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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 2

More fun from around the rink in the PHF.

Fluke and Marchement celebrate.
Matt Dewkett

Welcome (back) to Around the Rink!

I appreciate all of the love, feedback, comments, and shares on last week’s inaugural edition of this column. Hopefully, I can keep this up all season long (with a few breaks when all of the teams are off on certain weekends). Also, I’d be foolish to not offer my sincere gratitude to all of the players and coaches for not only their availability, but also for their input, expertise, time, and willingness to chat with me. Y’all are the best of the best.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* We’ve heard a lot about the ‘culture’ in Buffalo this off-season, right? It’s an easy word to throw around, but what does it really mean to the players there? I found the perspective from forward Grace Klienbach very interesting, as she was with Connecticut from Seasons 2-6. Here’s what she had to say during PHF Media Day:

“This summer once free agency rolled around I started talking to (GM) Nate (Oliver), and from there it just blossomed into this awesome opportunity with Buffalo that I’m really excited about. Coming to this organization from Connecticut, what I loved about the staff with the Beauts was you could just tell that care about every single one of their players,” said Klienbach.

“I wasn’t even on the team yet, before I officially signed, and they were taking me under their wing and always reaching out to me to see how I was doing. Now that I’m here and a part of the team, I don’t think I’ve ever been accepted onto a team this fast and it’s awesome to see that respect from your fellow teammates and staff,” added no. 94. “Everyone is there to help you become a better person and player. It’s exciting to be a part of an organization that cares so much about us. We come to the rink and we are a family, it’s nice to be part of a special team.”

Klienbach has given the Beauts, a team with a lot of new faces, some depth, and experience in their lineup; in her Beauts’ debut, she fired three shots on goal and won five of ten face-offs.

2* There were a few teams who added new Assistant Coaches this off-season. We knew of the changes on the benches for Buffalo, Metropolitan, and Toronto because they let us know. Boston didn’t have any coaching changes. But Minnesota and Connecticut did.

The Whitecaps hired Amber Heglund to be their assistant coach and the Whale added Jeff Devenney and Sue Merz (was on the 1998 & 2002 US Olympic teams) as assistants. Those last two are replacing Laura Brennan, who did every job under the sun for the franchise. I swear I saw her scanning tickets for one game I went to in Connecticut, too. Odd that the PHF or the Whale didn’t want to flaunt the addition of Merz, no?

2.1* Brennan, who played goalie, was an assistant coach, a goalie coach, played goalie again, was acting GM, handled some PR duties, and was acting head coach at times for the Whale, stepped away from the team late in the off-season. Connecticut never made an announcement, never released a statement of thanks, no Twitter post, nothing. Kinda messed up for one of the OGs who was an important part of the franchise during some lean years.

So why is she no longer there? That’s for her to say when she’s ready to (my line is always open and LB knows that), but I do know and can say it was her choice.

3* If you didn’t know, Whitecaps’ defender Winny Brodt Brown is a living legend and I for one, am so stoked that she is playing again this season - and not just because she’s in my age bracket, either. She has aged like a fine wine and her name is so synonymous with the Whitecaps and hockey in Minnesota, it’d be weird without her. It has been a real treat to watch her the past few seasons since the first expansion team joined the NWHL.

Mike Murphy

“I’ve got a lot going on with a six-year-old son and an eight-year-old son, so this is a big commitment for me (to play). But I love to play the game and love being around my teammates,” said the 43-year-old Brodt Brown. “After playing all this time I couldn’t have my last game be in Boston, to be honest. And lose. So whenever anyone asked me (this summer) I just say I’m a Minnesota kid and that’s not how I wanna go out.”

She was asked during PHF Media Day how she still manages to play, and at a high level, as the oldest player in the federation. As she explained - if you don’t feel like you’re 43, you won’t play like you’re 43. Also, you play smarter too.

“I stay extremely busy, and always in shape. But (to me) it’s all mental, I see guys playing in the NHL that are older than me - and that’s a lot more physical, a lot faster game. For me, it’s all a mindset. I’m feeling good and yeah my game has changed immensely from when I was young. I was a very offensive D, now I’m a defensive D; I let the younger players like Taylor Turnquist - just go, go have fun. I’ll be here in the back.”

Teammate Allie Thunstrom joked that day that they are the grannies on the team because of their ages. We hope Winny has a great season and many more in the PHF.

4* This past weekend Emily Fluke played (and scored in each game) vs. one of her former teams, the Boston Pride. We asked no. 11 what happened and why the Massachusetts native didn’t return to her hometown team after a great Season 5 (27 points in 23 games).

“It came as a bit of a surprise honestly, but it was their choice,” Fluke revealed. “I know there are a lot of colleges in that area, and the Pride has a lot of interest from potential players.”

“Ultimately, without letting me know, they decided to go in another direction (instead of re-signing me).” And how did she end up back in Connecticut after a brief stop in Toronto last season?

“After last season I didn’t think I’d be playing again,” explained Fluke. “Colton (Orr) reached out to me and I was honest with him about my work schedule, not being able to be at every practice. He thought about it and decided it was worth bringing me on board.”

She’s glad he did, and we all are too. The PHF is better with her as a part of it. “I’m never done,” she added with a laugh. “I always think I’m done and it pulls me back. I love the game too much. I never said I’m not playing, it just didn’t seem like it would work out where I found a team.”

4.1* Now in his third season behind the bench I think it’s safe to say that Orr has turned the Whale around. It started in his first season (2019-20) when his squad went to Buffalo and won the franchise’s first playoff game in four years, and they carried that momentum into Lake Placid until covid wrecked their season.

“He’s a good guy, very down to earth,” said Connecticut defender Rebecca Morse of her coach who has his team sitting pretty with two wins in four games without two of his forwards available.

From 2003-16 Orr was in the NHL (477 games) with the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Over that time he had to have taken away some insights and coaching tactics from some of his former coaches, right? Of course. After Sunday’s Whale win I asked the former enforcer on the ice about some of his influences.

Bryan Johnson/NWHL

“I’m very lucky that I have had some really great coaches over my career - starting back in Junior with Dean Evason,” said Orr. “But a lot of my influences (in my coaching style) come from Tom Renney. He was a mentor of mine when we were with the New York Rangers, and a huge influence on me. I still talk to him these days and ask/talk about coaching; a real good person to have on my side.”

WoHo fans will recognize Renney’s name as he’s been involved with Team Canada for years and is their current CEO. Evason is the current head coach of the Minnesota Wild.

5* Speaking of Minnesota, just prior to the start of the season goaltender Mandy Leveille of the Minnesota Whitecaps revealed her new pads, and they are glorious. Now, she didn’t wear them in either of their first two games in Boston as they are still a bit too new and stiff, but we will see them at some point this season: “Not next weekend vs the Pride, but hopeful for the series after,” said Leveille via text.

The design is of Minnesota’s state bird - the common loon. The concept is similar to that of the pads that she has used since Season 5, depicting Minnesota’s state fish - the walleye. Knowing Leveille as I do, the loon is a perfect match with the goofy goalie! It’s so nice to see a bit of a change from most goalie pads which often look like variants of each other. She said the suggestion came from her father-in-law, and we’re prettay, prettay, prettay glad she listened to that suggestion!

6* Speaking of goalies, a lot of us were surprised when Allie Morse wasn’t announced as returning to the Whitecaps. Anyone who backs up Lev generally isn’t playing much, but Morse has been a great selfless, team player over the past two seasons. Minnesota’s backup goaltender this season is Jenna Brenneman, whom they selected with the 24th overall pick (Rd. 4) in the 2021 Draft. But Morse is still around, which she confirmed to us, as a practice player.

I don’t recall any announcement of teams carrying practice players with them, in either of the last two seasons, but it's obviously a thing. We were told that the Riveters would have goalie Cassandra Goyette as a practice player when they announced their training camp roster, and they also have defender Jordan Sanislo in the same role currently. Connecticut never announced it, but based on her shirsey being available in the team store (not sure if that’s the case for Goyette, Morse, or Sanislo) it's safe to assume that goalie Jess Strack is their practice player.

7* Speaking of not announcing things (last one, I promise), defender Colleen Murphy played both games on opening weekend for the Riveters against the Whale. Apparently, she signed a PTO (professional try-out) Friday night before the game, but again how would anyone know if the team doesn’t announce something. This time we didn’t even get a graphic on Twitter.

Which is wild because A) that’s how they’ve been rolling since May - at least it's consistent and B) they actually put up a graphic on that same Friday to let us know who wasn’t playing due to injury and National Team duty.

This past Sunday, the Whale had defender Kati Tabin skate with them on a PTO. No mention of it on the rosters the PHF released on Friday, though that list did include players who didn’t suit up due to National Team Duty (Janine Weber, Janka Hlinka) or players who didn’t travel (Jenna Rheault).

Thanks to my teammate Mike Murphy we finally got some clarity this week on PTOs in the PHF. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t have this information been included with the release of the rules on Nov. 6? Or just send out a two-line email to media covering the PHF that says who’s signed on a PTO for a game or weekend. Literally takes less than a minute.

Maybe it’s because I’ve covered an NHL team for 15+ years, but it was BANANA-PANTS insane to me that there were zero announcements of these PTOs to anyone (other than broadcasters?). What would the reaction be from New Jersey Devils fans if they just had a player in the lineup one night and didn’t tell anyone about it prior to the game? That’s just the team I cover.

Imagine if it was a bigger, more popular team like the Boston Bruins or the Toronto Maple Leafs just slipping a player onto the ice for a professional game without telling anyone. What would the media who cover the team and league say? If you don’t care about the media coverage that much, that’s fine, but why wouldn’t you want to tell your fans who’s playing?

I shouldn’t have to ask around at the rink about “who’s the mystery player with no nameplate on their jersey?” Or get stonewalled or sassed if I ask what’s going on. Maybe it’s because I’m the only media member there? I dunno. Whatever reason for the secrecy (competitive advantage? not buying it), it’s clownish. Treat us like professionals if you want us to be consistent in treating you like professionals. This is Year 7 of this thing, and for all of the great and good, there’s a lot of mind-bottling things like this that happen.

8* This upcoming weekend the Connecticut Whale will be the first PHF team to travel to Canada to play in the Toronto Six’s long overdue home opener at York Canlan Ice Arena. With five Canadian players and a Canadian head coach, I wanted to gauge how excited the group is to make history this weekend.

“It’ll be fun and interesting to go back there. I made a lot of connections there, and I reached out to the Maple Leafs who have a game that night (vs. Pittsburgh) after our game,” Coach Orr told TIG. “It will be nice to get back to Toronto, see some of my old teammates, the staff there; it’s always a special place to me. I spent six years of my career there, hopefully, I can get a couple of Ws as a coach there now, too.”

Goaltender Abbie Ives isn’t from Canada, but the trip will still be special for her. “It’ll be awesome and I think we’re looking forward to the road trip. I have some friends up there from college so it’ll be good to see them, and it’ll be awesome to see their home rink and whatever they’ll be doing for that first game.”

Emma Vlasic, also not Canadian, echoed Ives’ comments and her eyes lit up when I asked if she was excited about the trip. “Absolutely! It’s something we’re all looking forward to. I just realized the other day that it will be their first home game, so it’ll be special for the first Canadian team to have that first home game and we get to be there (too). We have a lot of Canadians on our team, so it will be special for them too. The game plan for us is to play spoiler.”

9* Hockey parents often get a bad rap lately - and let’s be honest those vile individuals earn it. But a lot of hockey parents, the majority, are really good, dedicated parents who make sure that their daughter or son make it to every practice, every game, every bus trip, etc. and they attend every game they can.

No matter if their child is five-years-old or 25-years-old they are there for support, whether in person or not, and to be their own personal little cheering section. One of the things I’ve really missed during the pandemic about covering games is meeting players’ parents at the rink. Don’t really get that at home on the couch as much - but I do appreciate and love all of the likes, retweets, and messages on social media! Never stop.

During the opening weekend, I had the pleasure of watching one of the Whale-Rivs games next to Connecticut defender Hanna Beattie’s parents at the glass behind one of the goals. Just talking hockey, about the PHF, Hanna’s career, her growing up in New Jersey (Mr. Beattie coached his daughter and current Riveter Kendall Cornine at one point).

I don’t know how many of Beattie’s 63 pro games I’ve been at (maybe 15-18 in Connecticut and New Jersey + 2020 All-Star weekend in Boston), but I know every game I did see her play, I saw her parents there. Standing up against the glass. Yelling encouragement for every Whale player.

This past weekend I got to meet Meghara McManus’ stepdad alongside the glass at the Pride-Whale game. In the past, I have loved every encounter and talk with the parents of Amanda Leveille, Brianne McLaughlin, Kelsey Neumann, Grace Klienbach, Kiira Dosdall-Arena, and a bunch of others. All fantastic folks. Can’t wait to see who I run into over the course of the rest of the season!

10* Pride defender Abby Cook picked up her first PHF point on McManus’ gorgeous goal (which can be seen below) on Saturday in Connecticut. Sunday, seeing her play live for the first time my biggest takeaway was how much size and length that she adds to Boston’s blueline. After four seasons at Boston University, Cook played the 2020-21 season in Sweden’s SDHL before signing with the defending champs.

During PHF Media Day Cook spoke about how the connection came about that brought the British Columbia native to the Pride. “They approached me. I’ve been following this team for a while now since I was at BU and I’m really excited to join this roster and learn from this group.”

“Right away everyone was super welcoming and I could tell everyone has that championship mentality,” added Cook. “They just want to pick up where they left off last season and I’m super excited to join that.”

Her presence was certainly needed and noticeable this weekend in Connecticut with fellow defender Jenna Rheault unavailable to play either game.

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! Hopefully, everyone was able to get some kind of puck or plaque for their achievements, stick taps to you all - hopefully they are the first of many.

PHFirst goals: Kennedy Marchment (CTW)

PHFirst points: Abby Cook (BOS)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

To a team or player who shows no mercy

Connecticut forward Kennedy Marchment showed no mercy in the two games this weekend against the Pride with a four-point performance (2g-2a). As if that wasn’t enough she fired 13 shots on goal over the two days. Sunday, she absorbed a massive (unpenalized) hit in front of the net to allow the play to develop that was the Whale’s first goal. They never looked back after that. Seeing her live, and in-person for three of the four games she’s played in I can say this: she’s an impressive player with a sneaky skill set, and alongside Vlasic - she has been dynamite.

Quote of the Week

Michelle Jay/NWHL

“The more we practice, the more games we play you’ll see that chemistry developing even more with our linemates. I feel really good about this group, and we’ve really just barely scratched the surface of what we are capable of down the line. It will be exciting to see what we can do as we go forward.” — Connecticut center Emma Vlasic on what is probably the deepest, most talented team the Whale has had since Season 1.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Kennedy Marchment (CTW) - she has been a force to reckon with through four games and enters week three of the season in a four-way tie for the PHF lead in points (5) with two of her teammates (Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Emma Vlasic) and Rebecca Russo (Riveters).

** Christina Putigna (BOS) - after an unusually quiet (and pointless) opening weekend for her, no. 21 took over the game on Saturday and finished with three points (2g-1a). First Putigna tied the game with 40 seconds left in regulation and then waved goodbye to the Whale after sniping the winner midway through overtime.

*** Abbie Ives (CTW) - following a tough overtime loss on Saturday, Connecticut’s no. 1 goalie rebounded with a strong performance on Sunday to pick up her first win of the season. All in all, she had 50 saves during the 1-0-1 weekend for the Whale. Two of her three career pro wins - are against Boston.

Did You Know?

Per PHF PR - in their second game of the season (November 7) the Boston Pride became the first PHF team to play in 100 games. After this past weekend, their all-time record now stands at an impressive 74-23-5.

Sunday’s 3-1 win over Boston was Connecticut’s 100th game as a franchise and they ended the Pride’s seven-game winning streak dating back to last season (including playoffs). They are now 29-64-7 but are poised for their first winning season since Season 1.