PWHL Ottawa Season Recap: Good, But Not Good Enough

Not the result we wanted, but it sure was fun.

PWHL Ottawa Season Recap: Good, But Not Good Enough
Photo by Mike Cox / Unsplash

Under different circumstances, a 5th place finish for Ottawa would have been… fine. Not great, but not shocking. A normal, expected finish for the only PWHL team located in a city that hadn’t previously had a women’s hockey team. 

If there were any underdogs in the inaugural PWHL season, Ottawa was one. The city that was supposed to be a bad choice for a women's hockey team. The team that missed out on the biggest names in free agency, instead signing Team Canada's perennial backup, the arguably second best player on Team Canada, and a depth player with the potential to break out in a different role. The team that rolled the dice on a former NCAA star turned 22-year-old retiree, a bunch of , and a whole bunch of players from outside of North America. The team that didn't win a single game in preseason. No, 5th place isn't that unexpected.

It’s the way they got there that hurts. All those games where it felt like they never let go of the puck, but somehow couldn’t score. All those overtime losses. The spark of hope at the end, when we looked at the standings and said “unless everything goes wrong, they should be fine.” And then everything went wrong.

PWHL Ottawa, in their inaugural season, was not a team that got outplayed very often. They were a great puck possession team, good in transition, lethal on the powerplay. They put shots on net night after night. Their downfall was their total lack of finishing ability. That, and perhaps a propensity for defensive breakdowns.

They weren’t a bad team, but in a six-team league, and a 24 game season, you don’t have to be a bad team to miss the playoffs.

The Good

The league, overall, has been a massive success. Ottawa fans can even brag about having the highest average attendance in the PWHL’s inaugural season. We had fun, and we proved that the PWHL was right to put a team in Ottawa. 

Daryl Watts was a bit of a wildcard going into this season - a player who had shown incredible potential, but had been snubbed by the National team and forced into early retirement. She had a lot to prove, and wow did she prove it. With every highlight-reel goal, she reminded us that she was once one of the best NCAA hockey players of all time. She’s a true gamebreaker, the type of player you want on your team in playoff overtime.

Gabbie Hughes was one of the only players all season who consistently showed up in big moments. When Ottawa needed a goal, she was always there. 

Hayley Scamurra won a lot of hearts in Ottawa despite being an important member of the American national team. She’s a high-energy player with a great slapshot, and she’ll always have a place in the history books for that first goal in franchise history.

Brianne Jenner quietly led the team in scoring… and it was quiet. She wasn’t always the most noticeable player on the ice, but she put up the point totals we expected from her.

Kateřina Mrázová was consistently one of the best forwards on the team, finishing second in team scoring despite battling through injuries toward the end.

The Bad

The biggest stain on this season is whatever happened with Mikyla Grant-Mentis. The forward was playing well until she was mysteriously scratched and then let go about a month into the season. She’s been fitting right in with Montreal ever since, and Ottawa didn’t exactly get any better without her. There really was never an argument to be made that she wasn't one of the team's twelve (or frankly even nine) best options at forward. We may never find out what happened, but the move doesn’t look any better in hindsight than it did at the time. For a team that often needed to score by committee, willingly removing one of their best depth scoring options remains baffling.

Mike Hirshfeld will also likely get some flack for the trade that sent fan favourite Lexie Adzija to Boston for Shiann Darkangelo, especially since Adzija was fairly productive for a fourth liner and Darkangelo only scored one point with Ottawa.

Mostly, it feels like all throughout the lineup, at every position, this team was good, but not as good as the other teams. That could prove difficult to address.

Moving Forward

Like most PWHL teams, Ottawa has very few players signed past this season. Clark, Jenner, Maschmeyer, Bell, Harmon and Hughes all have two years left, and Scamurra and Roese have one year left. That means that, notably, Watts, Shiga, Mrazova and Boyd will all need new contracts this summer. It’ll be interesting to see how much movement we see between teams; will players want stability, or a chance to choose where to live? It will also be a test of how popular Ottawa is to free agents.

Ottawa focused on defense at the inaugural PWHL draft, but that seems to be their biggest weakness right now. Savannah Harmon hasn’t been producing enough offense to make up for the many, many mistakes she makes in the defensive zone, and for that matter neither has Jincy Roese. The rest have been good, but maybe not good enough to compete with the other teams in this league.

The other thing they need is finishing ability. They may be able to find that at second overall this summer.

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