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Whitecaps look to forge new identity after big roster turnover

New-look women’s hockey team is host to the Metropolitan Riveters on Saturday

Minnesota Whitecaps goaltender Amanda Leveille blocks a shot during a preliminary-round game against the Metropolitan Riveters on March 25 in Wesley Chapel, Florida.
Minnesota Whitecaps goaltender Amanda Leveille blocks a shot during a preliminary-round game against the Metropolitan Riveters on March 25 in Wesley Chapel, Florida.
Luis Santana / Tampa Bay Times / TNS
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RICHFIELD, Minn. — It’s been a year of change for the Minnesota Whitecaps, who turned over most of their roster, moved from TRIA Rink in St. Paul to Richfield Ice Arena and hired a new general manager, Chi-Yin Tse, this summer.

The new-look Whitecaps, 0-4 early this season, will return to the ice on Saturday at 6 p.m. to host the Metropolitan Riveters.

Longtime Whitecaps forward Jonna Albers estimated around two thirds of the team’s players are new, which coach Ronda Engelhardt said was a function of more players wanting to play and a “bigger and talented” pool of players. Forwards Allie Thunstrom and Audra Morrison are among the team’s most notable departures. They were two of the team’s top three scorers last season, along with Albers, and the team’s top two goal-scorers.

“It takes time to get some chemistry going,” Albers said. “And I think we started to see that in Boston (Nov. 18-19), so that was good to see. Hopefully we can just continue to build that chemistry, keep getting to know each other. I think we’ll just continue to get stronger as a team as the season goes on.”

Off the ice, Albers said they had a mock game show and try to grab food together as a team when they can to strengthen the new relationships.

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Captain Sydney Brodt, one of the team’s new additions, spent a season playing in Sweden but opted to return home to Minnesota this season after the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly the National Women’s Hockey League) announced plans to significantly increase the salary cap and add an expansion team in Montreal.

Brodt said they’re trying to create their “own new culture and new team standards,” while still maintaining Whitecaps roots built over time.

“We’re a full-time professional team this year. We’re practicing every day, we’re having team workouts and lifts,” Brodt said. “It’s just a professional standard this year, and we’re just trying to grow that standard every year to just push the game forward and make it better for younger players coming up.”

As part of that, the Whitecaps now have an arena to call their own — TRIA is the Wild’s practice rink — with a locker room they don’t have to share and their own logo painted onto the ice. That, Engelhardt said, affords them more opportunities. The support they’ve already gotten from the community in Richfield has been positive, too, she said.

“I love TRIA, so it was hard to leave that, but we needed some other opportunities. So, them just having their own space is a lot more time spent at the rink … which is helpful. Just branding the rink has been nice,” Engelhardt said. “Some in-game stuff they can do now that we have our own place is nice. So, hopefully, keep improving the fan experience. So, just more opportunities for us to do more.”

As the Whitecaps settle into their new home and adjust to the myriad of roster changes, they’re working to find their team identity both on and off the ice. They expect to use their speed to their advantage, Albers said, and Engelhardt cited a strong defensive core with “creative and capable” forwards.

“Each game we’ll get better as we figure out how to work together and build that confidence,” Engelhardt said. “I think we could be a dynamic team.”

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