If a women’s hockey fan was asked to name a team that once featured the likes of Manon Rheaume, Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu, the odds are that said fan would never be able to guess it was the Minnesota Whitecaps. The best kept secret in women’s ice hockey, the club has been the home to a venerable who’s who in the game.
Winners of the 2010 Clarkson Cup (the Stanley Cup of women’s ice hockey), the Whitecaps became the first ever United States based team to claim the coveted cup.
Like the AHL’s Cleveland Barons in the 1950’s, and the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League in the 1970’s, the Whitecaps have a team loaded with talent, but unable to elevate to a higher and better league of competition.
There is no question that the Whitecaps have enough talent to defeat the national teams of various countries.
The faces of the franchise are Jenny Potter (the only American woman to be in the Triple Gold Club for Women: a Clarkson Cup, Winter Games gold, IIHF World Gold), Winny Brodt-Brown (the first winner of the Minnesota Miss Hockey award), and Brooke White-Lancette (a former Patty Kazmaier Award winner). Over the years, the Whitecaps have been home to such talent as Caitlin Cahow, Molly Engstrom, Gigi Marvin, and Finnish hockey player Minttu Tuominen.
The greatest moment for the Whitecaps came in Richmond Hill, Ontario (a suburb north of Toronto) when they overcame great odds to win the Clarkson Cup. Not sporting a full roster, the team defeated the Mississauga Chiefs (led by 2002 Winter Games gold medalist Sami Jo Small between the pipes) in the semifinals.
The following day, the Whitecaps faced off against the Brampton Thunder (featuring Winter Games gold medalists Gillian Apps and Jayna Hefford) and defeated them by a convincing 4-0 tally. The goals were scored by Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal, Jenny Potter, Maggie Fisher, and Megan McCarthy.
With great jubilation also came greater desolation. The Western Women’s Hockey League (the Whitecaps home league) faced the dissolution of two franchises. Players from the Strathmore Rockies and the heralded Edmonton Chimos became part of a new team in the rival Canadian Women’s Hockey League known as Team Alberta.
Since then, the league has only two teams (the Whitecaps and the Manitoba Maple Leafs). Sadly, the CWHL’s Burlington Barracudas (a team that managed to win only one game in the 2011-12 campaign) were contracted and not replaced. The Whitecaps would have been a superlative replacement for the maligned franchise, while improving the quality of play in the CWHL by a quantum leap.
As the Whitecaps stoically prepare for their 2012-13 season, there is no question that the club is worthy of better opposition. Although it will continue its exhibition matches versus NCAA teams, it would be interesting to see the Whitecaps challenge teams from Canadian Interuniversity Sport and the United States Under-18 squad.
While the doors of the CWHL may not open to the Whitecaps this season, the doors of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame deserve to open. The Whitecaps should be proudly welcomed as one of the greatest teams that helped to build women’s ice hockey in the United States.