2021-22 PHF Season Preview: Connecticut Whale

Again we ask: is this FINALLY the year the Pod get over the hump?

2021 Roster

Forward: Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Kennedy Marchment, Taylor Girard, Emma Polaski, Cailey Hutchison, Janine Weber, Catherine Crawley, Kaycie Anderson
Defense: Allie Munroe, Hannah Beattie, Tori Howran, Rebecca Morse, Taylor Marchin, Hannah Bates, Shannon Doyle Turner (C)
Goalie: Abbie Ives, Mariah Fujimagari

General Manager: Alexis Moed (1st season)
Head Coach: Colton Orr (3rd season) 4-22-2 regular season, 1-2 postseason
Assistant Coach: Jamie Goldsmith (1st season)

Shannon Turner back for one last, last chance at Isobel Cup

Lake Placid

The Connecticut Whale built up unprecedented momentum while in Lake Placed in January of 2021. Sure, their final record of 2-2 doesn’t look all that remarkable, and their unceremonious 7-0 drubbing in the Isobel Cup Playoffs two months later certainly seemed like Same Old Whale on the scoresheet.

But to watch them play was to appreciate a new era of Whale hockey.

Possession numbers ticked upwards. The offense spent more time on attack. They even took down the eventual champion Boston Pride 4-1 in a statement win. Things just felt different. At least, until the team was ravaged by COVID and...well, you know the rest.

New Faces

Cailey Hutchison headlines the free agent haul of league mainstays for the Pod. Hutchison skated top-six minutes for the Metropolitan Riveters in 2019-20, collecting three goals and eight assists over 24 games. She netted one goal (ironically, against the Whale) in three games at Lake Placid in 2021.

Other new forwards include SDHL standout Kennedy Marchment, 2021 first-overall pick Taylor Girard plus rookies Catherine Crawley and Emma Polaski.

Defender Rebecca Morse is another Riv-turned-Whale, signing with Connecticut after five seasons with the Rivs. A terrific two-way piece, Morse has accumulated seven goals and eight assists over 56 PHF games on the blueline. With a need for pro experience on the Connecticut defense, Morse is a perfect fit.

Defenders joining Morse in their first season in green are draft pick Hannah Bates and SDHL signing Allie Munroe.

Left For Other Places

The Whale lost quite a bit of offensive firepower in the offseason, as forwards Kayla Friesen and Katelynn Russ joined the Boston Pride. Friesen was the second overall pick of the 2020 Draft, who finished with a goal in three games. Russ joined the Whale late in the 2019-20 season, notching three points in the last two regular season games. She contributed two goals in four games at Lake Placid.

Elena Orlando initially announced her retirement from the PHF, then un-retired to join the Buffalo Beauts. Orlando had been with the Whale for four seasons.

Grace Klienbach also hopped over to the Beauts after three seasons with the Whale. Klienbach was held pointless in 2021, but her speed was a valued weapon defensively.

Goaltender Brooke Wolejko departed for the Metropolitan Riveters this summer. After an eye-catching 2019-20 season, Wolejko started just one game in 2021, backstopping a 4-3 loss to the Metropolitan Riveters. With Ives seizing full control of the number one job, Wolejko will compete with fellow former Whale netminder Sonjia Shelly for time in New Jersey.

Spotlight Addition

Kennedy Marchment is a big-time addition. Once upon a time, she was the second-overall pick in the 2017 NWHL Draft. Now, she’s finally entering the league after three seasons in Sweden’s SDHL.

The second-leading scorer in the SDHL racked up 28 goals and 44 assists for 72 points in 34 games. A 2018 graduate of St. Lawrence University, Marchment is a thrilling playmaker with a true scorer’s touch. She can shoot. She can pass. She can deke other skaters out of their socks. Seriously. She is good.

If things go according to plan, Marchment could be a dark horse for some league awards at the end of the year with potential to be the best point producer in franchise history.

And no, that’s not all that hyperbolic to say.

Rookie Radar

All eyes are on Taylor Girard, the league’s first overall pick in this offseason’s Draft. The Whale traded up to secure the pick, working a deal with the Buffalo Beauts in order to claim their prize. Girard transferred from Lindenwood to Quinnipiac ahead of the 2019-20 season, and she truly flourished as a Bobcat. Posting 13 goals and 21 assists in 39 games, she has tremendous ability with the puck that should translate to the pro game relatively quickly.

Her 4.2 shots-on-goal per game led the Bobcats in 2020-21, which should immediately endear her to a Connecticut fanbase so accustomed to being outshot prior to 2021. Plus, her nose for the net and her 5-foot-10 frame make her a prime candidate to score within a 10-foot radius around the net- another attribute the Whale have desired for years.

How They Win the Cup

The rookies added to the forward corps add some much needed punch. Abbie Ives emerges as a Goaltender of the Year candidate as the Whale evolve from a team over-relying on their netminder to a team supporting their young talent between the pipes. It’s not always as comfortable as, say, the Boston Pride where a blowout is possible any given night, but a clinical forecheck and Shannon Turner-led defense keep things tight enough where any game is winnable.

How They Lose the Cup

The hype surrounding the team in Lake Placid merely turns out to be a flash in the pan, as the team struggles to string together consecutive wins over a longer, more grueling season. The offense struggles to recalibrate after a number of key losses up front. The defense simply cannot keep up with the offensive firepower of Boston or Toronto. Shannon Turner’s Sisyphean effort to win an Isobel Cup falters for the seventh- and final- time.