The Worcester Blades did not win a single game this season, going 0-28 with zero points. Not a single game went to overtime nor a shootout. This was their fourth straight season with a losing record and the first without a win of any kind. Their last win came 15 months ago on Jan. 6, 2018, when they were still the Boston Blades.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s rough in Worcester.
Second-year forward Meghan Grieves led the Blades in scoring with eight points. No one on the team cracked double digits and only the four goaltenders managed to keep their plus-minus out of the red with zero.
Grieves’ three goals tied for her second on the team and made her one of eight players to score more than one goal (five players had two goals). After losing a few key players in the offseason, Grieves stepped up for her team when they needed her.
Rookie Morgan Turner scored four goals for the team lead.
All of the Blades’ biggest storylines can be whittled down to lack of consistency. They’re on their fourth home arena in four seasons, their third general manager in three seasons, and their fourth head coach in three seasons. A lack of consistency can mean a wash for any progress that was made both on and off the ice.
The move west to Worcester was supposed to be a new beginning for the Blades. They changed their name to the Worcester Blades and finally got a new logo. However, it also depleted the fan base that was already struggling to follow the team around Massachusetts. In the last four seasons they’ve played in Marlborough, Boston, Winthrop, and Worcester. How do you build a fan base when the team moves at least 30 minutes away every season? How do the players maintain balance with their full-time jobs when they are changing their hockey plans every season?
Derek Alfama took over as general manager for Jessica Martino (17-18), who took over for Krista Patronick, who had been with the team for about two seasons. Paul Kennedy was named the head coach after the Blades cycled through two different head coaches in a year following Brian McCloskey’s departure with Patronick. While the team hadn’t been exactly trending upwards, a new general manager and a new coach with a new direction set an already sad state of affairs right back to square one, evident by the Blades’ inability to accrue even a single point this season.
Players have to relearn systems; coaches have no time to learn their players given the limited practice time. While some teams in the league have found success under new coaching staffs, it’s clear the Blades crave some sort of consistency to be able to succeed.
As a team, the Blades only scored 22 goals in 27 games (one game was a forfeit due to travel issues). No player notched double digits in points. Marie-Philip Poulin scored more goals on the season than the entire Blades team combined.
The Blades scored at least one goal in 16 games. It’s really hard to win games when they didn’t score in 11 of them.
Keep reading. You’ll see that the Blades goaltenders saw 1,278 shots. At some point, the defense needs to help out and not let the opposing team get to the net. There’s a hockey saying that the best defense is a strong offense. But if a team also doesn’t have an offense...
If the Blades are rich in anything, it’s the number of goaltenders. Four different players defended their net. But, when they’re seeing 1,278 shots over the course of a season, one wonders if the problem isn’t with the last line of defense but with the defense itself. The next closest team in shots allowed gave up 915, a 363-shot difference. The team that allowed the least amount of shots gave up 612, 52% less than Worcester. If that many shots are getting off, it would take a superhuman goaltender to stop less than the 155 goals they allowed.
For all their goaltenders though, Kennedy’s deployment of them was, at times, odd.
The Blades drafted and signed goaltender Jessica Convery out of UMD and then rarely played her. She saw 200 minutes of ice time over six games she dressed for.
Thunder draftee Mariah Fujimagari, a Maine alumna, won the starting role out of the preseason camps and saw most of the minutes. The rookie gave up 69 goals in 614 minutes played.
Jetta Rackleff, last season’s backup goaltender who was mostly injured, was not named to the starting 25-player roster but was on the reserve roster. She logged 347 minutes with the highest save percentage of .906.
Most peculiar was Kennedy’s use of last season’s starter and workhorse Lauren Dahm. There were streaks of Dahm not starting or being a healthy scratch, though she did see the second-most ice time at 419.
All of this is to say that Kennedy’s goaltending strategy was wildly unclear. The Blades have long struggled in the second game on the weekend as a team, typically lacking the depth and stamina to stay with the fire power of the other teams, and he didn’t often split the goaltenders over a weekend.
There’s not a lack of effort in Worcester by the players, volunteers, and coaching staff, that’s for sure. Go to a game and you’ll see firsthand how hard they work. They’re also one of two teams to stream almost every single game — sometimes the play-by-play announcer is also the camera man. If I could give an A for effort, I would.
The grade is really more for the league’s effort and care for the team. It’s more and more apparent they have left the only US-based team out to dry, with interim Commissioner Jayna Hefford abdicating the CWHL’s responsibility to Worcester’s front office in regards to building a competitive franchise. The Blades continue floundering away in central Massachusetts with little-to-no support besides being allowing to continue to operate.
While women’s hockey continues to pay stipends and not salaries, it will be harder and harder to attract high-quality talent to the Blades when another team in Massachusetts is located in Boston and wins. Not only wins, but provides actual hope for the future instead of scraping at rock bottom. Only die-hard women’s hockey fans will want to show up to watch one team get blown out — even if the teams use the visiting players as a marketing push — making it that much harder for the Blades organization to stay afloat financially.
The CWHL needs to step up and figure out what to do with the Blades, rather than continue to let them be the punching bag for the rest of the league.