Kendall Coyne Schofield and Taylor Heise celebrate earlier in the series and played a huge role in Minnesota’s run to become the first-ever champions of the PWHL. LPH PHOTO BY GREG NAYMAN

Heise earns MVP honors as Minnesota become inaugural winners of Walter Cup

PWHL Minnesota defeated Boston 3-0 Wednesday night to claim the inaugural Walter Cup.

Liz Schepers, Michela Cava and Kendall Coyne Schofield scored for Minnesota, who made an improbable comeback against Toronto in the semifinals and outlasted a strong Boston team and the outstanding goaltending of Aerin Frankel to become the first team in PWHL history to hoist the league’s championship trophy.

The win capped off a memorable season, not just for Minnesota, but for the Professional Women’s Hockey League, which shattered attendance records and became must-watch television by showcasing the world’s greatest female players.

Game 4 went into double overtime and was not without controversy. With just over three minutes remaining in the second overtime, No. 1 overall pick and the leading scorer in the playoffs, Taylor Heise, carried the puck around a Boston defender before cutting hard to the crease in a scoring attempt. In the process she lost an edge and slid into the crease and Frankel. Meanwhile the puck squirted loose and Sophie Jaques buried what appeared to be the series-clinching goal. But the goal was disallowed after replay officials determined Heise’s contact with Frankel was goaltender interference.

The game played on, but not for much longer. Boston’s Alina Muller scored with 1:24 left to give Boston the win and send the series back to Lowell, Mass. for Game 5.

After 13,104 fans attended Game 4 in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center, Game 5 sold out a capacity crowd of 6,309 at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.

While Game 4 will go down as the most memorable of the series, Game 5 did not disappoint. Minnesota came out strong and controlled play for most of 60 minutes, outshooting Boston 44-17. Frankel was once again outstanding. She turned away all nine shots she faced in the first period and it took until 6:14 of the second period for Minnesota to finally score their first goal against her in more than 102 minutes.

Former Mounds View High School star Sydney Brodt, who scored a big goal in Game 2, tried to fire a bouncing puck at Frankel, but fanned on the shot. She was able to corral the puck and carry it to the side of the net, dragging a sprawling Frankel with her before sliding the puck across the crease to teammate Liz Schepers, who tapped it home for a 1-0 lead. For Schepers, a Minnesota native and former star at Mound Westonka High School, it was her first PWHL goal and couldn’t have come at a better time.

Sydney Brodt celebrates her game-winning goal in Game 2. The North Oaks native also assisted on the game-winning goal in Game 5. LPH PHOTO BY GREG NAYMAN

One of the big reasons Minnesota was able to win the championship was their production throughout their lineup. Brodt scored a huge goal in Game 2, also her first of the season. But the biggest reason was the production of their top line of Heise, Cava and Coyne Schofield. The trio combined for 10 goals and 10 assists in their 10 games.

Michela Cava had an outstanding series with four goals and four assists. LPH PHOTO BY MIKE THILL

Leading 1-0, Cava, who was sensational in the series, scored on a wraparound attempt that deflected off a skate and past Frankel. From there Minnesota dominated. In the third period Minnesota outshot Boston 19-3. Fittingly, Coyne Schofield, not only the captain of Minnesota, but somewhat of a godmother of women’s hockey, sprang loose with her still exceptional speed and banged  home an empty-netter to seal the win.

Coyne Schofield has been a member of several championship teams in her career, but admitted being a part of the historic win of the inaugural Walter Cup was at the top of the list.

“This is the new pinnacle of women’s hockey,” she said. “To be on top is the best feeling in the world. To be on top with this group is extremely special and I can’t wait to get back to the state of Minnesota and celebrate.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield scored the final goal of the PWHL’s inaugural season, an empty netter that sealed the Walter Cup for Minnesota. LPH PHOTO BY CHRISTINE WISCH

Coyne Schofield said the team stuck together despite losing their final five regular season games and starting off by losing the first two games against Toronto in the semifinals.

“It took every single player and every single person you see on this ice right now to make it happen,” she said following the game during an on-ice interview. “A lot of people counted us out when we had that seven-game slide coming into the playoffs. We got in and we never looked back. It was such a team effort.”

Heise, who finished the playoffs with five goals and three assists in 10 games, was named the Ilana Kloss Playoff MVP. She said despite the losing streak heading into the playoffs, the players believed in each other.

“We believe in each other every single shift we are out there,” she said following the game. “I am just really proud of this group and I’m excited to share this moment with them.”

Heise earned MVP honors in the playoffs, scoring five goals and adding three assists in 10 games.

The 28-player roster included 12 players from Minnesota. Both Heise and Coyne Schofield said they were excited to bring the Walter Cup back home where they can celebrate with Minnesota fans.

“This team is so special,” said Heise. “We are (from) all over the place, but Minnesota is our home right now. We are the state of hockey and I think this proves it.”

Upon returning home, a team celebration will be held in downtown St. Paul on Friday at the Rice Park Plaza near the Herb Brooks statue.