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NWHL 2017-18 Season Preview: Connecticut Whale

The Whale will depend on veteran presence to guide a rookie team.

Who even is left on the Connecticut Whale anymore?
Al Saniuk

The Connecticut Whale are sporting new white jerseys and moving back to Stamford, CT for the NWHL’s third season. Hopefully, a new look in a familiar place will bring the team success.

A Look Back at Last Season

The Whale finished last in the standings during the 2016-2017 season. Going 5-12-1, the Whale looked lifeless throughout the season and faced their now-standard off-ice turmoil as then-captain Molly Engstrom left for the SDHL, citing issue with how the NWHL handled salary cuts. The Whale never quite recovered, despite strong goaltending and breakout performances by Quinnipiac alumnae. By mid-season, it was obvious that the Whale were leagues behind the rest of the pack.

Season Prediction

There are many unknowns with the Whale this season. Icing a pretty new team, the Whale will depend on their veterans to keep them afloat. Especially with special teams for the power play and penalty kill, the Whale need to ensure their gaps are filled and their goaltender has their back. Unfortunately, while other teams seem to have improved and found key pieces to fill their rosters, the Whale were simply treading water.

Prediction: 4th place at 6-9-1.

Breakout Players

Kelly Babstock
Ok, so this might be cheating because Babstock has a had a couple of remarkable seasons in the NWHL, but this is the season for the Canadian forward to truly shine. Babstock has been overshadowed by some of the US Olympians, but she has been a steady first-liner for the Whale. As long as she can stay out of the penalty box (or #WhaleJail as fans call it) her presence and speed will continue to be felt.

Sam Faber
For those who have followed the Whale since the start, they will remember that Faber had a stellar start to the inaugural season before an injury sidelined her. She was quiet in the second season, perhaps still rehabbing, but pre-season form showed that Faber is back and ready to wreak havoc.

Jamie Goldsmith
We would be remiss to leave out the third person on the Whale’s first line. A rookie, Goldsmith was everywhere on the ice during the preseason tilts against Russia. As she gets more comfortable with the Whale and their systems, look for Goldsmith to shine.

Offseason Moves

Coaching: Ryan Equale, a Connecticut native, will take on Head Coach duties for the Whale this season. Equale spent time in the AHL before turning his sights on coaching U-16 and U-19 girls.

Re-signings: Perhaps most importantly for the Whale, they re-signed star forwards Babstock and Faber. Shannon Doyle and Jordan Brickner returned as well to steady the team's blue line. Fan-favorite Anya Battaglino stays a Whale while also maintaining her status as Director of the NWHL Player’s Association.

Other signings: Not to be blasé about it, but take a look at the rest of their roster. Most of the other players are brand new. Some, like Denise Cardello, are also a bit removed from their college playing years as well.

Gone fishing: The Whale lost US superstars Dana Trivigno and Haley Skarupa in the offseason to the Boston Pride. Defender Kaliya Johnson also signed with the Pride. Additionally, Kelli Stack and Zoe Hickel moved to the CWHL’s Kunlun Red Stars.

Extra: The Whale’s new jerseys are amazing.

Three Must-Watch Games

Oct. 28 v Buffalo
It’ll be important to see how the Whale look with a few pre-season games and practices under their belt. For the fans, the season opener will be their first real gauge on what the Whale can hope to accomplish this season.

Jan. 14 at Buffalo
A midseason game at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the NWHL is likely to market the game heavily. Two teams in a different arena should be a fun one to watch.

Feb. 25 v Boston
The Olympians return February 22, and the Whale have 5 roster spots still open for the returners. If any do sign with the Whale, this could be the first look at a revamped and re-energized team.

#HotTakes

Everyone has already counted out the Whale for the season, and to be fair, it’s a good bet to make. Their team is full of new faces both off and on the ice. Still, for a season that starts with no Olympians, this is a clean slate for the Whale to swim up in the standings.

The Whale’s success will be dependent on Babstock and Faber’s scoring, their goalies standing on their heads, and their team chemistry remaining strong. Everyone has forgotten the comeback kids from the Whale’s first season. While some critics may say it’s a new team looking over their shoulder at the past, it's not fair to count the Whale out just yet. Everyone starts at the same place when the puck drops this Saturday.