Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Connecticut Whale win three in a row with third different goaltender

For the third consecutive game, the Connecticut Whale have opted to utilize a different goaltender between the pipes. Starting with Jaimie Leonoff in their inaugural game, followed by Chelsea Laden in the second match, Nicole Stock earned the start for the club. Once again, the result was victory as the Whale remain one of two undefeated teams in NWHL play.

The chance to stand between the pipes for the Whale brings Stock’s career full circle. During her juinior hockey career, she led the Connecticut Polar Bears to a national title. Competing for the NCAA’s Brown Bears under the tutelage of head coach Digit Murphy from 2005-09, Stock appeared in 91 games, registering over 3000 career saves and a .921 save percentage.

Among her highlights at Brown, she set a program record with 66 saves in one game against Mercyhurst in late January 2008. As a freshman, she earned a shutout win against Dartmouth, eliminating them from the postseason. Prior to signing with the Whale, Stock was a coach at Choate Rosemary Hall, where she was also a four-year letter winner during her academic years.
Competing on the road against the New York Riveters at Brooklyn’s Aviator Sport and Recreation Center, Stock did not allow one goal after one period of play as she was looking for the chance to become the first goalie in league history to log a shutout.

The Whale would help her cause as Alyssa Wohlfeiler capitalized on a power play opportunity. With Lyudmila Belyakova, the first European player to log a point in CWHL play, serving a hooking penalty, the Whale jumped out to a 1-0 advantage.

Power plays remained a theme in the second period as the Riveters tied the game on a 5-3 opportunity with Kelli Stack (called for tripping) and Sam Faber (serving a hooking call) in the penalty box. Meghan Fardelmann set up blueliner Ashley Johnston’s first career goal with the Riveters, breaking Stock’s shutout bid.
Throughout the second period, the Whale struggled to assemble an offensive attack as the Riveters outshot them by an 8-3 margin. With the Brooklyn fans showing strong support, the opportunity for an upset seemed possible, as the Riveters were hoping to establish a grip on third place in the Founders Division.

In the third period, the Whale regrouped and quickly regained the lead. Gabie Figueroa was called for high sticking at 17:58, allowing the Whale their first power play of the period. Kaleigh Fratkin, the first Canadian signed to an NWHL contract, took advantage, scoring 23 seconds into the power play.

Less than a minute later, Fratkin would be called for cross checking, resulting in the Riveters gaining a power play opportunity. Despite their best efforts, the Riveters could not solve Stock as the Whale preserved their 2-1 lead. 

For the remainder of the third, Riveters goaltender Nana Fujimoto played valiantly as she worked tirelessly to keep her team in the game. Unfortunately, the Riveters struggled on offense, as the Brooklyn fans were eager to see their team score.

With just 51 seconds remaining in the game, a goal was scored, but it would belong to the visiting team. Kelly Babstock, the first Canadian to score an NWHL goal, added to the Whale’s lead, placing the game out of reach for the Riveters. Prevailing by a 3-1 tally, Stock made 23 saves on 24 shots in her NWHL debut, while Fujimoto 17 saves on 20 shots, registering her third straight loss

Outshooting the home team by a 10-7 margin in the third, the Whale maintained their first place tie with the Boston Pride, while the Riveters shall have to wait for their first win in franchise history. Kaleigh Fratkin would emerge with the First Star of the Game nod, while teammate Nicole Stock garnered the game’s Second Star. Riveters blueliner Ashley Johnston gained the Third Star of the Game for her offensive performance.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Remarkable social media campaign signifies proud collaborative effort among NWHL players

In the week that led towards the NWHL’s opening day, a social media campaign represented one of the most ingenious yet heart-warming events for 2015 in women’s ice hockey. Featured on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, players posted photos from their earliest hockey playing experiences, dating back to their childhood. An additional aspect was the caption that all players used in their respective posts and tweets…

#tbt to when playing professional hockey was just a dream! #HistoryBegins October 11
Of note, the campaign made such a positive impression that it received coverage from Sports Illustrated’s web site. Not only did the coverage from such an important and respected news outlet add a major league feeling to the NWHL, it represented a greater accomplishment.

From their earliest years as players to blooming into world-class talent, a distinct feature is a mutual and lifelong of the game among players and fans alike. The photographs revealed a human side to the players, resulting in a connection with fans in a way that was profound.
Not only did the players work together in an admirable collaborative effort, revealing a proud, unified front on their part, an emotional investment in a bold new era for the game. Simultaneously, it showed that they came from the same humble beginnings as other hockey aficionados.

Adding to the impact of said campaign was the fact that league founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan also participated, displaying more than just leadership, but support for the player’s hopes and dreams. Taking into account the excitement and high energy that defined opening day, especially the capacity crowd in Chelsea Piers, the campaign represented an emotional milestone that added to the league’s momentum

Upcoming women's hockey season a crossroads for future of Boston

Although it is very hard to gauge the relationship between the established CWHL and the upstart NWHL, one key point of observation that shall occur during the 2015-16 women’s ice hockey season shall be the viability of Boston as a market for pro hockey. While there is enough talent in women’s ice hockey to have two leagues, such leagues must learn to co-exist or the result shall become one in which there is no true winner, just one standing among the ruins.

Over the last three seasons, the Boston Blades established themselves as a CWHL powerhouse, appearing in three straight Clarkson Cup title games, capturing two. Fast forward to the summer of 2015, and a mass exodus of talent from the Blades to the NWHL’s Boston Pride has altered the women’s hockey landscape.
Compounded by the loss of Hilary Knight (the first American-born player to win the CWHL MVP award) to the Pride, any postseason aspirations for the Blades may have vanished. Despite the presence of Sochi gold medalists Genevieve Lacasse and Tara Watchorn, the Blades sixth season may turn out to be the losingest in franchise history. Taking into account that Blades head coach Digit Murphy and general manager Aronda Brown did not have their contracts renewed, the future of the Blades is very much in doubt, as the biggest victory for this patchwork roster may be sticking it out amidst such turbulence.

Of note, the Boston Pride cannot approach such a situation with arrogance, as it may cause its own downfall. During their heyday, the Blades struggled to attract more than 500 fans to home games. While the NWHL has proven to be more aggressive with its marketing, it should not be surprised if the Pride attracts similar attendance figures. Despite the cost of women’s hockey tickets being so much more economical than men’s major league sports, the biggest competitive factor for women’s sport is not defined by economics but the history of men’s leagues and the powerful grip it holds in popular culture.
With due deference to the CWHL, their commitment to ice hockey in the United States is admirable, but it may have reached its expiry. Should the NWHL manage to build on its success, plans to expand to the Midwest are imminent. Another factor that did not help the CWHL was the fact that it never supplied the Blades with an American rival. Over the years, the league could have welcomed the Minnesota Whitecaps into its ranks and failed to do so.

Despite its plans at rebranding and changing its name and logo, perhaps the best approach for the CWHL is to truly be a Canadian league and relocate the Blades to Winnipeg or another Prairie market, providing the Calgary Inferno with a sorely needed rival. Considering the rising prominence of Manitoba as a hub for developing talent for Canada’s national team, a team in Winnipeg would prevent players from relocating to Calgary. Taking into account that the Manitoba Maple Leafs had begun to establish roots until the WWHL folded, they could have also been absorbed into the CWHL.
For now, the matter at hand is the potential fallout from Boston becoming the first major American market to have two women’s professional hockey teams. For several decades, Boston had two major league baseball franchises, the Braves and the Red Sox. After years of losing money and enduring a smaller fan base, the Braves had no alternative but to relocate to Milwaukee.
Such a scenario is a likely outcome between the Blades and the Pride. It may be fact that the Blades were the first team in the market this century, but the reality is that they may have been usurped. The CWHL may wish to be stoic and ride the storm as there is no guarantee regarding the future success of the NWHL, but a strong opening day indicates that such future need not be in doubt.

Unfortunately, the establishment of two women’s hockey teams in Boston may have generated some tension. From roster turnovers to coaching changes, Boston becomes part of a controversial chapter in women’s ice hockey as the city becomes a battle ground for 2015-16. Although men’s hockey endured its own battles over numerous markets in generations past, the handling of Boston will certainly determine the short term future of professional women’s hockey.