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PWHL Minnesota lifts Walter Cup as league's first champion with Game 5 win over Boston

LOWELL, MASS. – The feeling lasted only a minute or two. That was all it took for PWHL Minnesota to understand how much it wanted — how much it needed — to win the Walter Cup.

The team thought it had beaten Boston in Sunday's Game 4 of the best-of-five finals, only to lose when that goal was disallowed and Boston scored. Wednesday night, in their last stand, Minnesota's players promised each other they would leave no doubt this time.

"To have something so good taken away like that, we knew we had to have it," forward Taylor Heise said. "That feeling, it's like drugs. You want it back."

Minnesota grabbed the Walter Cup for good in Game 5, throttling Boston 3-0 in a dominant performance to close the league's inaugural season as its first champion. Two days after that wrenching double-overtime loss at Xcel Energy Center, the team stormed into Tsongas Center to finish the job. Minnesota took charge early and never let up, bringing Minnesotans — at long last — a purple-clad title.

Goaltender Nicole Hensley earned her second shutout of the finals, while Liz Schepers, Michela Cava and Kendall Coyne Schofield provided the goals. Heise assisted on Cava's goal for her eighth point of the postseason and was named playoff MVP.

Minnesota withstood an early Boston push and took command in the second period. It grew stronger as the game progressed and outshot Boston 44-17, including a 35-10 margin in the final 40 minutes. Hensley started the last four games of the finals and allowed only two goals on 89 shots.

At the beginning of May, Minnesota was mired in a losing streak that reached seven games and nearly pushed it out of a playoff spot. At the end, it was the last team standing, as players skated around the ice with a 35-pound silver Tiffany trophy.

"There's something very special about being the first to do something in life," said Coyne Schofield, who accepted the Cup from league investors Mark and Kimbra Walter and PWHL adviser Billie Jean King. "To be the first Walter Cup champion, we'll be part of this league's legacy forever.

"There were times we got down. But we were never out. This group believed we could be champions, and we never lost sight of that."

Game 5 brought the season full circle. Minnesota played its first PWHL game against Boston at Tsongas Center on Jan. 3, and it won that one, too. Wednesday, a crowd announced at 6,309 packed the arena, but their hopes of bringing the Cup to Beantown were shredded by Minnesota's relentless offense and impenetrable defense.

Heise said the team knew Boston would come out with a rush. Minnesota's aim was to stand its ground early, score first and keep the pressure on Boston goaltender Aerin Frankel, nicknamed "The Green Monster" for being an obstacle as daunting as the Fenway Park wall.

"If we could weather the storm for those first 10 minutes, we were going to come out on top, as long as we put the first goal in," Heise said. "That's what we did. It was a full team effort."

Boston got a few shots off in the opening minutes before Minnesota took control. Its speed, patience, discipline and crisp puck movement gave Boston little chance to mount an attack.

At 6 minutes, 14 seconds of the second period, Sydney Brodt lured Frankel out of position, then passed across to Schepers for a back-door goal. Cava scored on a wraparound at 8:08 of the third, and Coyne Schofield put a bow on the win with an empty-net goal.

This time, when the players flung their sticks and gloves into the air, there was lasting elation. Each player got to skate with the Cup and kiss it for photographers, before family members came onto the ice for teary photos and hugs.

Like the rest of the PWHL's teams, Minnesota still doesn't have an official nickname. For now, it's happy to be called champions.

"When you end up on top, you never forget it," Coyne Schofield said. "It's just incredible."