Between Nov. 23, 2019, and Nov. 6, 2021 (Season 5 - Season 7) goaltender Mariah Fujimagari didn’t record a win. That is a long time, and even longer when you consider she didn’t start many games during that time period either (no more than five), and we all went through what was the onset of the still ongoing pandemic. But Fujimagari didn’t pout, she didn’t whine. She never said peep about how unfair it was when a fourth goaltender was brought onto the roster near the end of her tenure with the Buffalo Beauts.
She eventually ended up connecting with the Connecticut Whale and busted her butt during the extended practice time leading up to Season 6 in Lake Placid. She did so well and impressed enough people that she became the Emergency Backup Goalie (EBUG) for not only the Whale but for four of the six teams. Fujimagari was able to make her debut for the franchise for the final 16:11 of a game vs. Toronto where she faced seven shots. Her last game action prior to that was actually at the 2020 All-Star Game in Boston (Feb.9) and before that, you have to go back to Jan. 12, 2020, as the last time she faced shooters in a real game.
Fast forward to this past weekend - Fujimagari started and won a road game for the Whale (6-5 over the Riveters), giving the team their first win of the new season and earning a split of the weekend series in New Jersey. After it was all said and done, we were able to catch up to the 5’11” netminder (good thing I’m tall!) for five questions in five minutes - and here’s how it went.
The Ice Garden: This was the first time you’ve started a game in a really long time. How did you feel out there?
Mariah Fujimagari: Excellent honestly; it’s been a long time coming. We’ve been pushing the pace at practices and I had a lot of off-season training. Obviously with the unique season last year, I spent a lot of time on the ice with this team and really put in those hours that I think I needed to be prepared for this season, and now we’re really ready to go. We’re ready to show the league what the Connecticut Whale are all about. I was happy to get that start today.
TIG: So you get the start and then before we knew it you were in an 0-3 hole on the scoreboard. Still feeling good about yourself at that point?
MF: Yeah absolutely. We came out a little flat-footed in the first period but we really responded and answered back in the second period. We came out strong and took command of the game. A big part of our game is setting the pace and in the second period that was a huge character-defining moment for us I thought. We faced some adversity and kept pushing through. That’s what we are all about. We’re about grit, compete, and togetherness - we really showed the depth of our team throughout that game today. I thought we really took it to the Riveters in that second period, in the third period, and we put it away to come out with a win.
TIG: What was the message from your head coach Colton Orr in between that first and second period?
MF: Nothing changed, it was the same message (as before the game). Just play our game, we know how to go out there and push the pace of play. Keep our feet moving, keep putting pucks on the net. I thought it was really important for us to come together as a team and really have fun out there. His biggest message to us was to push the pace, keep grinding, and the pucks will go in the net eventually.
Tired: traditional full roster list post, lacking ✨ spice ✨— Connecticut Whale (@CTWhaleHockey) November 5, 2021
Wired: this un-orca-nized minute of fun pic.twitter.com/y4Z817ognl
TIG: Winning always feels great, no doubt, but is it maybe a little sweeter because the Whale were shorthanded today with no Janine Weber and no Emily Fluke available to play? Y’all were staring down an 0-2-0 start to the season when the game goes to 3-0 Riveters.
MF: I think it was a big defining moment for our team to come here, especially in a short season with only 20 games, and get out of this weekend with three points in the standings. It was really important that we won. Whether we are down bodies or we have our full squad, I think we have full confidence that whoever is playing on that day - we’ll be able to get the job done. Obviously, we want everyone there, but Flukey was there in the room giving us all the positive vibes, cheering us on. We missed her in the lineup and can’t wait to have her back next weekend against Boston. This weekend it was huge for us to answer back the way we did. It’s a good start to our season, but we’re not complacent with it. We’ll be just as hungry next weekend against Boston.
TIG: Connecticut has the no. 1 overall pick from the 2021 Draft in Taylor Girard now. As a goaltender, you see her in practice a lot, what has impressed you about her?
MF: I think we have a lot of depth in our lineup this season and I think Taylor is a big part of that. It’s all about the details with what she does. If you watch her - even off of the puck - she’s lifting sticks, having good body position, she has great hockey IQ, and she can execute all of our systems really well. Coming out of college, it’s a little bit of a different game here in the PHF and I think that she’s adjusted so quickly to that and will really leave her mark. I’m just glad she’s a part of the Whale!