The Minnesota Whitecaps begin their fifth season in the Premier Hockey Federation on Saturday in Toronto with a revamped roster, a two-year commitment to their coach and a place to call their own.
The Whitecaps move this season from the Wild’s Tria practice rink in downtown St. Paul to Richfield Ice Arena, where for the first time they’ll have their own locker room, training space and team store.
They’ll even have their team logo painted into the ice of an arena whose capacity is about 600 fans more than their former rink.
Gone is the Tria Rink’s fifth-floor wall of windows that overlook the cityscape, but has seating on only one side.
“I really liked Tria; nothing compares to that view,” Whitecaps goaltender Amanda Leveille said. “But our facilities now are phenomenal.”
The Whitecaps have a 12-game home schedule, starting Nov. 18 against Boston. Richfield’s arena seats 1,300 with standing room for another 500.
The Whitecaps made changes at the top, too, hiring Chi-Yin Tse as general manager in August and then naming Ronda Engelhardt as head coach in September, with a two-year contract.
Tse has worked for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and was hired by NLTT Ventures, the company that owns the league’s Whitecaps and Buffalo Beauts. Engelhardt, who had been the Whitecaps co-head coach with Jack Brodt, is a former Gophers star who also has coaching experience at the University of St. Thomas and Breck High School.
The Whitecaps, Isobel Cup champs in 2019 and runner-up in 2020, finished fifth in the six-team PHF a year ago with a 6-13-0 record. They were active in offseason free agency, seeking youth and goal scoring when the league formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League boosted its salary cap.
“That was a huge draw for a lot of us, just being able to have that support from the league and team here,” former Minnesota Duluth forward Sydney Brodt said.
Brodt is back in Minnesota after playing last season in Sweden. She was a Ms. Hockey finalist in 2016 at Mounds View, a three-time captain at UMD and played a season in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.
“Sweden was awesome; they have a great women’s pro league over there,” said Brodt, a Whitecaps fan from its pre-NWHL years who still has some player autographs. “But it’s good to be home.”
The Whitecaps reached to Europe to sign forward Ronja Mogren from Sweden as well as Czech Olympian Denisa Krizova.
“We’re hoping [Krizova] will score a bunch of goals,” Engelhardt said. “We struggled to score goals last season, absolutely. It’s hard to win games when you don’t score goals.”
The Whitecaps also re-signed leading scorer Jonna Albers, from Elk River, and three-time All-Star defender Amanda Boulier.
Missing is forward Allie Thunstrom, the 2006 Minnesota Ms. Hockey who has played for the U.S. national team. She left to play in Boston, where she played collegiately.
The Whitecaps also welcome back Leveille, the goaltender who led the Gophers to three NCAA titles and missed a chunk of last season because of a broken collarbone.
“Last season was tough for a bunch of players on our team,” she said. “We’re all healthy now. It’s a very different team, a lot of new faces, a lot of young players. It has been a change for players who have been here, like myself.
“They’re all awesome people and great hockey players with the same goal: We all want to win.”