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Minnesota beats Boston 3-0, wins inaugural Walter Cup as Professional Women's Hockey League champs

Minnesota forward Liz Schepers, second left, celebrates with teammates Sophie Jaques, left, and Minnesota forward Brittyn Fleming (18) in Game 5 of the PWHL Walter Cup Final. (Mary Schwalm/AP Photo) Minnesota forward Liz Schepers, second left, celebrates with teammates Sophie Jaques, left, and Minnesota forward Brittyn Fleming (18) in Game 5 of the PWHL Walter Cup Final. (Mary Schwalm/AP Photo)
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LOWELL, Mass. -

Kendall Coyne Schofield once showed off her speed racing against men in a skills competition at NHL All-Star weekend.

On Wednesday night, she sprinted into women's hockey history.

The three-time Olympian chased down a rolling puck and slapped it into an empty net to seal Minnesota's 3-0 victory over Boston in the winner-take-all Game 5 to claim the inaugural championship of the Professional Women’s Hockey League.

Liz Schepers scored to break a scoreless second-period tie, Michela Cava made it 2-0 midway through the third and Nicole Hensley stopped 17 shots for Minnesota. Coyne Schofield added the empty netter with two minutes left, and then the captain and oldest member of the roster took the first-ever lap on the ice with the Walter Cup.

“It makes me want to tear up thinking about it. She’s done so much for this sport,” said forward Taylor Heise. “She’s definitely one of the people that’s helped this sport grow and one of the reasons why this arena is sold out here tonight.”

Coyne Schofield, 32, was fresh off of winning the 2018 Olympic gold medal when she was invited to take part in a timed lap around the ice at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game. She finished seventh out of eight, but was a crowd favorite in an arena filled with chants of “U-S-A!”

“What was so important about that moment wasn’t the skate itself. It’s what happened after,” she said on the ice while her teammates posed for pictures with the trophy and and her husband stood nearby holding the son she gave birth to less than a year ago.

“It was the attention that that skate drew to so many people," said Coyne Schofield, who was active in helping the PWHL come to fruition. "That moment brought a lot of eyes and helped catapult the reality we’re living today.”

Three nights after Minnesota prematurely celebrated a would-be game-winner in double overtime that was waved off for goaltender interference, Hensley earned her second shutout of the playoffs. Minnesota limped into the playoffs on a five-game losing streak and then got shut out in the first two games of best-of-five semifinal against Toronto.

Heise, whose eight points in the postseason was tied for the most in the league, was named the inaugural Ilana Kloss Playoff MVP. The former Minnesota Gopher was the league’s first No. 1 draft pick.

“ We’re ‘the State of Hockey,'” she said. “And I think this proves it.”

Boston goalie Aerin Frankel, dubbed the “Green Monster” in her forest green home sweater, made 41 saves for the runners-up. The sold-out crowd at the Tsongas Center, about an hour north of Boston, chanted her name and “Thank you, Boston!” after the final buzzer, even as the Minnesota players celebrated on the ice and league officials set up the podium for the trophy presentation.

Boston forced a decisive fifth game only after Sophie Jaques’ apparent goal in double overtime in Game 4 was taken off the board because of goaltender interference. The Minnesota players, who had already streamed onto the ice to celebrate, throwing their equipment in the air, gathered up their gloves and sticks, and the game resumed.

One minute later, Alina Muller scored to send the series back to Boston.

The crowd was eager for the home team to claim the new trophy, named for league benefactor and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter, chanting “We want the Cup!” just like Bruins fans do down in Boston. A Fenway-style “Sweet Caroline” singalong kept them busy during the second break.

But with the game scoreless early in the second, Minnesota forward Sydney Brodt skated through the slot toward the goal. She whiffed on a wrist shot, drawing Frankel out of position, then slid around to the right side and centered the puck behind her, where Schepers tipped it in.

It was still 1-0 when Cava circled behind the net and stuffed the puck between Frankel’s pads; it trickled toward the net before the goalie knocked it over the line when she reached back to save it with her stick hand.

The game was a crowd-pleasing conclusion to the six-team league’s first season, when it blew through some benchmarks but left others unmet.

A game in Montreal against Toronto drew more than 21,000 fans to the Bell Centre. Average attendance in the regular season was 5,448, giving the league confidence to expand the schedule from 24 games to 30 next year. Toronto is looking for a bigger home than the 2,500-seat arena where it played most of its games.

One negative was below-average attendance for the New York team, which split its home between Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey. Games were broadcast nationally in English and French in Canada, but U.S. fans were left with regional networks and YouTube.

And the teams don’t have nicknames yet — a result of the rush to get on the ice in six months after the two competing pro women’s hockey leagues in North America declared a truce, with help from Walter and tennis great Billie Jean King, last summer. The league said on Wednesday that names and logos will be announced in August.

“This year was a historic year,” Boston captain Hilary Knight said. “We built it. We’re extremely ecstatic about where it is Year 1. If anything, that reflection point is something we can take away from tonight and celebrate.”

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