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PWHL Toronto goalie Kristen Campbell in a championship path zone
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PWHL Toronto goalie Kristen Campbell in a championship path zone

It was Campbell’s fourth shutout in the past 19 games

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From very early on in the team’s first-ever playoff round – which actually goes back to about the third week of January, when things started to fall into place – it’s clear that scoring against PWHL Toronto is going to be a tough task.

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It starts with a plan where attackers are considered defensively responsible and aware as the team’s defenders, and it ends in a single-minded goaltender whose sole focus is the next shot.

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Toronto officially began the quest to engrave their name in the unmarked Walter Cup on Wednesday night with as clean a 4-0 shutout as you’ll find in the game.

That championship trophy will start adding names and history in less than three weeks, and if any team other than Toronto has plans to celebrate with that beautiful piece of hardware, they better come up with a ruthless and imaginative attack.

The way Toronto defends and with Kristen Campbell the last line of defense, scoring against Toronto when the core is healthy, borders on the impossible.

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Consider that since a 4-3 victory in Montreal in January, in which Campbell stopped five of six shootout chances, three of four by the player with the most grip in the game in Marie-Philip Poulin, opponents have been just over a goal and score a goal. a half game against Toronto.

Campbell has started in all but two games, including Wednesday’s opening 4-0 playoff win against Minnesota, putting Toronto in the driver’s seat for the best-of-five semifinal.

It was Campbell’s fourth shutout in the last 19 games, a stretch in which Toronto has allowed more than three goals in a game only once and more than two goals in a game only four times.

In the aftermath of Toronto’s all-out effort on Wednesday, their opponents sounded relatively satisfied with the way they defended the hosts, but for a few puck-watch moments they still kept coming back to the fact that they had to find a way to putting pucks in. the net.

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Campbell and the defensive-sounding five-woman units before her — not to mention a penalty kill unit that must be on the verge of setting a record for penalty kill success in the game of hockey — refuse to make it easy.

It doesn’t seem to matter who opposes them – and don’t kid yourself, this Minnesota team has plenty of attacking options in the likes of Taylor Heise, Grace Zumwinkle, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Michela Cava and Kelly Pannek up front to still not to mention what Toronto native Sophie Jaques brings offensively from her defense position – Campbell and her teammates simply won’t back down.

It’s almost laughable that head coach Troy has to defend Ryan Campbell when the entire Toronto season comes up.

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Through the first five games of the year, the team that would claim first place overall in the league’s first regular season was just 1–4. Unfairly, Campbell seems to bear most of the blame for that start.

“She’s had an incredible year,” Ryan said after the match, as Campbell sat next to him on the podium. “A lot of people want to talk about the beginning of the year and she absolutely cannot carry the beginning of the year. That was definitely a team thing where we had to put some things right as a group.

“When she got her feet under her and our team got their feet under her, she was outstanding.”

As it turned out, Campbell just needed some time in net to reacquaint himself with the job of starting goaltender.

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Over her final three years at Wisconsin, Campbell started a total of 110 games. In the three years overlapping the COVID pandemic, she started a total of fourteen games.

The PWHL gave her a chance to see consistent game action again and she has done well.

It’s gotten to the point now that even when opponents are storming the Toronto net and the puck seems to be locked up for back-to-back shifts, Ryan is comfortable knowing Campbell is there to stop them.

“Even tonight I thought at times we were in control of the game overall but there was a big period in the second period where they were all over us but at no point did I feel like we were in danger because the control Soupy had. (Campbell’s nickname) played under,” Ryan said.

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“It’s a good feeling when someone has had such a consistent year and her behavior has remained the same (all year round). It gives us (coaches) confidence, the confidence of the organization and the confidence of the players. She had a great year.”

Emma Maltais
Toronto’s Emma Maltais (right) celebrates with Jocelyne Larocque after scoring against Minnesota in their best-of-five PHWL semifinal playoff game at Coca-Cola Coliseum last night. Photo by Chris Young /The Canadian Press

Team captain Blayre Turnbull, a player who sets the tone for defensive responsibility among Ryan’s forwards, agreed with her coach.

“She just gives us so much confidence,” said Turnbull, who also led the team offensively with a pair of goals on Wednesday. “The best thing about Soupy is that she has discovered how to stay calm no matter what happens on the ice. She has been very stable in her emotions for us.

“When a goalkeeper gives you that calmness as a player and the feeling that everything is under control, you feel really good, no matter what happens on the ice. It’s something that’s her strength and it’s something that gives us a lot of strength when she’s in that zone.”

Right now, Soupy and the women who play for her are in that zone and until, or if, an opponent can shake them out, a scenario in which any team other than Toronto hoists Walter in a few weeks seems unfathomable.

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