward Jonna Albers. She had four goals -- including two shorthanded -- and five points in Minnesota's victories over Boston, prompting Pride coach Paul Mara to admit Albers was "all-world ... she beat us almost single-handedly; she was incredible."
Keep an eye out too for forward Natalie Snodgrass, who tied for the third-most regular season game-winning goals and notched another marker in Game 2 against Boston.
Who to watch: Six
The Isobel Cup Final might boil down to a battle between great goaltenders.
Toronto's response to the excellent play of Minnesota's Leveille will be its own powerhouse netminder, Elaine Chuli. The Six's 3-0 win in Game 3 over Connecticut was Chuli's first-ever playoff shutout and should give Toronto plenty of confidence their goalie -- who had a .917 SV% and 2.61 GAA in the regular season -- can go save-for-save with Leveille on Sunday.
The Six are no one-trick pony, though. Toronto received contributions across the board throughout its semifinal stint. Forward Brittany Howard collected two goals and four points, while Michela Cava's three goals and four points are both tied for second-most among postseason skaters.
And the Six have strong support from the back end, as Kati Tabin lead the playoff field with three assists.
If there's one thing Sunday's Final shouldn't lack, it's fireworks. Whether through big-time stops or jaw-dropping goals, the semifinals proved Minnesota and Toronto are stacked with potential difference-makers across the board.
What the Whitecaps are saying
Head coach Ronda Engelhardt on what worked vs. Boston: "The big thing was just trying to stay consistent, stay mentally strong, mentally engaged, the entire game. We had to play with discipline, we had to do the little things we had talked about all year long. We just needed the players to commit to that and they did. They exceeded everything we've asked of them. Building off that knowing that we can do it, hopefully that gives them confidence going into [the Final], and to start the game with our pace and let us bring the pace to them."
Goaltender Amanda Leveille on prepping for the Six: "We're really confident going into the game this week. We played extremely well against Boston; we really suffocated their offense, and we know that we have to continue that against Toronto. They have a lot of really talented players on the offensive side along with their goaltender Elaine Chuli, who's awesome as well. We're just going to continue building off [our success] and go into this weekend playing the we [have been]."
What the Six are saying
Head coach Geraldine Heaney on matching up with Minnesota: "I think we just play our game. We've always focused on worrying about our team [first], and we can only control what we can do out on the ice. And if we do what we can do [well] and stay out of the box, we're going to be successful. We really focus a lot on the defensive zone, and we talk about how defense wins championships because we definitely have the offensive power to score goals. So if we can just take care of [ourselves] first, we'll definitely be successful."
Forward Shiann Darkangelo on how Toronto grew from its semifinal: "I just learned that this is a resilient group, that's not going to give up no matter if we're down a goal or have to come back in a game. I think that showed in the series [with Connecticut]. It was weirdly good that we took the hit [and lost] the first game. It showed that we had to bounce back, and we were able to have each other's backs to do that. So that was pretty exciting."