2021 NWHL Season Preview: Scouting the league’s rookie goaltenders

Let’s talk goalies

Predicting and projecting the impact of rookie skaters in the NWHL is closer to sorcery than science at the moment because equivalency rates and similar tools are very much a work-in-progress.

If projecting rookie skater performance is sorcery, forecasting what rookie goaltenders will do is the restricted section of the Hogwarts’ library — or something. Listen, you get the idea, it’s really tricky to do. But it’s also a lot of fun to look at the data, watch some film, and try to figure out which new faces in the goal crease have the potential to thrive playing post-collegiate hockey.

There isn’t a more important position in hockey than goaltender; they’re often considered to be the great equalizer of the game. And if NWHL fans have learned anything over the years it's to expect the unexpected from goalies, especially rookies and newcomers.

Before we dive into profiles on the six rookie goaltenders who have signed before Lake Placid let’s take a look at their college stats and how they stack up against each other.

College stats for the NWHL’s rookie goalies

Elaine ChuliDIUConnHEA20166000.980.9232.9137.583759346828
Samantha RidgewellDIMerrimackHEA20195598.710.9232.5532.953075283731
Tera HofmannDIYaleECAC20204072.950.9142.6430.692083190422
Carly JacksonDIMaineHEA20207056.810.9232.5327.903282302945
Abby IvesDIQuinnipiacECAC20205996.230.9261.7924.122410223146
Caty FlaggDIIIUNE/UMass-BostonNEHC20203929.680.9381.9231.072035190924

Samantha Ridgewell | Toronto Six

Age: 24 | Ht: 5’9”

If you want to make a safe bet on which new goalie is primed to shine in the NWHL, put your money on Ridgewell. At 5-foot-9, she’s a big presence in the crease and is fresh off of an impressive season in the SDHL with Djurgården.

After finishing her college career with a .923 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA against an average of 32.95 SA60 (shots against per-hour) at Merrimack, Ridgewell was among the best goalies in Sweden in 2019-20. Her .919 Sv% was the sixth-best in the league. It’s worth noting that Djurgården had a solid club — as evidenced by the 21.24 SA60 that Ridgewell faced — and that her stats were just a notch or two above backup Lovisa Berndtsson’s. Still, she was one of the club’s best players and earned 14 of the club’s 21 wins.

It’s important to note that the SDHL is, roughly speaking, on par with the NWHL in terms of the pace of the game and the talent level. Putting up a .919 Sv% while adapting to international ice in a new country is no small feat. And she did that after earning a .936 Sv% — a career-best — in her senior season at Merrimack.

Like most big goalies, Ridgwell excels at taking away the bottom half of the net when she goes down in the butterfly. She tracks the puck well and takes up a lot of the net. It’s almost like she gets bigger when she goes low. She is not easy to beat in tight because of her size and technique. But there’s a lot more to her game than just having long legs.

Primarily because of her recent experience in the SDHL, I expect Ridgwell to be Toronto’s starter, but we won’t know for sure until the puck drops in Lake Placid. She’s proven she can win at this level.

Elaine Chuli | Toronto Six

Age: 26 | Ht: 5’7”

Like Ridgewell, Chuli is a proven commodity at the professional level. After a stellar collegiate career at UConn, Chuli turned pro in the CWHL with the Vanke Rays in 2017-18 and moved to the Toronto Furies in 2018-19 before playing with the PWHPA last season.

Per USCHO, Chuli earned a .923 Sv% while facing a heavy workload of 37.5 SA60. In her most recent pro season, Chuli posted a .899 Sv% against an average of 30.0 SA60 with the Furies, per Crease Giants. So, she’s no stranger to facing a lot of pucks. She also won gold at the 2012 U18 Worlds where she shared Canada’s crease with Emerance Maschmeyer and posted two shutouts against Germany and Sweden.

At UConn, she earned a reputation for being a workhorse starter with plenty of confidence and skill, who regularly bailed her team out of jams. Chuli earned a lot of praise for her attitude and work ethic playing for a team that was regularly out-shot and out-chanced — the Huskies only won 33.5 percent of their games with Chuli between the pipes. She isn’t big, but she’s incredibly agile and relies on her athleticism to make saves when other goalies might be down and out. This netminder’s a fighter with great lateral movement.

“She has the ability to make one or two spectacular saves that she maybe shouldn’t make each game, keeps us in there at times if we’re not playing well,” Huskies’ head coach Chris MacKenzie said of Chuli after she finished her collegiate career.

Chances are, Toronto will go with a tandem in the crease because of the talent they have at their disposal and the compressed schedule. But Chuli is one of those goalies with the ability to absolutely steal a game when she’s on. That’s a wonderful trait to have.

Carly Jackson | Buffalo Beauts

Age: 23 | Ht: 5’5”

In my opinion, Carly Jackson is one of the most intriguing newcomers in the NWHL this year. She’s quick, calm, and capable of being a workhorse starter, which is why the Beauts selected her 3rd overall in the 2020 Draft.

A “true” rookie, Jackson logged the most minutes of college hockey among the goaltenders in this year’s class of newcomers. She made over 3,000 saves in her NCAA career for the Black Bears and put up some gaudy numbers in her senior season. Jackson had a .934 Sv% against an average of 28.78 SA60 in 2019-20 and led Maine to the Hockey East conference semifinal against Northeastern. She finished her career setting program records in wins, saves, save percentage, GAA, shutouts... you get the idea.

If you’re a sucker for beautiful glove saves, Jackson is your new favorite goalie. She played baseball growing up, and it shows because her glove is quick and obviously her weapon of choice. NWHL shooters are going to learn in a hurry that they will want to avoid shooting glove side on the Beauts’ rookie netminder.

All signs point to Jackson being the Beauts’ starter in Lake Placid. When you’re the 3rd overall pick and last year’s starter (Mariah Fujimagari) is no longer with the team, it’s your crease to lose.

Caty Flagg | Buffalo Beauts

Age: 22 | Ht: 5’6”

The New England Hockey Conference Goalie of the Year will be looking to be the next NCAA DIII goaltender to make a mark in the NWHL in Lake Placid. One has to imagine that Caty Flagg will be competing with veteran Kelsey Neumann to become the Beauts’ backup to Jackson. Big picture, you have to like Neumann’s chances considering her experience and time with the team, but Flagg is definitely an interesting prospect.

Flagg split her college career between the University of New England and with UMass-Boston. Her senior season with the Beacons, in 2019-20, was out of this world. She had a .942 Sv% and a 1.84 GAA and turned in five performances making at least 40 saves.

What stands out the most in Flagg’s game is her patience in the crease. There’s a real economy to her movement, which is uncommon for a goaltender of her size. Typically, smaller goalies like Flagg tend to be a bit more active — and at times scrambly — in the goal crease, but she is all about out-waiting shooters and trusting in her positioning.

The big question for Flagg will be whether or not she can adjust her game to NWHL shooters and offenses. Her rebound control, in particular, will be something to keep an eye on if her number gets called.

Abbie Ives | Connecticut Whale

Age: 22 | Ht: 5’10”

We could have a true split crease in Connecticut this year, which is really saying something because Brooke Wolejko was sensational in the second half of the 2019-20 season for the Whale. The thing is, Abbie Ives’ ability is just undeniable. She has the goods to be a star starter playing post-collegiate pro hockey.

Ives, a product of the NJ Colonials program, is a big goaltender who has been frustrating ECAC shooters for the past four years with the Quinnipiac Bobcats. She’s also something of a rarity because she wears her catching glove on her right hand. At the conclusion of her senior season in 2019-20, she was named Quinnipiac’s MVP thanks to a .927 Sv%, a 1.91 GAA, and a 17-13-3 record. Ives finished her collegiate career with a .924 Sv%, 14 shutouts, 46 wins, over 2,000 saves, and a jaw-dropping 1.79 GAA. Bonkers.

When you watch Ives play your first impression will likely be how big she can look when she’s standing between whistles but, after she’s seen a few shots, all you will be thinking about is how in control she is.

When she’s tracking the puck, Ives moves her head around like a snake following a charmer’s flute without ever compromising her positioning. Her game is so well-rounded and she’s so dialed-in that she is rarely, if ever, caught off-guard or in a position where she can’t make a play. She excels at making stops in traffic and has some truly explosive lateral movement. Ives also competes on every loose puck and is remarkably consistent. Really, she’s got it all.

The thing to watch for Whale fans will be how Ives handles facing a heavy workload of shots if Connecticut’s possession woes continue this year. Ives faced an average of 24.12 SA60 in her career at Quinnipiac. In her senior season, the Bobcats had the fifth-lowest SA60 (25.51) in ECAC, which was also good for the 12th-lowest average shots against in the nation. It’s something to keep an eye on, but something tells me she’ll adjust to NWHL shooters and potentially a higher volume of shots just fine.

The Whale also look significantly better than they did last year, especially on defense with the additions of Maggie LaGue and Tori Howran. Connecticut should have some great goaltending this year between Ives and Wolejko. Look out.

Tera Hofmann | Metropolitan Riveters

Age: 22 | Ht: 5’6”

The rookie goalie with the potential to surprise the most people this year is the Riveters’ Tera Hofmann.

Hofmann finished her collegiate career with the Yale Bulldogs with a .914 Sv% — fourth-best in program history — and a 2.64 GAA but she’s coming off a senior season in which she posted her lowest career Sv% (.899) and shared the crease with Gianna Meloni.

We shouldn’t simply ignore Hofmann’s senior season but there’s more to be learned from looking at the larger sample sizes of her freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons — the 656:10 that Hofmann played as a senior represents just 16.11 percent of her collegiate career. It’s also important to remember that Hofmann clocked in with over 1,000 minutes of action in her freshman season with a .919 Sv%. That was very much a trial by fire for Hoffman and she passed that test with flying colors.

Per her interview with Rivs’ general manager Kate Whitman Annis on the 3rd Intermission podcast, Hofmann shared that she focuses a lot on her edge-work and believes that the key to her game is staying on her feet as much as possible. With that being said, it would be a stretch to say she has a standup style but, given her 5’6” frame, it makes sense that she safeguards herself against high shots by staying on her feet. She moves smoothly in her crease and trusts her glove.

In many ways, the Rivs are a great fit for Hofmann. She’ll be playing her seventh season with defender Saroya Tinker in front of her and will be on a team with a dedicated goalie coach, Terry Jarkowksy, who can help her take her game to another level.

It’s pretty much a jump ball between Hofmann and Sonjia Shelly, who was with the Connecticut Whale last year, to be the Rivs’ new starter now that Walther is gone. Don’t rule out Hofmann simply because her numbers dipped in her senior season. There’s a lot more to her and her game than a .891 Sv% in 656 minutes of hockey on a team that was two games over .500. Before all is said and done, she could emerge as the Rivs’ new starter.

Data courtesy of SDHL.se, USCHO.com, Hockey East’s database.