Today kicks off The Ice Garden’s Top 5 Rookies of the 2017-18 NWHL season countdown! After a heated voting period for The Ice Garden writers, editors, and photographers, our top five was clear. Starting tomorrow, we’ll count them down.
But then we had an interesting dilemma, three players were tied for sixth. All three received at least two votes and were among the more heated internal debates. It didn’t feel right to not include them. So, we named them our honorable mentions: the Whales’ Amanda Boulier and Emily Fluke and the Riveters’ Erika Lawler.
It’s hard to understate just how impactful Amanda Boulier was to the 2017-18 Whale. She finished third on Connecticut in points and was an All-Star despite missing four games because of her responsibilities as an assistant coach for Yale.
Head coach Ryan Equale moved Boulier, a natural defender, to center in order to spark some offense for his team. The smooth-skating rookie did not disappoint. She had three primary points on the Whale’s final five goals of the 2017-18 season.
On a Whale team that was starved for offense all year long, Boulier was one of the few players who regularly created chances. Her skating ability and acumen in the defensive zone made her invaluable to Connecticut in every scenario.
You could be forgiven for not realizing that Erika Lawler was a rookie in the 2017-18 NWHL season. She was 30 years old when she played her first game in a Metropolitan Riveters jersey. And she wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the league, either, having served as director of the NWHL Players Association and on the player safety committee in its inaugural season. When she did return to hockey this past season, though, Lawler was one of several new faces on NWHL ice.
The fast and gritty spitfire — all four feet and 11 inches of her — made an impact for the Isobel Cup-winning team in ways that mostly don’t show up on the scoreboard. In 14 regular -season games played for the Riveters, Lawler had a goal and seven assists for eight points — respectable but not outstanding. She added a goal and two assists in the playoffs, all during the semifinal game against the Connecticut Whale.
Where Lawler truly stood tall was on the dot. She had a good 52.42 faceoff percentage in the regular season and an excellent 55.26 faceoff percentage in her two playoff games.
Her closer-to-the-ice-surface stature also seemed to give her an edge when battling for the puck — along with such unquantifiable traits as determination, perseverance, and guts. Every time she fell (and there was a game at Barnabas Health Hockey House where I heard a pair of fans counting “Lawler down”s), she popped right back up and got right back into the midst of the play.
Emily Fluke’s rookie season with the Whale went swimmingly. After playing at Middlebury College, Fluke took some time off before returning to hockey — to play in the NWHL. She played in all 16 games for the Whale. The rookie led the team in points (11) and tied for first in goals (4) with veteran Kelly Babstock. Her goals all came at clutch times for the team.
Fluke’s first career goal came in the second game of the season. In front of a hometown crowd, even though it was an away game for the Whale, Fluke scored the game-winning goal over the Pride in Boston. Her other three goals were game tying, opened the score, and broke the shootout. But perhaps the most Clutch moment for Fluke was on Feb. 2. In the fifth round of the shootout, Fluke scored the game winning goal.