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Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 4

Girard and the Whale make a splash vs the Whitecaps, some roster clarity & more!

Michelle Jay/NWHL

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Thanks again to all of my teammates at TIG and everyone who’s been reading these; and thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for all of your openness, your time, and assists. Despite sometimes things being made harder than they have to be, we have a jam-packed column this week so let's get to it.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Stick taps to the Connecticut Whale who finally beat the Minnesota Whitecaps for the first time ever this past weekend. And they enjoyed it so much they did it twice, for their first-ever sweep of any team since the NW/PHF switched to weekend series vs. the same team. The Whale are now 2-12-0 all-time against the Whitecaps in the regular season (and 0-1 in the playoffs).

Taylor Girard and Kennedy Marchment were dynamite in both games, and their size (and yeah, skill) appeared to give Minnesota fits at times over the weekend. Girard is showing us all why she was the no. 1 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, and, why the Whale was so eager to trade up to no. 1 (from no. 2) to take her. She finished the weekend with five points (4g-1a) and Marchment dished out four assists to continue her season-opening eight-game point streak.

Pat McCarthy/The Ice Garden

1.1* Unfortunately, not many people got to see the sweep in person. The rink was mostly empty on Saturday when I was there, as it was the previous trip I made there when they played Boston earlier this season, which is a shame. The Whale have been in numerous rinks over their existence and in every rink, the attendance has been spotty - at best. If you take out all of the family members in attendance (who likely didn’t pay to enter) how much money are they making/losing via ticket sales for each game?

It’s confusing to me too because the Whale have a great brand/great logo, and even in their darkest days, they’ve always been a fun, honest, hard-working group. I didn’t even mention the natural organic ties to the iconic Hartford Whalers, which is a logo that is still recognizable today. What’s the solution? How much longer can that go on for? I have no idea - out of my wheelhouse. But important questions nonetheless.

2* Goaltender Abbie Ives has been large and in charge of the Connecticut crease ever since she signed with the Whale two off-seasons ago. When you watch her play, you can see why Head Coach Colton Orr has so much confidence in her.

With three wins in seven starts this season she is tied with Toronto’s Elaine Chuli and Boston’s Katie Burt atop the PHF leaderboard.

“Last year was weird for everyone. We’re really lucky here in Connecticut with the coaching staff that we have and their expertise, their experience. The job wasn’t given to me, I had to earn it,” Ives told me, “but they’ve been very supportive of me. I just take things one game at a time. We have three good goalies here, so I just want to play my best every time and support my teammates.”

A product and native of New York, and a star in the crease at Quinnipiac University before joining the Whale, Ives is always watching other goalies for tips - a true student of her craft. We asked about some of her favorites to watch.

“I have a lot of favorite goalies. The goalie that I made sure to watch every game when I was in high school was John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks),” said Ives. “Right now I’m a big fan of a local boy - from Darien, Connecticut - Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers), I’ve been watching a lot of those games. I love watching the NHL, and I watch a lot of Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning) and try to learn where I can.”

That last guy is pretty darn good I’d say after winning two Stanley Cups in less than 12 months. Ives is pretty darn good too, and if everything falls into place, she’ll backstop her own team to a championship this March.

3* If you live in or near Nova Scotia, you should check this out. On Dec. 22 and 23 there will be a Christmas Hockey Camp at Amherst Stadium. You may recognize some of the instructors: Buffalo Beauts netminder Carly Jackson, Metropolitan Riveters forward Mallory Rushton, Seattle Kraken 2021 draft pick Jacob Melanson, and Detroit Red Wings amateur scout Corey Crocker.

4* Why does Riveters forward Kendall Cornine wear the no. 10? Number nine seems like it would have been a nice fit for her! “I was always no. 14 growing up and that was taken when I went to high school, so I wore 12. No. 14 was taken and no. 12 was retired when I went to college at RIT, so next in line was 10,” the Rivs star told us. “I like that number the best of all the ones I’ve worn growing up.”

It fits well! Cornine has racked up 29 points (15g-14a) in 31 pro games.

5* The PHF announced on Dec. 2 that the 2022 All-Star Showcase will be held in Toronto on January 29 at the home rink of the Six. Instead of a Skills Competition and an All-Star Game, this season we are getting three teams playing each other for 10 minutes of 5v5 play, five minutes of 3v3 play, and a shootout. All of the details on how the teams will be selected and more can be found in the tweet below in my colleague Anne Tokarski’s recap of the news.

For me, this feels a whole lot like making a change just for the sake of making a change, or being different, or trying too hard to be different. Full disclosure - I haven’t been a fan of All-Star Games recently, especially the plethora of 3v3 games in the NHL and AHL. But, I always look forward to the Skills Competition, as I outlined a few weeks ago in this very space. So yeah, big bummer for me that this is what we are getting and what will be showcased on ESPN+. Again, just my opinion.

6* The Boston Pride made a big splash this past week, signing US Olympic gold medalist (2018) Kali Flanagan to their already stacked blueline/roster. After the initial shock wore off, I started thinking how? I’ll assume she just wants to play after not being selected to play in the 2022 Olympics for Team USA and didn’t sign for a big chunk of change.

But the question is out there - did everyone in Boston this season take a little less money to keep a juggernaut (mostly) together? Wouldn’t be unprecedented by any means, but it’s definitely an interesting question and after talking with some people who are a lot smarter than I am over the past few days, I’m clearly not the only one around the PHF with that question.

Also, it would appear that defender Abby Cook is the odd woman out in the musical chairs on the Pride blueline that looked like this over the weekend: Kaleigh Fratkin, Amanda Boulier, Mallory Souliotis, Lauren Kelly, Jenna Rheault, Paige Capistran, and Flanagan. Cook was a healthy scratch. Head Coach Paul Mara, a former NHL defenseman, knows better than anyone - you can never have enough defenders. The exact name of who they were adding wasn’t known, but one player did tell me that Mara made them aware of an imminent signing.

There are a lot of high-end players, high draft picks, and legendary players on this roster so it would be interesting to see the salary breakdown - something we don’t have access to - of how they were able to fit everyone under the salary cap. On the flip side, they do only have 21 players signed - of the maximum 25 roster spots available. Frankly, it’s not something I worry about. But the fact that someone I respect a lot brought it up to me led me to put it here.

6.1* The goalie rotation in Boston is fascinating to me because in my mind they have three no. 1 caliber netminders. Thus far it’s been all good in the hood there: Lovisa Selander has made three starts, Katie Burt has made four, and Victoria Hanson has made one; all three tendys have won at least one game and the team came out of a busy start to the season with a 6-2-0 record. So how has Mara been deciding on who starts? “We have three great goalies and faith in all of them,” Mara told us. “We are going with gut instincts before each game.”

7* Best wishes to Minnesota defender Taylor Turnquist and Connecticut forward Kaycie Anderson. Neither played this past weekend in Danbury as they recover from injury and ailment, respectively. Here’s hoping you both are back on the ice sooner, rather than later. Also, wishing Kayla Friesen a speedy recovery; she missed Boston’s 8-2 win on Sunday due to injury. We miss you all on the ice but take as long as you need to get right.

8* This past week the Riveters announced the signing of defender Colleen Murphy, who was on a PTO. According to Head Coach Ivo Mocek, she was signed after the opening weekend, so they’ve only used two of their allotted ten PTOs this season. This is the first time in her professional career that Murphy has been with the same team for more than one season. She played one season each with the Beauts (2017-18) and Whale (2018-19) before joining the Rivs (2019-20). Safe to say that with four assists in her first four games Murphy has earned that new contract.

9* Forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk has added both depth and experience to the Whitecaps lineup this season. After one season playing for the Vanke Rays in the CWHL (2017-18), Brykaliuk, who was drafted by Boston in 2016 (12th overall), returned to her alma mater as an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs for three seasons. This summer she stepped down from that position to pursue her Master's and also decided to try out for/sign with the Whitecaps. How, if at all, is she applying on the ice as a player what she learned behind the bench as a coach?

“It has definitely helped me in the sense, I definitely learned a lot and understood the game a bit more as a coach. Now, getting back into things as a player with a coaching mindset - I understand the game more. I’m able to read and react, but I think a lot of times the knock (on myself) that I’m finding is - I analyze too much,” Brykaliuk told us this past weekend. She has one assist in her first six PHF games.

“Like, I have a coach’s mind out there and sometimes you just have to go,” she added with a laugh. “I’m still trying to figure out how to take what I’ve learned and go out and actually do it; instead of scanning and analyzing so much. But it has been helpful. I’m usually thinking too much, too many options, (I need to) just go out and do whatever my instinct tells me to do.”

We’ll have much more with Brykaliuk - what a fun, delightful chat that was - in a 5 Questions in 5 Minutes feature on TIG.

10* Something we mentioned at the end of the last ATR and were able to get some clarity on - defender Emma Greco is no longer with Toronto. A team spokesperson confirmed this over the weekend, saying that she ‘took a job in British Columbia, and as a result, could not play for the Six this season.’

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: Allie Munroe (CTW), Emma Woods (T6), Alex Woken (MIN), Taylor Day (T6)

PHFirst points: Alex Woken (MIN), Patti Marshall (MIN), Kali Flanagan (BOS)

PHFirst hat trick: Taylor Girard (CTW)

Cobra Kai Award of the Week

Awarded to a team or player who shows no mercy

Not a bad first PHF goal for Toronto’s Emma Woods, eh?!

The stickhandling past both Boston defenders would have been highlight reel-worthy alone because Woods showed absolutely no mercy (Strike First) against them - but the finish, to snap the puck past the goaltender, just made it all the more lethal (Strike Hard). She’s been with the Six from jump street and I don’t think I was the only one surprised that was her first tally in the PHF because I know she’s been in the middle of quite a few goal celebrations.

Quote of the Week

“It’s to be expected from her - Taylor was the first overall pick, and we had high hopes for her. She continues to deliver, and she’s getting better every game; she continues to push herself. We want her to keep that confidence up and keep playing hard.” - Connecticut Head Coach Colton Orr on Taylor Girard after her hat trick in Sunday’s win.

Girard now has eight points (5g-3a) in her first eight pro games, which is tied for third on the points leaderboard. She is the only player in the PHF with two game-winning goals, and her 29 shots on goal are sixth-best in the PHF.

Bold Prediction

Had to double-check this, but oddly enough Audra Morrison enters this upcoming weekend without a goal or an assist in six games this season. Probably just getting used to the new name on her back or something. The drought ends in one of the games against Buffalo in Minnesota.

If I’m right I’ll do a giveaway for a ‘Morrison 21’ shirsey to one of my followers on Twitter.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Taylor Girard (CTW) - talk about announcing your presence with authority! A five-point weekend (4g-1a) plus scoring her first-ever hat trick at any level. Girard’s hatty on Sunday was just the third in team history - Jan. 27, 2017 (Haley Skarupa vs Boston), Dec. 11, 2016 (Kelly Babstock at Riveters) - and the first in the NW/PHF since Audra Morrison netted one when she was Audra Richards in the playoffs against the Whale (March 26, 2021).

** Jillian Dempsey (BOS) - after going pointless during the past four games, the Pride captain roared back with a four-point (3g-1a), nine-shot on goal weekend against Toronto. Saturday she netted her team’s only goal in regulation to tie the game (Captain Clutch) in the third period, and on Sunday she potted the first and eighth goals as Boston completed the sweep with an 8-2 rout.

*** Abbie Ives (CTW) - when you do something no one in franchise history has done, you earn a star in my book. Ives picked up not one, but two wins against the Whitecaps - avenging the blowout 7-0 loss in the Isobel Cup semifinal back in March. Over the two-game set this weekend she allowed only three goals while stopping 46 of 49 Minnesota shots.

Did You Know?

With Kali Flanagan registering two assists this weekend, 21 of the 21 players on the Boston Pride roster have recorded at least one point, the only PHF team that can say every player has a point.

In just ten regular-season starts, Abbie Ives has won five games (5-4-1). Sunday’s win tied her for second all-time in franchise history (Nicole Stock). Barring something really bizarro, Ives should surpass the franchise leader in regular-season wins - Jaimie Leonoff (7) sometime this season. Leonoff and Brooke Wolejko are the only Connecticut netminders who have won a playoff game - one each.