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All-Time Starting Lineup: Connecticut Whale

Who’s in the Pod’s Starting Six?

Pat McCarthy

The Connecticut Whale may not have the star power in their franchise’s history that other organizations have. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t had some prime talent roll through. In truth, their All-Time Starting Six would be a pretty dang good hockey team. So let’s take a look. Let us know who’s in your starting lineup in the comments below!

The Starting Six

Center: Kateřina Mrázová (‘18-’19)

Kateřina Mrázová was an absolute magician with the puck. The Czech forward was a proven scorer at the international level when she signed with the Whale, and she made an immediate impact scoring five goals in her first five games. She hit a cold streak mid-season, which is excusable considering the lackluster performance of the team as a whole.

Whether or not she found the statsheet, Mrázová was an impact player. She drove possession for the Whale and led the team in scoring with 12 points, 11 of them primaries.

Defining moment: Skills on display vs Riveters. Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap and tap your stick to an elite player. On Mar. 7, 2019, Mrázová undressed the Riveters’ defense for a fantastic scoring play...twice.

Honorable mention: Kelli Stack (‘15-’17). Stack was an equally flashy player with the Whale in their early years, tying Kelly Babstock for the team lead in points in Year One and placing second in Year Two. She was one of the best shot generators in team history to boot. Mrázová gets the slight edge for her defensive prowess and her having to do more with less around her.

Left Wing: Haley Skarupa (‘16-’17)

Speaking of incredible shot generators, enter Haley Skarupa. Skarupa only spent one season with the Whale, and she made it a memorable one. She led the team in scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists in 16 games and averaged over five shots-on-goal-per-game. Skarupa tacked on two assists in the Whale’s lone playoff game that season.

Skarupa would join the Boston Pride the following season, beginning a trend of incredibly talented players who came and went through the Whale organization. In her NWHL career, Skarupa tallied 45 points in 34 games, 32 of those points being primaries and 35 coming at even strength.

Defining moment: Debut hat trick. Skarupa wasted no time in introducing herself to Whale fans. In her first game with Connecticut, Skarupa erupted for three goals and an assist in a back-and-forth game against the Beauts on Oct. 9, 2016. It would be the first of seven multi-point performances that season.

Honorable mention: Emily Fluke (‘17-’19). One word comes to mind when Emily Fluke’s name is spoken: consistency. Fluke served as the Whale’s captain in ‘18-’19, leading the way as a scorer and a physical presence on the ice. She recorded back-to-back 11 point seasons with the Whale, leading the team one year and trailing only Mrázová the next. She moved on to Boston last year (noticing a trend yet?) and casually logged 27 points in 23 games.

Right Wing: Kelly Babstock (‘15-’18)

There were times towards the end of her tenure with the Whale where it felt like Babstock was the only real threat on the ice. But what a threat she was (and is). Babstock led the inaugural Whale in scoring with 22 points and even put up four points in three postseason games. She followed that up with 19 points in 17 games the next season, and nine in 14 the year after. Babstock delivered the goods year after year.

After three years with the Pod, Babstock shuffled off to Buffalo in pursuit of an Isobel Cup, falling just short in the Final. After a year off, she has returned to the NWHL and awaits a debut with the Toronto Six.

Defining moment: Staging the comeback vs BOS. In what would turn out to be the final win for Babstock in a Whale sweater, Connecticut staged a terrific comeback against the Pride on Nov. 19, 2017. Down 3-1 with 2:25 remaining, Babstock struck to bring the Whale within one. Just a minute later, Babstock carried the puck into the attacking zone and helped set up the game-tying goal. Finally, she capped it off by scoring the winning goal in the shootout. That sums up Babstock’s final season in Connecticut: carrying the team on her back.

Honorable mention: Shiann Darkangelo (‘15-’16). Darkangelo recorded one of the best goal-scoring seasons in franchise history right off the bat, as the young winger netted 10 goals with three assists in 13 games. It would be her only season in Connecticut, as she helped the Beauts win the ‘16-’17 Isobel Cup.

Defense: Shannon Doyle (‘15-present)

Shannon Doyle has been through a lot in her soon-to-be six season career in the NWHL. Not just mentally, as she tries to captain her team out from the basement and back to its Year One glory, but physically. She wears pucks at an unheard-of rate to the point where she’s formed a charitable initiative around her incredible blocked shot numbers.

But Doyle’s skills are far more than that of human crash test dummy. Her offensive skills are not always on display because of her team’s struggles to get the puck up ice, but she has both a good shot and vision of the ice. She’s accumulated 36 points in 85 games in her career. Eight of those points have come on the powerplay, and five of those eight have been primary.

Defining moment: GWG vs the Champs. Shannon Doyle gave the Connecticut Whale their first win of the season in dramatic fashion on Nov. 18, 2018. A seeing-eye shot from the point with 1:18 to go in regulation time put the Whale on top of the defending-champion Riveters. At the time, Metropolitan had started the year 0-5 before finally snagging a win against the Pride. Doyle and the Pod killed their momentum. Connecticut would only win one more game that season- a 4-0 win over the Riveters in which Doyle had a goal and an assist.

Honorable mention: Amanda Boulier (‘17-’18). Oh, if only the Whale could have held on to Boulier. Boulier recorded eight points in 12 games with the Whale before the Watertown, Connecticut native jumped ship to join the Minnesota Whitecaps. It was the right move career-wise, considering she won an Isobel Cup and got Defender of the Year consideration in her first year out west. But imagine if the Whale could have kept her as a top-pair puck-mover? Potentially franchise-altering.

Defense: Kaleigh Fratkin (‘15-’16)

The Whale would kill (or should I say, krill?) to have Kaleigh Fratkin back on their squad. Fratkin is simply the best offensive defender in the NWHL. In her season with the Pod, Fratkin posted 17 points in 18 games, the most of any defender in the league. Eleven of her 17 points were primaries and eight came on the powerplay.

Then, as Amanda Boulier would years later, Fratkin hopped to a new team in the Riveters. She later would join the Boston Pride and win Defender of the Year in 2019-20, racking up 23 points in 24 games.

Defining moment: 4 points in a wild finish vs BUF. The Nov. 22, 2015 matchup between the Beauts and Whale should be talked about more when it comes to NWHL lore. The Whale leapt out to a 5-1 first period lead with Fratkin dominating play- two powerplay goals and two assists. Then, the Beauts have a five-goal period of their own in the second. A 6-6 game is decided in a shootout with Kelly Babstock netting the winner. It was an insane game, and Fratkin’s personal best offensive performance as a professional.

Honorable mention: Jordan Brickner (‘15-present). I know, I know. Brickner is an Original NWHLer and is a strong player for the Whale when healthy. She has 26 career points in 69 games with the organization. But here’s the thing: Fratkin and Doyle are just better hockey players. Brickner may be the more familiar face to Whale fans, but objectively speaking, there’s just too much skill to compete with on the blueline.

Goaltender: Jamie Leonoff (‘15-’16)

Jamie Leonoff came to the Whale after graduating from Connecticut’s Yale University and casually posted one of the greatest seasons by any goaltender in league history right out the gate. In the Whale’s first season, their only season with a winning record, Leonoff went 6-3-0 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage- all while facing 44 shots a game per HerHockeyCounts.com.

And then, she was gone.

Leonoff signed with the Riveters leading into the 2016-17 season. However, in training for the season and recovering from a hip surgery, Leonoff tore her labrum, ending her season...and her career. She now works as a business analyst in the New York Islanders organization.

Defining moment: The First Game. Leonoff started the very first game in NWHL history on Oct. 11, 2015, as the Whale bested the New York Riveters 4-1 in Stamford. The game took place in front of a sold-out crowd, with hockey legend Manon Rheaume dropping the ceremonial first puck. Leonoff stopped 35 of 36 to secure the win.

Honorable mention: Meeri Räisänen (‘18-’19). People sleep on just how good Räisänen was. Probably because she was a hostage on the worst offensive team in league history. The 2018-19 Whale averaged 1.38 goals-per-game and she still was able to earn two wins and two overtime losses with a .908/3.03 split to boot. Unfortunately, an injury prevented her from participating in the Isobel Cup Playoffs that year and she signed in the SDHL the following season.