The Connecticut Whale held their free agent camp in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday at the Barnabas Health Hockey House. With head coach Colton Orr not in attendance, a local skills coach put 13 forwards, six defenders, and three goaltenders through their paces under the watchful eyes of assistant coach Laura Brennan and new owner Tobin Kelly.
There were several established NWHL players in attendance, including Alyssa Wohlfeiler and Hanna Beattie, who were both signed by Connecticut. They served as valuable reference points to see where the rest of the attendees were in terms of skill, skating, and conditioning.
It sounds like the Whale have no unannounced signings but also only have a few spots that are up for grabs. We might see some big changes to the Whale this offseason. “It’s hard to say how many slots are available but there are a handful still available and they will be filled by players who are on the ice today,” Brennan shared.
The Whale will have another camp on June 27th in Danbury that will include the main roster as well as some potential additions from this weekend’s free agent camp. One could look at Saturday’s camp as a way to earn a spot in that main camp in Danbury later this month.
Unlike in years past, the Whale could have an edge in recruiting local talent because of they are privately owned. Kelly represents an ownership group that is focused only on the Whale, which could mean a big change in how things operate both on and off the ice in Connecticut.
“I definitely think it’s a good thing for our team and our league and players here that we have a dedicated ownership group and we are their sole focus,” Brennan told The Ice Garden. “It’s something that we, as an organization, are excited about and the players are excited about. We’re still new in the transition so we’re not 100 percent sure what it all means but it’s still exciting that Tobin and the group have acquired us.”
Forwards: Alyssa Hulst, Kaycie Anderson, Maeve Reilly, Elena Gualtieri, Courtney Turner, Stephanie Mock, Brooke Avery^, Iveta Klimášová, Romana Košecká, Tahirah Abdo, Haley D’Hondt, Hayley Williams, Alyssa Wohlfeiler*, Alexa Aramburu
Defenders: Samantha Benoit, Carrie Atkinson, Meg Delay, Taylor Marchin, Hanna Beattie*, Rebecca Morse, Lauren Wash^
Goalies: Tera Hofmann, Jessica Strack, Brie Scolaro
^= did not attend but listed on camp roster
*= signed by the Whale
There were a number of players who have played for the Whale in the past or have been practice players for the club. From Connecticut’s Lake Placid roster, Taylor Marchin, Kaycie Anderson, and Maeve Reilly were in attendance. Anderson and Marchin have been with the Whale for four and three seasons, respectively. It would be surprising if either of them failed to make the roster but you never know.
It didn’t take long for Hayley Williams, who also impressed at Buffalo’s free agent camp, to stand out from the pack. In any drill where players had an opportunity to showcase their ability to skate and finish, Williams looked like she had another gear. She had her own gravity in the scrimmage at the end of camp, drawing defenders to her and opening up space for her linemates.
Wohlfeiler, Anderson, and Courtney Turner were other forwards who stood out from the pack, especially during the scrimmage. Turner played four games with the PWHPA’s New Hampshire hub this season. She was vocal during drills and looked quick. She played two seasons in the CWHL with the Blades and played at Union College.
On the blue line, Rebecca Morse was the top of the crop. It may be June, but it didn’t look like she was in offseason form. She showed great spacing and quick stickwork in drills and was strong on the puck and eager to join the attack in the scrimmage. Beattie was her typical steady self and Carrie Atkinson and Meg Delay also had strong showings.
Atkinson, like Turner, was last with the PWHPA. After playing college hockey at Lindenwood she spent a season in the SDHL with Djurgården and one season in the CWHL with the Worcester Blades. Her skating is what really set her apart from some of the other defenders on Saturday. The same could be said of Delay, who spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Beauts. She looked quick in some of the drills, especially with the puck on her stick.
Truth be told, all three goalies in attendance looked solid. If I had to single one out, it would be Tera Hofmann, who made a show-stopping diving save in the scrimmage that drew praise from her bench. She was wearing Sonjia Shelly’s goalie mask but it was hard to mistake her from Jessica Strack and Brie Scolaro with her red pads and 5-foot-6 frame.
Thinking big picture, this was a high-tempo 90-minute camp that likely told us more about the players’ conditioning than anything else. With that said, there were certainly a number of players who have the goods to play at the pro level, even if they haven’t in the past.
One of those players, in my opinion, is Slovakian forward Romana Košecká. She had good instincts on the rush and looked like a strong skater. She is likely on the Whale’s radar for the upcoming international draft. “On the ice today, Romana is the only player who would meet (International Draft) qualifications, so that is someone who we would be looking at with that in our minds,” Brennan told The Ice Garden.
Brennan also told The Ice Garden that the Whale are not actively seeking a new goaltender, which isn’t too much of a surprise with starter Abbie Ives inked for the upcoming season. We still don’t know if Brooke Wolejko would be back, but Ives and Wolejko are a tough tandem to beat.