2018-19 CWHL Preview: Worcester Blades
The #WooBlades have a lot to prove.
There’s no easier way to say this: the Blades have struggled. They were at the bottom of the CWHL table last season, and they weren’t close to budging. They won only one game, lost 24 in regulation, and lost three more in shootouts. They ended the season with five points and scored only 41 goals all season. For a team that struggled to score — and not get scored on — they had plenty of work to do in the offseason. Luckily, plenty of work was done.
Arguably the biggest CWHL news of the offseason was the Blades’ move from Boston to Worcester, a city an hour west. Worcester is home to the Islanders’ ECHL affiliate, the Worcester Railers, and the newly-named Worcester Blades will play out of the Railers’ facility, Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center. The move and the re-branding (with a snazzy new logo to boot) were only the beginning.
The Blades have a new GM in Derek Alfama, who has coached for Norwich University (DIII), RPI (DI), and Providence College (DI). Alfama is also the Director of Business Development at the Blades’ new rink. They added a new head coach, Paul Kennedy, who founded the East Coast Wizards program, now an AAA program well-known for youth and teenage players in the greater Boston area. He was also the girl’s head coach at Cushing Academy, whose notable alums include US Olympians Meghan Duggan and Erika Lawler.
They drafted well, beginning with the first overall pick. However, later on, Alfama attempted to select Meeri Räisänen, who had already been drafted by the Thunder. As a result, the Blades were unable to draft her, and she ended up signing with the Connecticut Whale of the NWHL.
Draft pics with our draft picks! #2018CWHLDraft pic.twitter.com/UiQaWr3cbP— Worcester Blades (@WorcesterCWHL) August 26, 2018
The Blades signed all but two of their draftees: Rebecca Fleming (Holy Cross/UConn), Shannon Hickey (Plymouth State), Jennifer MacAskill (Mercyhurst), Meghan Turner (Quinnipiac), Carrie Atkinson (Lindenwood/Djurgårdens IF of the SDHL) and Lauren Williams (Wisconsin).
Also notable are the losses for the Blades in this offseason. The 2017-18 Blades’ leading scorer (with 7 goals and 9 assists) Kate Leary has signed overseas with HC Lugano in the Swiss Women’s A League. Michelle Ng will play with the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays this season, and Dru Burns and Taylor Wasylk have signed with the NWHL’s Boston Pride.
3 Players to Watch
The returning player with the highest scoring from last season is Meghan Grieves, a BC alum who has been with the team since 2016. Last season, she scored 6 goals and racked up 8 assists. That means that she factored into 34% of their goals last season, so having her back will be huge. Grieves didn’t produce too much in the NCAA when compared to some of her Boston College teammates (45 points over a span of 152 career games), but professionally she’s shown that she can score on a team lacking in structure and support, and her presence on the new Worcester Blades will anchor an influx of rookies entering their first professional season as major underdogs.
Any and all rookies with a scoring touch will be a boon to a team losing the kind of talent the Blades have lost in this offseason. The loss of Dru Burns leaves the Blades’ blueline without its top-scoring defender. Luckily, they drafted Boston University alum and former captain Alexis Crossley Miller. She had 72 points in 132 career NCAA games, half with the University of New Hampshire, before her transfer year. Making the leap to Hockey East was apparently effortless for Miller, who hit the 20-point mark in both of her seasons at Boston University. If she can keep up anything close to that kind of production this year for Worcester, the team will be much better off.
For a team that’s going to be facing as many shots as the Blades, goaltending is crucial. Rookie goaltender Jessica Convery out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth has the numbers and the experience to make her a great candidate for at least the #2 spot. Convery spent 3 years at Mercyhurst before transferring to UMD for her senior year. Over her last two years in the NCAA she had a .915 average SV% through 56 games. Transferring out of CHA to the WCHA and posting up those kinds of numbers suggests that Convery has the poise to handle elite, high-scoring competition. Backing up Lauren Dahm, she’ll have the opportunity to prove herself against many Canadian (and several American) Olympians.
3 Games to Watch
Worcester Blades vs Markham Thunder - October 13
The new-look Blades’ season opener will be against the defending Clarkson Cup champions- a great opportunity to show how far they’ve come in the offseason.
Toronto Furies vs Worcester Blades - October 20th
The Blades’ first home game on their new ice is a showdown with the Furies, who are the only team the Blades beat last season.
Worcester Blades vs. Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays - November 6
The Blades will travel to China to play back-to-back-to-back away games against the Rays, who feature players from last years’ Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays teams, including former Blade Michelle Ng.
This still isn’t a playoff team. Every other team in the CWHL has a core of Olympian players with international experience, and the Blades are relying mostly on rookies for their scoring after the departure of Kate Leary to Switzerland. After last season, there’s not much room for them to do anything other than improve, and with this roster and a new coaching staff, they probably will. Moving the team to Worcester from Boston will absolutely change attendance, but it remains to be seen whether attendance numbers will go up or down.
The Blades are officially in rebuild mode. Their draft, despite the tenth-round snafu, went fairly well, and they’re likely to improve at least a little bit this season after a series of major changes in the office and both on and behind the bench.