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Giant killer Allie Thunstrom is at the center of the Minnesota Whitecaps’ resurgence

It took one shot – and the kind of blast she's not known for taking – for Allie Thunstrom to put the brakes on the longest winning streak in NWHL history, and the league's top sniper is leading the charge for a Whitecaps team that looks ready to defend its crown.
Collin Nawrocki/NWHL

Collin Nawrocki/NWHL

As the story goes, when Goliath was slain by David, it was the result of one stone slung into the center of his adversary’s forehead. It was the perfectly placed shot that felled the behemoth. And while it is, admittedly, a somewhat flawed metaphor – the Minnesota Whitecaps were by no means a prohibitive underdog entering their streak-ending victory over the Boston Pride – Allie Thunstrom’s giant-killing moment came in much the same fashion: it took one shot, pinpoint accurate, to put an end to the longest winning streak in NWHL history.

Ahead of the Jan. 25 contest against the Whitecaps, the Pride’s record was without blemish, and despite Minnesota’s best efforts, it appeared Boston was on the cusp of exiting once again with two points. Three times the Whitecaps had taken the lead. Three times the Pride had tied the contest, the final time with 57 second remaining and their net empty. But following the ensuing faceoff, mere seconds after Boston’s Jillian Dempsey scored a goal that seemed certain to be sending the game to overtime, Thunstrom’s moment came.

Streaking down the right wing and in a shooting position inside the circle, she spotted a sliver of daylight over the shoulder of Pride netminder Lovisa Selander. Later, the joke from her fellow Whitecaps was that the game-winning goal had come on a shot that Thunstrom, under normal circumstances, never would have taken. And if she’s being candid, she admits it’s not one that’s usually in her repertoire. However, that night, some seven seconds after the Pride had tied the game and with the chance to slay the beasts from Boston, Thunstrom pulled the trigger.

“It just ended up going right in the corner under the bar,” Thunstrom said. “The excitement that I felt at that moment, that we had regained the lead, it was probably one of the most exciting goals I've ever scored.”

To be sure, it was, without even a tinge of exaggeration, one of the biggest goals in NWHL history, and as far as the 2019-20 campaign is concerned, Thunstrom's goal was the Pride-defeating tally some were starting believe wouldn’t be seen this season. It blew the roof of TRIA Rink. And while Boston exacted a measure of revenge the next afternoon with a 4-2 victory that started the winning streak anew, the Saturday victory meant aton to a Minnesota team that is starting to find its footing after a tempestuous start to the campaign.

“It started the first weekend, we had a 9-2 showing against the (Metropolitan) Riveters and then we turn around and lose,” Thunstrom said. “It was that inconsistency, and it got to a point where at the beginning, you lose a game here and you know there's plenty of season left. But as you see Boston going undefeated, those losses actually matter a lot more than we thought in the the first week of the season.”

Entering into the weekend split with the Pride, however, the ship was righting itself, and the Whitecaps have steadily marched up the NWHL standings since mid-December. It began with a home victory over the Riveters, was followed by a pair of weekend sweeps of the Connecticut Whale and a two-game sweep of the Buffalo Beauts and the only hiccup along the way was an early January split with the same Riveters against whom the climb started.

Thunstrom is of the mind, though, the turning point came not with a win, but with a crushing defeat. In a late-November contest in Buffalo, Minnesota had a comfortable three-goal lead with less than a dozen minutes remaining. And then the Whitecaps fell apart. In a span of less than nine minutes in the third frame, the Beauts scored four goals to stun the defending Isobel Cup champions.

“That was a very deflating moment for us and where we came together and said, 'We have to figure this out. We cannot continue our season like this,’ ” Thunstrom explained. “It took a little time but I think now we've slowly gotten better with that Sunday game and now we're finally firing on all cylinders, getting scoring from everywhere, all three lines and our 'D', (Amanda Leveille) is playing phenomenal like always. That was one of those moments for us where if we want to try and repeat, or at least make it to the semifinal and finals, we have to figure it out.”

Without question, Thunstrom has been at the center of the Whitecaps’ in-season resurgence. In the dozen games since the loss to the Beauts – a contest in which she scored twice – Thunstrom has posted a whopping 14 goals and 19 points. Put another way, she has been the lamplighter on more than 27 percent of Minnesota’s goals across their past 12 games and has factored in on a hair more than 37 percent of every Whitecaps goal since Dec. 14. All told, she leads the NWHL with 19 goals, and the former Ms. Hockey Minnesota and Team USA member is set to head to the NWHL All-Star Game in February.

True to hockey-player form, Thunstrom attributes her success to her linemates, but that isn’t the only factor. “The amount of joy hockey is bringing me, especially this year, it's like I'm a little kid again,” she said. “And not to say hockey wasn't enjoyable over previous years, but I don't know if I'm putting less pressure on myself…but it's just having fun and enjoying my teammates and having a blast out there. That makes everything come a little easier.”

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