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Making waves: Potential free agents for the Whitecaps

With only four players under contract for the 2020-21 season, who could the Whitecaps potentially be eyeing?

Kirsten Burton/NWHL

It’s no secret that the Whitecaps have been the least active organization when it comes to announcing player signings for the upcoming NWHL season. With only Allie Thunstrom, Jonna Curtis, Amanda Boulier, and Amanda Leveille committed to playing in the State of Hockey in 2020-21, Whitecaps fans might be getting a little nervous. Never fear — Jack Brodt has been a reliable part of the Whitecaps for years, and is sure to have something up his sleeve for season six.

In the mean time, we’ve compiled a list of free agents with ties to the area the Whitecaps might target ahead of next year.

NCAA 2020 Graduating Class

With a handful of the WCHA’s highest scoring graduates already committed to compete with the PWHPA for the upcoming season, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any players with national team ties sign with the Whitecaps out of the WCHA. Combined with the fact that two of their draft picks are already out of the picture — Presley Norby is moving to Chicago to work in real estate and Patti Marshall has signed a contract with the Brynäs IF of the SDHL — the Whitecaps are going to have to work extra hard to pad their roster with recruits from local universities if they want a shot at the 2021 Isobel Cup.

Emily Antony, forward, Minnesota State

With 22 points over 37 games, Emily Antony finished the season at the top of the points race among Minnesota State forwards for the second time in her career. Not only is Antony a scarily precise sniper (her .149 shooting percentage was good for second on the team and tenth in the WCHA), but she’s a solid presence in the back end too, registering 47 blocks her senior season alone. Over the course of her career, she’s been remarkably consistent, establishing an upward trend in scoring after redshirting her sophomore season due to injury. While Antony’s production isn’t quite at the level of scoring fiends like Allie Thunstrom or Jonna Curtis, she would make for a consistent middle six forward that would give the Whitecaps some much needed depth.

Liz Auby, goaltender, Colgate

When you think of the Whitecaps, your mind might go automatically to Minnesota natives — that’s where ours went too, what with all but three of the Whitecaps 2019-20 players hailing from the State of Hockey. That being said, you better make way for Wisconsin resident Liz Auby, who helped backstop Colgate to the NCAA final her sophomore year and could make for one half of a very formidable goaltending tandem for the Whitecaps. During the 2017-18 campaign, Auby set the program record for the longest shutout streak with 269:09, beating the previous record by more than sixty minutes. She’s been consistently solid in net over her tenure with the Raiders, routinely posting save percentages of over .920 in seasons where she played in ten or more games. Depending on which — if either — of the Whitecaps’ past netminders re-sign with the team, Auby could make a case for herself as either a starter between the pipes or as apart of a very reliable tandem.

Colgate netminder Liz Auby prepares to defend a shot from Dartmouth’s CC Bowlby

McKenzie Sederberg, defender, Minnesota State

The Mavericks have been cultivating a remarkably solid program, so it should be no surprise that our final graduating senior would hail from Minnesota State too. McKenzie Sederberg was third in the WCHA in blocked shots this season with 83, and finished in the top ten among defenders in shots on goal with 70. She played a pivotal role on the Mavericks’ power play as well, with nearly half of her points coming on the player advantage. Though she might not possess the same star power as NWHL All-Star Amanda Boulier, Sederberg would still be a remarkable asset for the Whitecaps ahead of the 2020-21 season. She would strengthen the blue line while providing additional scoring support, and has ties to the Twin Cities region that would make the Whitecaps an attractive fit.

International Free Agents

The term “international free agents” might be a bit of a misnomer — who we’re really talking about are players with ties to the Twin Cities region who have spent one or more of the last few seasons playing overseas. Plenty of Minnesota natives have taken their talents to Europe even before the conception of the NWHL. With a plethora of roster spots available on a team close to home, it makes sense that the Whitecaps and the NWHL might be a draw for some of these players.

Sam Hanson, defender/forward, Leksands IF (SDHL)

Sam Hanson spent four seasons at the University of North Dakota between 2012 and 2016, overlapping with international greats like the Lamoureux twins and Susanna Tapani. While a member of the Fighting Hawks, Hanson racked up a career 27 points — which isn’t too shabby for a player typically utilized as a defender. Hanson spent her first season in the SDHL with Djurgårdens IF and spent a lot of time on the bench. She would end up producing only 4 points over 13 games during the 16-17 campaign, but jumped at the opportunity for relocation when Leksands IF came knocking. Over the past two years with the latter club, Hanson has totaled 39 points over 66 games, which just goes to show that, if utilized properly, she can really shine as either a middle six forward or an offensively productive defender. She would be a great fit for the Whitecaps in either role, in my opinion, given the dearth of signings we’ve witnessed from the westernmost NWHL team.

Claudia Kepler, forward, KRS Vanke Rays Shenzhen (ZhHL)

With a ZhHL championship under her belt as a member of the inaugural KRS Vanke Rays Shenzhen squad, Claudia Kepler has enough professional experience to shine as a veteran forward on the Minnesota Whitecaps roster. She spent three seasons with the Ohio State Buckeyes before transferring to Wisconsin for her final year of eligibility in 2017-18, and has consistently totaled 20 or more points over her last three seasons in the NCAA. While the year Kepler spent playing with HV71 of the SDHL means she’s no stranger to playing hockey in a foreign country, having performed at the highest level in the midst of a global pandemic means there’s not much she can’t tackle. With 27 points over 35 games in the SDHL and 17 points over 24 games with the Vanke Rays, Kepler’s a star when it comes to producing under pressure. The Wisconsin native, who is listed on the PWHPA’s website but has yet to play in a showcase with the organization, would be the perfect fit for the Whitecaps as a top six forward.

Caitlin Reilly, forward, EHV Sabres Wien (EWHL)

Caitlin Reilly is the most recent college graduate of our overseas free agents, having left Minnesota with 51 points over three seasons in the maroon and gold in 2018. She spent the first year in the NCAA with Penn State, but transferred to Minnesota for her sophomore season to be closer to home and to be apart of the Gophers’ storied history — a hope that would come to fruition in 2016, when Minnesota won its most recent national championship. Since graduating, Reilly has played two seasons overseas in Austria with the EHV Sabres in Vienna, registering 38 points in just 15 games her first season. Her production saw a bit of a drop-off over the 2019-20 campaign due to only playing in three games, but if she intends to continue her career, the Whitecaps would be the perfect fit for her — as close to home as the University of Minnesota was and the Whitecaps have a pretty storied history themselves, what with a Clarkson and Isobel Cup to their name.

Domestic Free Agents

No list of attractive free agents would be complete without taking into consideration a handful of Minnesota natives that have yet to renew their contracts with their former teams for the 2020-21 season. While you might see some franchise fan favorites here, don’t be discouraged quite yet — we’ve got a long offseason ahead of us.

Corinne Buie, forward, Buffalo Beauts

Corinne Buie is well-loved by fans, players, and management alike as the captain of the Buffalo Beauts, but her movement this off-season has been mostly a secret. The Minnesota native has established herself as a veteran presence in the league over the past five seasons, and has professional experience aplenty, from a year in the CWHL with the Blades to two years with the Pride in the NWHL to, of course, the past three seasons with the Beauts. In her trophy case, Buie has a Clarkson and Isobel Cup, three All-Star appearances, and a number of franchise records with the Beauts. Suffice to say, she’s got a lot to bring to the table regardless of where — or if — she continues her professional career.

Al Saniuk

Mikaela Gardner, defender, PWHPA Minnesota

Mikaela Gardner has been quietly making a name for herself in the women’s hockey community since she was selected to Team USA’s U18 Women’s World Championship roster in 2015, alongside up and coming stars like Jincy Dunne, Sammy Davis, and Natalie Snodgrass. She has been consistently solid in both ends of the ice, earning all-WCHA second team honors during her junior season after netting a career high in points (22). Gardner made her first senior team appearance with Team USA when she skated in the 2018 Four Nations Cup in Saskatchewan, but hasn’t made the cut for any training camps or senior team rosters since. During the 2019-20 season, she appeared in two showcases with the PWHPA: the Magellan Corporation Showcase in Chicago, and the Arizona Showcase in Tempe. We selected Gardner as a potential candidate for the Whitecaps for the upcoming season for a number of reasons — as an Illinois native and a Wisconsin graduate, she’s not too far from Minnesota, and as for her on-ice repertoire...well, that pretty much speaks for itself. The Whitecaps could use a reliable two-way defender, especially when they only have Amanda Boulier under contract for 2020-21.

Allie LaCombe, forward, Connecticut Whale

Despite playing only five games for the Whale this season, we think Allie LaCombe has plenty of potential waiting to be tapped should she sign for another season in the NWHL. The Eden Prairie native was a solid middle six forward for Syracuse during her tenure with the Orange, and had a very productive year with the EHV Sabres Wien in the EWHL in 2015-16. LaCombe recorded her first NWHL goal in the dying minutes of the 2020 Isobel Cup Playoffs play-in game against the Beaut, helping secure the Pod’s first ever playoff victory while starring on the team’s top line. Though she currently serves as a coach for the Nashville Jr. Predators girls’ team in Tennessee, should she be interested in continuing her career up north, she could really make a splash with the Whitecaps in season six.

You can keep up with every new signing with our 2020-21 NWHL Signing Tracker, and keep your eyes peeled for our biweekly NWHL roster updates.

All stats courtesy of EliteProspects, individual team websites, and HerHockeyCounts.