2021 NWHL Season Preview: Veterans to Watch

Get familiar with the league’s biggest returning stars

With more eyes on the NWHL this bubble than ever before, the stars have a chance to shine especially bright. Each team has its share of returning veteran players that have a chance to make a decisive impact on their respective squad’s chase for Isobel.

When these players break the game at Lake Placid, don’t be surprised. Be ready. Let’s get to know some of the biggest names around the NWHL for the sake of the uninitiated.

Boston Pride

  • Jillian Dempsey | If you’re new to the NWHL-verse, watch Jillian Dempsey very closely. She is the all-time league leader in games (91), goals (46), assists (51), points (97), SOG (358), primary points (82), and even-strength primary points (74). But beyond the numbers, Dempsey is simply the best player on the ice whenever she hops over the boards. She’s inching closer to 100 career points, and she’s hungry to win back-to-back MVPs. There’s a reason Boston usually dominates the regular season. Their leadership core is remarkable.
  • McKenna Brand | Brand has grown into one of the most lethal scorers in the league. She scored 19 goals in 24 games last season and has amassed 53 career points in 40 appearances. Though she usually finds herself on the top line with Dempsey, make no mistake- Brand is no sidekick. She is an equally important cog on the top line, using the space opened up for her by Dempsey to unleash her fantastic wrister. This is as fun of a line to watch work as any in hockey./
  • Lovisa Selander | “Save-lander” is a monster. Her stats last season are ludicrous: 17-1-0, .941 save percentage, 1.71 goals-against average, two shutouts. What other commentary is really needed? Sheesh. It’s one thing for Boston to have arguably the deepest offensive team in the league, but to have the best goaltender on top of that? Absurd./

Don’t Sleep On

  • Kaleigh Fratkin | Fratkin earned Defender of the Year honors last season for her remarkable offensive output from the blueline. She posted 23 points in 24 games, and even though only three of those points were goals, she is always looking to pull the trigger. She led all NWHL defenders in shots on goal and shot attempts. It was something of a coming-out party for Fratkin, who has shown flashes of offensive brilliance in the past but had not strung together such an impressive campaign before. A key for the Pride will be, can she replicate it?/

Buffalo Beauts

  • Marie-Jo Pelletier | “Notorious MJP” is an easy player to rally around. She has a terrific shot. She’s a driver of offense from the back end, which always makes for an entertaining shift. And oh yeah, she’s 4’11”. So there’s that. Pelletier notched six goals and 15 assists over 24 games last season, earning looks for Defender of the Year. She has great instincts and an innate ability to read the play and get herself in a prime shooting position, like the clip below. The key for her is defensive positioning, which is tricky for an undersized defender. True, she finished third in blocked shots last season, but stick work and taking away passing lanes ought to be a point of focus this season. Considering how shaky the Beauts were in their own zone down the stretch last season, they will need Pelletier to keep improving. Amanda Boulier and Shannon Doyle are good role models for someone like MJP./
  • Iveta Klimasova | Klimasova and Pelletier both set a Beauts franchise record for assists in a single season with 15 in 2019-20. And similar to Pelletier, they will need even more out of the young Slovakian forward. Buffalo is a very top-heavy roster, and they will be without their best goal scorer in Taylor Accursi this season. So what does this mean for a playmaker like Klimasova? It means she will be leaned on even more heavily to drive the play up ice. She will need to be more creatively dynamic. And they certainly will need more defensively from Klimasova, who at one point was on the ice for 10 even-strength goals-against over a four-game stretch last season. /

Don’t Sleep On

  • Kristin Lewicki | “Wheels” was a late arrival for the Beauts last season, skating in just six regular season games. She was a breath of fresh air, generating two goals and four assists in that stretch plus an assist in their playoff loss to Connecticut. After calling Buffalo home for her rookie season in 2017-18, she joined the Riveters in ‘18-’19 for a lackluster season. For a team in need of scoring depth, luring Lewicki back to the Queen City was a major boon. Look for her speed and strong two-way play to be a factor for the Beauts./

Connecticut Whale

  • Emma Vlasic | Vlasic is a fabulous shooter. The problem for the Whale is sustaining offensive zone pressure and getting their high-end talent in the right position to score. As the Whale continue to develop and grow as a team, Vlasic will be seen as a vital piece of the puzzle. She finished with nine goals in 24 games last season, coupled with solid defensive play and the third-best faceoff percentage in the league (57.95%). As a center and as a shooter, Vlasic will be a major player in molding the Connecticut offense./
  • Shannon Doyle | Doyle has indicated that this will be her final tour of service in the NWHL. It has a chance to be her best statistically. She registered career-highs in assists (9) and points (11) last season, and will have a better supporting cast this go-around to help lighten the load. Doyle is electric in the defensive zone, hurling herself in front of oncoming shots unlike anyone else in the league. But it’s about time she be let off the leash a bit at the other end of the ice. She has a strong slapper and good vision of the ice. The Pod are optimistic she’ll be able to use that to quarterback the offense.
  • Brooke Wolejko | “The Brooke Wall” has a flair for the dramatic in net for the Whale. She’s one of the best in the league at the desperation save- which came in handy quite a bit last season with how many times she had to bail out her defense. She finished with a .914 save-percentage with two dramatic wins last season, plus a thrilling shootout duel with the Boston Pride. With Wolejko all but locked in to the top spot on the depth chart, she could be a game-changer for Connecticut. /

Don’t Sleep On

  • Sarah Schwenzfeier | Connecticut’s second-best goal scorer last season also played down the middle at center. Schwenzfeier struck for six goals in 2019-20. What truly stands out for Schwenzfeier is her puck-hawking ability. She ranked 7th in the NWHL in takeaways with 24, in the midst of other two-way stars like Jillian Dempsey, Kendall Cornine and Allie Thunstrom. That’s no small feat./

Metropolitan Riveters

  • Madison Packer | Similar to Jillian Dempsey, if you don’t know Packer, now ya know. Not only is she a fan favorite for her online persona, but she is one of the baddest in the league. Like, she’s a problem. Packer finished with 13 goals and 21 assists in 24 games last season, including a league-best five powerplay goals. She is a bull on the puck with a powerful skating stride and awesome strength. When she’s on the ice, just watch her work. She is a pure power forward in every sense of the word./
  • Kate Leary | The word that comes to mind when thinking about winger Kate Leary? Consistency. She finished with 42 goals and 43 assists in four seasons at Boston College. She notched 18 goals and 15 assists in 52 CWHL games. She was a SWHL A champion in 2018-19, spurred on by her 33 goals and 16 assists in 20 games. And when she came to the Riveters for her first NWHL season, she racked up 16 goals and 11 assists. Leary produces everywhere she goes. When you have a player that makes everyone around her better, that’s a tremendous building block./

Don’t Sleep On

  • Kelly Babstock | You ever have a sudden realization when going about your day that Kelly Babstock is a Metropolitan Riveter? Because, wow. Babstock is entering her fifth NWHL. Three were spent with the Connecticut Whale, one with the Buffalo Beauts before taking a hiatus in 2019-20. She initially signed with the Toronto Six before getting traded to the Riveters earlier this offseason. Considering Babstock had collected 15 goals and eight assists in 21 career games against the Rivs, Metro fans can rejoice that they don’t have to worry about Babstock haunting them any longer./
  • Kendall Cornine | Score-nine! Kendall Cornine logged 13 goals in 24 games in her rookie season, including three powerplay goals. She, Packer and Leary combined for 11 tallies on the advantage. Throw in Babstock and that’s one heck of a potent powerplay./

Minnesota Whitecaps

  • Allie Thunstrom | Thunstrom was a record-breaker last season, netting a whopping 24 goals in 24 games for the Caps. She had one of the most clutch moments of the entire season by scoring the overtime winner in a 1-0 Semi-Final against the Riveters. Her speed, her shot, her hands...Allie Thunstrom is a star. /
  • Amanda Leveille | The Whitecaps were the slowest-moving team of the bunch this offseason when it came to player signings. Throughout the whole process, one thing became apparent: as long as they still have Leveille between the pipes, they have a shot. Leveille is far and away the league’s all-time wins leader with 43 accumulated over four seasons. She has a career .921 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average, all while facing 31.4 shots-per-60 minutes. Scarier yet, she’s building off her best season: 16-5-2, .935, 2.08, three shutouts.
  • Sydney Baldwin | Baldwin turned a lot of heads in her rookie season, earning an All-Star appearance and posting eight goals and 10 assists from the blueline. For a team that will be missing the offensive production of Amanda Boulier desperately, the Whitecaps will need the kind of shoot-first mentality that Baldwin brings to the table. Though she was a late addition to the roster, she still has major impact potential./

Don’t Sleep On

  • Audra Richards | Richards built on a solid rookie season by blossoming into a more rounded winger for the Whitecaps. After not registering a single assist in her 16-game stint with the Riveters, she earned 11 to go along with nine goals last season for Minnesota. Look for Richards to seize a more sizable role with the team in the bubble./

Toronto Six

  • Emily Fluke | Emily Fluke finished eighth in the league in scoring last season. That actually seems to have flown under the radar. Why? Because she still was only fourth on her team. That’s how stacked the Pride were last season. Now, Fluke has a chance to shine with an all-new Toronto Six squad. She is a dish-master, serving up 18 assists in 23 games last season. She has quietly amassed 49 points in 55 NWHL games. /
  • Shiann Darkangelo | This is one of the most interesting additions of the entire offseason. Darkangelo was a scorer from the jump for the 2015-16 Connecticut Whale, putting up 10 goals and three assists in 13 games. She made the switch to Buffalo the following season and won the Isobel Cup. She hasn’t played in an NWHL game since, instead joining the CWHL and later the PWHPA. It’s going to be so sweet to see Darkangelo back in action, and even sweeter for the Six to have her on their side./

Don’t Sleep On

  • Mikyla Grant-Mentis | It’s sort of cheating to put Grant-Mentis on a “returning veterans” list, but she does have two regular-season matchups and one playoff game under her belt already so...that counts! In those three games she potted three goals and added two assists for the Buffalo Beauts after finishing her four years at Merrimack College. She still will have the “rookie” aura around her, but NWHL fans have already gotten a glimpse at what Mikyla Grant-Mentis can do and are hungry for more. She has highlight reel potential every time she gets the puck./