Nina Rodgers of the Minnesota Whitecaps is playing some of the best hockey of her life in Lake Placid. After four games, she leads her team and the league in scoring with six points in four games.
This is Rodgers’ third NWHL season after splitting her collegiate hockey career between the University of Minnesota and Boston University, and starting her professional career with the Connecticut Whale. She was expected to play a bigger role in the Whitecaps’ offense this year, but no one expected her to come out of the gate quite like this.
“She’s done a great job over the couple of years she’s been with us,” Whitecaps assistant coach Laura Slominski told The Ice Garden following the team’s 4–3 loss to the Toronto Six last night. “[Nina is] willing to do everything and anything we ask of her as a coaching staff. She takes advantage of the opportunities she gets, as you saw tonight.”
Last night, Rodgers scored two power-play goals and picked up a secondary assist at even strength on Brooke White-Lancette’s first goal of the season. It was the first three-point game of her pro career. It also vaulted her into first place in the scoring race in Lake Placid.
Rodgers won two silver medals with Team USA at the 2013 and 2014 IIHF U18 World Championships, and two national titles with the Golden Gophers before turning pro. So she knows all about what it takes to win and how to fill a role on a winning team. And that’s exactly what she’s done for the Whitecaps in Lake Placid.
The 17th overall pick of the 2015 NWHL Draft is a true north-south winger with great hands and great balance. Her strength on her skates makes her a formidable foe for opposing teams to deal with around the net. She also has a knack for finding herself on the receiving end of passes that place her in high-danger scoring areas, especially on the power play.
But Rodgers’ value goes far beyond her three primary points on the power play and simply being in the right place at the right time.
In Lake Placid, she has nine shots on goal, two takeaways, and has made several game-changing plays. One play that really stands out is a zone entry she had against the Boston Pride on Jan. 23 that led to the game-winning goal. Watch her beat a Pride defender one on one and send the puck to the net where Audra Richards and Winny Brodt-Brown did the rest.
This play is a good example of Rodgers’ hands and intelligence. She’s confident in her ability to stickhandle around not one but two Boston defenders and then gets the puck into a dangerous area before heading to the bench for a change. Rodgers isn’t a particularly speedy skater, but this shows how one can play fast without necessarily being fast. The winger makes this play happen with quick hands and quicker thinking.
In her rookie season with the Connecticut Whale in 2018–19, Rodgers had two goals and two assists in 15 games. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but Whale fans who watched that season can attest to how valuable she was to that low-scoring team. All four of Rodgers’ points were primary and picked up at even strength — a sign that she had a lot more offer. All she needed was another opportunity to show what she’s capable of.
It looks like she’s found that opportunity playing in Minnesota’s middle-six in Lake Placid.
Data courtesy of HerHockeyCounts.com and NWHL.zone.