Kaleigh Fratkin’s Isobel Cup triumph one of the seminal moments of women’s ice hockey in 2021

A long-time fixture in women’s ice hockey in New England, dating back to the beginning of the 2010s, when she embarked on a brilliant four-year career with the Boston University Terriers, Kaleigh Fratkin’s legacy was destined to expand in the hockey hotbed. With a career defined by both, brilliance and perseverance, another important feature for the celebrated Fratkin would include patience.

Joining the CWHL’s Boston Blades for the 2014-15 season, it would prove to be a magical campaign. Playing alongside the likes of fellow rookies Corinne Buie, Denna Laing and Janine Weber, they were part of a sensational roster that defeated long-time rival Montreal in a thrilling Clarkson Cup overtime win.

With the onset of the NWHL in the autumn of 2015, Fratkin would join an exodus of talent in the new league. Becoming the first Canadian-born player to sign with the league, Fratkin, who served as an assistant captain with the Connecticut Whale continued her Boston ties. A New Year’s Eve game found Fratkin loaned to the Boston Pride for one day. Competing in a historic outdoor game, there was a unique linkage to her CWHL roots, as the Pride challenged Montreal at Gillette Stadium.

By season’s end, which also included an appearance in the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game, back in Whale colors, the inaugural Isobel Cup eluded Fratkin. With the Boston Pride capturing the inaugural Cup, numerous former teammates from the Boston Blades, now decked in Pride colors, making history as the first women to have won the Clarkson and Isobel Cups in a career, no one could have foreseen that Fratkin’s career would continue for several seasons without the Isobel Cup on her sparkling resume.

Signing with the New York Riveters for the 2016-17 season, where her point total dropped from 17 to 6 points, Fratkin’s third NWHL season would see her back in familiar territory. Wearing the black and gold of the Boston Pride, the franchise would descend into the doldrums. Remaining a strong leader for the franchise, attempting to drive the Pride back in a competitive direction, Fratkin’s presence proved essential during a rebuild.

Certainly, her efforts would pay strong dividends heading into a new decade. Racking up a superlative 23 points during a 2019-20 season that saw the Pride finish first overall in the league standings, Fratkin earned recognition as the Defensive Player of the Year. With the Pride qualifying for the Isobel Cup Finals, ready to face off against the defending champion Minnesota Whitecaps, Fratkin’s opportunity to hoist an elusive Cup was not meant to be.

As the fifth Isobel Cup Finals were shelved, due to a sporting world turned abruptly upside down due to the pandemic, history was paused, as both the Pride and Whitecaps were looking to be the first franchise to capture the hallowed Cup twice. For a player of Fratkin’s calibre, whose season included the milestone of 60 career points and 75 career games, a Cup triumph would have served as a career triple crown.

Among a rare sorority of wondrous women, including teammate Jillian Dempsey and Riveters mainstay Madison Packer, who have played in every NWHL season, the spectre of having to wait another year for a chance at Isobel seemed in despair once again. With the pandemic continuing to cancel numerous seasons in 2020-21, including USports hockey in Canada, plus the Ivy League in the United States, the possibility of a sixth NWHL season seemed in doubt.

With the historic hockey city of Lake Placid, New York serving as a “bubble”, the month of January 2021 allowed an opportunity for NWHL hockey to resume. Undoubtedly, Fratkin eastbaliehd herself as an impact player for the Pride, amassing a solid nine assists in seven games played. As a side note, her best performances included a pair of three-assist efforts versus the Buffalo Beauts on January 24 and 31, winning in both games.

Although the dream of an Isobel Cup was temporarily out of reach again. As the Buffalo Beauts and Riveters had to drop out due to players testing positive for the pandemic, the playoffs were shelved.

Fortunately, destiny allowed for a chance at redemption. With the expansion Toronto Six finishing in first place, aspiring to win an Isobel Cup in their inaugural season, there was a feeling of full circle for Fratkin. Coincidentally, the Six head coach was Digit Murphy, who served as Fratkin’s first head coach in professional hockey, capturing the 2015 Isobel Cup.

Adding to the coincidence was the fact that Pride captain Jillian Dempsey, who would go on to capture 2021 playoff MVP honors, was also a member of that 2015 championship team. Worth noting, Lexie Laing, whose older sister Denna Laing was a teammate of Fratkin’s on the Blades, played with the 2020-21 edition of the Pride.

Considering that the Pride were the fourth-seeded team, they did not enter their playoff match as the favorite. Having lost to Toronto by a 2-1 mark on January 26, the March 26 rematch saw the Pride explode for a six-goal outburst, prevailing in a solid 6-2 triumph, with goaltender Lovisa Selander recording 23 saves.

Testament to the sense of parity prevalent throughout the league’s existence, dynasty and destiny collided as the Pride and Whitecaps returned to the Isobel Cup Finals for the second straight season. Fittingly making up for the game that never was, there was a strong sense of serendipity as Fratkin rose to the occasion, playing the game of her life.

With Minnesota’s Allie Thunstrom scoring the only goal of the first period, the second period resulted in three unanswered goals from the determined Pride. With goals by Mary Parker, Dempsey and Laing, the tide had turned in their favor, heading into the second intermission with a 3-1 advantage. As a side note, Fratkin and Christina Putigna would earn the assists on Laing’s goal.

Twenty minutes away from a chance at a long-sought after Cup, it would be hard-earned as Thunstrom opened the scoring in the third period, chipping away at the Pride’s lead. With a power play opportunity in the second half of the third period, as Lisa Martinson was called for tripping, Fratkin may have logged the most impactful assist of her storied career.

Collaborating with Parker, the two would contribute the assists on a goal by rookie Taylor Wenczkowski. In spite of the Whitecaps scoring a third goal with less than a minute remaining, Selander remained poised between the pipes recording a 27-save performance, allowing Fratkin an opportunity to enjoy a treasured, and well-deserved, milestone six seasons in the making.

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