PWHL

First PWHL trade paying dividends in playoffs for Minnesota and Boston

Sophie Jaques and Susanna Tapani are both shining on new teams after the PWHL's first trade in February. Minnesota and Boston are tied 1-1 in the best-of-five Walter Cup final. Game 3 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

Sophie Jaques, Susanna Tapani shining on new teams after February trade

A hockey player in a white jersey with Minnesota written on it handles the puck on the ice.
PWHL Minnesota defender Sophie Jaques had two goals in her team's 3-0 Game 2 win over Boston. The best-of-five Walter Cup championship series is tied 1-1. (PWHL)

Sophie Jaques had only just returned to her feet when she picked up the puck near the blue line.

The rookie Minnesota defender carried it a few feet, creating space for herself, and then let it go from the dot. She beat Boston goaltender Aerin Frankel cleanly, one of two goals she scored in her team's 3-0 Game 2 win over Boston.

In addition to adding an empty-net goal in the final minutes of the game, 23-year-old Jaques also had a textbook backcheck on Hilary Knight and a team-leading three hits.

It all came against the team that traded her in February, a little more than a month into her first professional season. The best-of-five Walter Cup championship series is tied 1-1, with Game 3 set for Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Minnesota.

"All the players and coaching staff [in Minnesota] have been great at welcoming me in, and I feel like I've been put in a position that plays to my strengths and has allowed me to succeed with the team so far," said Jaques, who is from Toronto.

The first-ever PWHL trade, which saw Boston send Jaques to Minnesota in exchange for forward Susanna Tapani and depth defender Abby Cook, has been a win for both teams.

WATCH | Minnesota ends Boston's playoff streak in Game 2 of Walter Cup final:

Minnesota evens up PWHL Walter Cup final with shutout win over Boston

23 days ago
Duration 2:43
Minnesota's Sophie Jaques scored twice in game two as the home team scored a 3-0 win over Boston to even up the series at 1-1.

While Jaques has shown off her hockey IQ and shot, and is tied for the league lead in playoff points (five) with Minnesota teammate Taylor Heise, Tapani has been just as impactful for Boston.

She scored two overtime game winners in the semifinal series against Montreal before adding a goal in Boston's 4-3 Game 1 win. She also doesn't shy away from physical play.

"That trade, it just gave us a little bit more depth up front that we were looking for," Boston head coach Courtney Kessel said before the final series began.

Multi-sport athlete

When Brian Idalski recruited Tapani to play at the University of North Dakota more than a decade ago, he believed she had the potential to be one of the best female hockey players ever.

She came to North America from Finland with an intriguing skill set that featured size and explosive skating.

"She can skate for miles," Idalski said. "A lot of that is due to ringette. She is probably one of the best, if not the best, ringette player in the world."

Tapani has a long resume in hockey. She's competed at three Olympic Games and nine world championship tournaments for Finland, on top of playing professionally in Europe for years. 

A hockey player wearing a green Boston jersey looks on during a game.
PWHL Boston forward Susanna Tapani isn't just a hockey star. She's won multiple world championships with Finland in ringette. (Adam Richins/PWHL)

But hockey hasn't been her sole focus. Tapani, 31, has won several world championships with Finland's national ringette team. She also came close to playing university tennis as a walk-on at North Dakota.

"She's probably the greatest athlete all the way around that I've ever coached or been around," said Idalski, who is now the head coach of the women's hockey program at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

Tapani only spent one season at North Dakota, which eliminated its women's hockey program in 2017. But Idalski coached her again in 2021-22 with KRS Vanke Rays in a Russian women's hockey league.

Tapani's 200-foot play was a big part of the reason why that team won the league championship that season, according to Idalski.

"She's just as competitive down low and in the D-zone as she is creating offence," the coach said.

"Game 2 in our finals, she backchecks so fast, and then caught someone from behind, picked their pocket. Then we go down the other way and score and win by one goal. That kind of just solidified the series for us. She's doing the same things in the PWHL."

'Someone that can make or break a game'

Tapani didn't play competitive hockey last season, choosing to focus on ringette. But Minnesota still selected her in the 5th round of last September's PWHL draft.

At a pre-season camp in December, Heise picked Tapani when asked to name the most underrated player in the league.

Heise pointed out that Tapani has been a threat to score no matter where she's played in her career. She praised her quick release.

"She is someone that can make or break a game," Heise said at the time.

WATCH | Hockey North: Is goaltending the X-factor in PWHL final?

Will goaltending be the X factor in the PWHL final, and how can Minnesota bounce back?| Hockey North

23 days ago
Duration 7:07
Rob Pizzo is joined by Saroya Tinker to discuss game 1 of the PWHL final and whether high-scoring games will be the theme for the rest of the series.

A month into the season, Boston was struggling to score goals. The team was losing close games and often not scoring first.

Boston GM Danielle Marmer looked to Tapani as a solution. She saw her as a "natural goal scorer" who could be a first- or second-line centre, and liked her enough to give up a special young player in Jaques.

"She has such a high IQ," Marmer told CBC Sports after making the trade.

Tapani, who was the only player in the PWHL to play 26 games in the inaugural season due to the trade, finished with 13 points including four goals. She also led Finland in scoring as the team won a bronze medal at this year's world championship, registering six points in seven games.

A women's hockey player shoots into an empty net as an out-stretched goalie attempts to make a save.
Tapani scored overtime game-winning goals against Montreal in both Games 1 and 3 of the semifinal series. The Game 3 winner clinched the series for her team. (Mark Stockwell/The Associated Press)

But perhaps none of the goals she's scored this season have been as important as the two overtime game-winners against Montreal.

Idalski wasn't surprised.

"I've coached a lot of Olympians and national team players, coaching for 25 years," he said. "She's a special, special athlete, and an even better human being."

Offensive flair and physicality

While PWHL Minnesota gave up a scoring threat in Tapani, GM Natalie Darwitz knew exactly what Jaques is capable of doing.

Darwitz watched Jaques up close as a coach with the University of Minnesota while Jaques dominated at rival Ohio State University.

In her final college season, Jaques became only the second defender to win the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the best female college hockey player. The other? Hockey Hall of Famer and former Team USA star, Angela Ruggiero.

"Every time she was on the ice [at Ohio State], she was just a dominant threat," Darwitz told CBC Sports after the trade.

"There were times where, in disbelief, I'd be like, 'How did she even make that play or get open or how did she do it again?'"

Darwitz hoped to put Jaques in a position where she could feel comfortable and thrive on and off the ice. The trade reunited her with two former Ohio State teammates in Liz Schepers and Clair DeGeorge.

A group of hockey players celebrate along the boards.
Jaques (16) celebrates with her Minnesota teammates during Tuesday's 3-0 Game 2 win. (PWHL)

On the ice, Jaques claimed a role on the power play, showing off a booming shot from the point and strong instincts on when to join the rush. After registering zero points in seven games with Boston, Jaques had 10 points in 15 games in Minnesota.

"Her poise with the puck and the way she moves it has been great," Kessel said on Tuesday about her former player. "I think the trade worked out for both of us."

Minnesota head coach Ken Klee was expecting Jaques to be dynamic offensively. What surprised him is how physical Jaques can be.

That element of her game will be crucial on a team that doesn't have a ton of physical players when competing against Boston, one of the most physical teams.

"That's been a really nice addition to our group because the league is so physical," Klee told CBC Sports in April.

"I think if you would ask any of the coaches if they would like to add more physical [defenders], I think everyone would agree, yes."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. You can reach her at karissa.donkin@cbc.ca.

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