aSince the league’s inception the NWHL’s preseason schedule has been relatively brief. In years past, teams steeled themselves for the upcoming season by crossing sticks with clubs both in and outside of the league, including the Russian women’s national team and the Chinese women’s national team.
This year, at least four of the NWHL’s teams will play against local college teams to prepare for the 24-game 2019–20 regular season.
There’s a lot to like about this approach to the preseason, from the NWHL’s perspective. In addition to reasonable travel costs, the league will also give collegiate players a firsthand look at what pro women’s hockey looks like. Now, more than ever, the NWHL needs to find ways to attract local talent with members of the PWHPA sitting the year out.
Whitecaps vs. University of Minnesota
- Sept. 22, 2 p.m. (CT) at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis
The Whitecaps are no strangers to playing collegiate teams. Last season, the Whitecaps had nine exhibition games sprinkled into their 16-game regular season schedule; eight of those games were played against local college teams. However, this game will be the first time that Minnesota will play the Golden Gophers as a part of the NWHL.
“Being able to play outstanding D-I schools at the start of the season is beneficial for us to see where the team is starting at and what we need to improve on,” Whitecaps’ co-head coach Ronda Engelhardt shared in a league release. “It gives us our baseline and we will be able to see the direction we need to go as we enter the season.”
Player to watch
Whitecaps rookie forward Nicole Schammel is the only former Golden Gopher skater currently on the roster, but chances are good that she and Amanda Leveille will be joined by a few more Minnesota alumnae before the Whitecaps step on the ice at Ridder Arena. All signs point to her having a big rookie season for Minnesota, although it remains unclear who she will be playing with.
Last season, Schammel led the Golden Gophers in scoring with 16 goals and 31 assists in 39 games. Will she be able to light up her former team on Sept. 22? We’ll soon find out.
Pride vs. Boston University
- Sept. 27, 7 p.m. ET at Walter Brown Arena in Boston
The Boston Pride will play the first of their two preseason games against the BU Terriers. There are an abundance of players on the Pride’s roster who spent their collegiate careers battling BU, so there is a lot of potential for this game to have a little more fire than most exhibitions.
The Terriers finished their 2018–19 campaign with a record of 21–8–8. They were led by USWNT newcomer Jesse Compher, who notched 61 points in her sophomore season, and 5-foot-11 netminder Corinne Schroeder.
Players to watch
Thus far in the 2019 offseason the Pride have signed two former Terriers: Kaleigh Fratkin and Mary Parker. It may be hard to believe, but Parker has already played games in three different NWHL seasons despite the fact that she finished her collegiate career at BU in 2017. Last season, she scored three goals in her last three games of the regular season for the Pride.
For the Terriers, Compher, Schroeder, and redshirt senior Sammy Davis will be the players to keep an eye on. Davis led Hockey East with the 25 goals she scored as a redshirt junior, and she scored the overtime winner of the Beanpot final against Harvard. So, there’s a good chance that Harvard alumnae Lexie Laing and Jillian Dempsey are looking forward to beating her and the Terriers.
Pride vs. Northeastern
- Sept. 28, 2 p.m. ET at Matthews Arena in Boston
Of the 11 players who have signed with the Pride in the 2019 offseason, four of them played their collegiate hockey at Northeastern. So, there is no shortage of storylines for this one.
The Huskies have produced some of the NWHL’s brightest and most entertaining stars over the years, including Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hayley Scamurra, and Denisa Křížová. Last season, Northeastern finished with an outstanding record of 27–6–5 and were the fifth-ranked team.
Players to watch
It’s going to be fun to watch former Huskies McKenna Brand, Lauren Kelly, and Tori Sullivan play their old team. Remember, Sullivan played her senior season at Northeastern last year, so she will probably know more about the team she is playing against than the team she is playing with at Matthews Arena.
With that being said, the must-watch player of this game is sophomore Swiss forward Alina Müller. Müller is, without a doubt, one of the brightest young stars in hockey. She scorched Group B in the 2018 Olympics, finishing with seven goals and three assists in six games, and potted a goal and an assist at the 2018 Worlds on a shorthanded Swiss team. Last season, Müller notched 51 points in 37 games at Northeastern.
Whale vs. University of Connecticut
- Sept. 28, 3 p.m. ET at Freitas Ice Forum in Mansfield, Conn.
Surprisingly, the Whale have yet to have a UConn Husky on the roster, although it’s worth mentioning that former head coaches Heather Linstad and Ryan Equale both had ties to the university.
At this juncture, it’s hard to say what to expect from the Whale, who still don’t have a head coach and have four defenders and two forwards signed for the season. Connecticut still hasn’t re-signed Emily Fluke and will need to find a new team identity with Kateřina Mrázová and Michelle Löwenhielm playing in the SDHL next season. This preseason contest against the Huskies should give us a good idea of what is sure to be a new-look Whale.
“Our partnership with UConn’s women’s hockey program benefits both teams in our preparations for the NWHL and NCAA seasons,” new Whale general manager Bray Ketchum stated in a league release. “We’re looking forward to an exciting game against an outstanding team, as we take steps in building the Whale lineup.”
Players to watch
Seasoned Connecticut Whale forward Kendra Broad has played NCAA D-I hockey, USports hockey, pro hockey in Sweden, and pro hockey in Switzerland. The 28-year-old forward’s wealth of experience could be a valuable asset to the Whale, but more than anything else, Ketchum is likely hoping that she will add some scoring to the lineup.
The big question for Broad heading into her first NWHL season is whether or not she will be able to stay out of the box. She racked up 127 penalty minutes in 38 games in the SWHL over the last two seasons. Broad likes to mix it up. It will be interesting to see how the Huskies react to her game.
Riveters vs. LIU
- Sept. 28, 7:45 p.m. ET at Iceworks in Syosset, N.Y.
Sept. 28 will mark the NWHL’s first appearance on Long Island. More importantly, it also marks the debut of NCAA D-I hockey in greater NYC. The Long Island University Sharks are led by former CWHL head coach Rob Morgan, but that isn’t the only familiar face behind their bench. Connecticut Whale great Sam Faber was named an assistant coach for the program on June 3. If anyone can help get a team filled with freshman ready for this game, it’s Faber.
Players to watch
Riveters rookie forward and Long Island native Cailey Hutchison should draw a lot of attention in this one. So too will LIU’s three Swedes — Alva Johnsson, Matilda af Bjur, and Paula Bergström — and Danish defender Linn Thomsen.
The Sharks are going to lean on their international imports and junior defender Morgan Schauer all season long, starting with this exhibition against the Riveters.
All data courtesy of EliteProspects.com and HockeyEastOnline.com.