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The Boston Pride are coming together

Don’t look now, but Boston already has 10 players signed

Pat McCarthy

It’s been just shy of five weeks since the beginning of the NWHL’s free agency period. Now that each team has at least one player inked, we can start to debate which team is leading the way in terms of the quality of their talent, but there can be no debate about quantity. At this time last year, the Boston Pride had no players under contract. Today, they have 10 skaters signed on for the 2019-20 season. More importantly, three of those 10 players were at one point members of the #ForTheGame movement.

Interestingly enough, the league has not announced an official general manager for the Pride. However, some of the comments supplied by head coach Paul Mara in league releases indicate that he’s playing a role in recruitment. In all likelihood, the league’s front office, specifically Hayley Moore, and Mara are sharing the duties of general manager.

Al Saniuk

Thus far, whoever is overseeing the construction of the Pride is off to a promising start. On paper, Boston already has two forward lines and two defensive pairs.

The Pride’s current roster is headlined by two-time All-Star and captain Jillian Dempsey. Dempsey, who has been in the league since its inception, is second all-time in NWHL scoring and is tied for first with Madison Packer in all-time goals scored. She is also one of the biggest names to sign on for the 2019-20 season after initially coming out in support of the #ForTheGame movement.

Dempsey is not alone. Mallory Souliotis and McKenna Brand re-signed with the Pride on June 5 and June 20, respectively. Like Dempsey, they were also supporters of #ForTheGame. So too was former Pride forward Corinne Buie, who re-signed with the Buffalo Beauts on June 14. Rookie forward Cailey Hutchison was the first player to change her mind. She signed with the Riveters on May 28.

Clearly, a lot has changed since the #ForTheGame movement swept across social media like a wildfire in the early days of May. The Pride’s roster finds itself in the center of the spotlight because it features rookies from NCAA D-I schools, three players who were #ForTheGame, and Kaleigh Fratkin.

Fratkin, of course, was the first player to sign an NWHL contract this offseason. She also became the first outspoken voice for players who chose not to declare themselves #ForTheGame. Less than a month ago, she spoke with The Ice Garden about the concerns she had and how questions she asked were left unanswered before she was told it was time to choose a side.

“When I was first approached with it I had my questions, I finished the conversation, and then thought about it for about 24 hours before I was asked, ‘Are you with us, or not?’

Well, wait a second. Am I going to be the only person who is not on board? I had those questions too. I think it’s normal to. I can only imagine how I’d feel if I was a girl just coming out of college who is five or six years younger than I am now. Imagine idolizing a lot of the players who are making these decisions and who are asking these young girls if they are on board. If I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t know what to do. How could you?”

When Marisa Ingemi of the Boston Herald broke the news of Dempsey signing on June 18, she also reported that more members of the Pride were close to re-signing. That implies that other players from last year’s squad will be returning to the team. So, who might they be?

All three of the Pride’s goaltenders from last season — Katie Burt, Brittany Ott, and Madison Litchfield — are #ForTheGame. In fact, Jordan Smelker is the only skater from last year’s team that is both currently a free agent and has never come out in support of #ForTheGame. Then again, she also hasn’t tweeted since October 2017. So, we maybe shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to connect the dots there.

We may not know who the next players to join the Pride are, but we do know that the roster is filling up. On paper, the Pride need at least 10 more players to fill out the roster (including three goalies). That would give Boston nine forwards, six defenders, two goaltenders, and a backup player for each position. A 20-player roster is a skeleton crew, especially for a 24-game season, but that’s how many players the Beauts had before they were defeated in the Isobel Cup Final. So, it is possible.

The Pride’s location makes them a prime candidate to be the first team to fill its ranks. Last year, 41 NWHL players played their collegiate hockey at schools and universities within Greater Boston. So, even if we exclude players who are #ForTheGame, the Pride shouldn’t struggle to find 10 more players. However, we can’t yet say the same for the league’s other four clubs.