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Whale notebook: Connecticut looks to dethrone Pride

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After a 6-5 loss to Buffalo, the Connecticut Whale host the undefeated Boston Pride for the first time this season

All-Star Kelly Babstock (#8) leads the charge against Blake Bolden and the undefeated Pride.
Al Saniuk

Last Week, Today

Last Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Buffalo Beauts featured a familiar result and the absence of some familiar faces.

It was the Whale’s first game without venerable captain Molly Engstrom, who had departed for Sweden in the wake of the league’s mandated salary cuts. She pulled no punches in parting words delivered to The Ice Garden’s Erica L. Ayala:

"I'm going to Sweden because of the way things were handled in the NWHL."

But it was also a day of celebration for newcomer and banana pancake aficionado Meghan Huertas, late of the UMD Bulldogs. She potted her first career goal to cut the Beauts’ lead to 3-1.

Her goal was the first of three unanswered — Dana Trivigno and Micaela Long followed to tie the game after two periods. Corinne Buie and Meagan Mangene traded goals before Buffalo swarmed the Connecticut zone on a 5-on-3 power play with under five minutes remaining. Emily Janiga converted at 15:50. Longtime Whale nemesis Devon Skeats added another power play tally 10 seconds later. A last-second goal from Kelli Stack provided the close-but-no-cigar epilogue.

Nicole Stock, who relieved Shenae Lundberg in the Connecticut goal in the first period, stopped 24 of 28 shots. The Whale peppered Amanda Leveille with 42 shots.

Fans who braved the inclement Connecticut weather — something the stranded Boston Pride were all too familiar with — were treated to a typical Whale-Beauts track meet. The Connecticut contingent found its wheels in the second, pushing play through the neutral zone to the tune of multiple odd-man rushes. Two power play goals matched the Whale’s previous output — on the season. (The team entered the game with a miniscule 2-for-27 success rate).

Today, the Pride

The Pride arrive in Northford, CT, with a perfect 8-0 record. The Whale are 4-6.

On Dec. 27 of last season, the Whale were 8-0; the Pride arrived in Stamford, CT, leaving with a 2-1 victory. Today, the Whale try to pay back the favor.

The Riveters pushed the defending Isobel Cup champions to the brink in their last game as the Pride captured a narrow 3-2 shootout victory. They were due to face off again last week before inclement weather scrapped that game.

Alex Carpenter (5G, 6A) and Brianna Decker (6G, 4A) lead a potent Boston offense into Connecticut for the first time this season. Boston has averaged a gaudy 3.88 goals/game. Their balanced attack will test a Connecticut blue line that looks vastly different from the beginning of the season. Gone are Engstrom and Ivana Bilic; we’ll likely see plenty of ice time from workhorses Cydney Roesler and Jordan Brickner. Even if all-world forward Hilary Knight doesn’t make the trip to Connecticut, the 3-6 defenders will have their work cut out for them; look for head coach Heather Linstad to tactfully deploy Elena Orlando and Anya Battaglino. If Shannon Doyle appears in today’s game, look for one of those two to sit.

The visitors’ defense is no slouch either; Gigi Marvin, Blake Bolden, and Kacey Bellamy have made their cases as top-five defenders in the league. Brittany Ott and Lauren Slebodnick have played in the Pride’s two wins against the Whale this year.

Regardless, the high-scoring Whale will need to outgun their opponents. Their last meeting (a 5-2 Pride win) featured just that, with Connecticut sandwiching goals between two second period Boston tallies. The wheels fell off as Brianna Decker took over, scoring a natural hat trick to put the game out of reach.

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