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2022-23 PHF Season Preview: Connecticut Whale

After coming oh-so-close to winning their 1st Isobel Cup the Connecticut Whale have reloaded and could be on the cusp of history.

Mallory Souliotis, Lenka Serdar, and Abbie Ives before a Connecticut Whale exhibition game.
Dan Rice/TIG

The Connecticut Whale had their best season in franchise history during Season 7. Best record in the PHF. Top Seed in the playoffs. They had the MVP of the league on their roster. But it wasn’t enough. The Whale were leading 2-1 in the Isobel Cup Final with 13:21 left in regulation, and with 13:03 left they found themselves down 3-2. Now, they’ve reloaded for Season 8. Is this (finally) the Year of the Whale?

2021-22 Season

15-3-2, lost in Isobel Cup Final to the Boston Pride

PP%: 15.3 (4th)

PK%: 93.7 (t-1st)

Last season the Whale were good at everything. Most goals in the league, least goals allowed, longest winning streak, best record, fewest penalties taken, best penalty killers, etc. If you somehow found a way to slow down Kennedy Marchment, you still had to deal with Janine Weber or Emma Vlasic. If you found a way to get past their airtight defense, their goaltenders were there to shut the door on what you thought was a scoring chance.

They could beat you in a low-scoring game, or a track meet. Didn’t matter to them. And now they might be even better, which is ridiculous to fathom. But when you look at their roster now, it is oozing with talent.

Biggest Additions

Meeri Räisanen, Emma Keenan, Kateřina Mrázová

“We had a plan in the off-season that we wanted to continue (to build) the strength on our roster and try to find some areas that maybe we could improve on. I think we were able to do that and brought in high-character people Meeri and Katerina, who have been here before and are comfortable here so it’s not a huge adjustment,” Coach Colton Orr told us with the new season on the horizon.

“I think we added some key pieces with (Emma) Keenan and Mal (Souliotis), and Tori (Sullivan) to really kind of give us even more depth than we had. You look up and down our lineup and we’re comfortable playing any one of our four lines against anyone in this league; that’s a nice thing to have as a coach.”

Just the return of Räisanen and Mrázová alone would have been a huge boost to the Whale’s lineup, but then they went ahead and added two, two-time Cup champions (from their biggest rival/threat), and Keenan - who is a pain in the ass defender to play against. Talk about stacked!

Biggest Losses

Hanna Beattie, Kaycie Anderson, Taylor Marchin

While Connecticut added more pieces to its roster this summer, a few mainstays who have been a very real part of their identity have departed. Beattie was with the Whale for five seasons and is now the team’s Director of Youth Hockey and Gameday Operations. Marchin (four seasons) and Anderson (five seasons) signed with the nearby Riveters for the upcoming season. While those three weren’t the highest-scoring or most talented players on the roster, don’t underestimate their value within the group.

Full Roster (as of press time):

GM: Alexis Moed (2st season)

Head Coach: Colton Orr (4th season)

Forward: Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Janine Weber, Emma Vlasic, Tori Sullivan, Janka Hlinka, Amanda Conway, Taylor Girard, Kennedy Marchment, Melissa Samoskevich, Kateřina Mrázová, Lenka Serdar, Justine Reyes, Caitrin Lonergan.

Defense: Shannon Doyle (C), Tori Howran, Allie Munroe, Hannah Bates, Emma Keenan, Mallory Souliotis, Kiira Dosdall Arena*

Goalie: Abbie Ives, Meeri Räisanen.

C = Captain

* = practice player

Greatest Strength

Forward depth. Coach Orr said after his team’s final exhibition game (a 4-1 win over the Riveters) that he is comfortable playing any one of his four lines against any other line in the PHF this season. And you know what? I agree with him. If you somehow manage to slow down Marchment-Girard-Mrázová, now you have to deal with a line of Wohlfeiler-Lonegran-Weber. Tired yet? Still gotta deal with Vlasic, Samoskevich, Sullivan, Conway, Hlinka, Serdar, and Reyes. Good luck with that!

Michelle Jay

I’ll go on record right now and say Marchment is going to have an even better season than last year when all she did was win the MVP and scoring race. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy because the caliber of players throughout the league has grown exponentially this off-season, but I’m not sure any of those players are ready for what Marchment is about to do to them. Yeah sure, she did all of those things last season but didn’t win the ultimate prize. How motivated do you think she is to capture the Cup?

Potential Weakness

There aren’t many. I don’t think they will be full of themselves, or cocky. They had a great season, but ultimately they didn’t accomplish their goals. One thing that will be different this season is that the Whale will be the hunted now. Every team is going to give them their best shots. Every team loaded up this off-season to try to get past them (and Boston).

Three of their first five games are on the road, but four of those games are against Buffalo and Montreal. Connecticut could get off to a hot start, or will they be on cruise control after an opening weekend tussle in Boston against the champs?

Prediction

I haven’t been shy about this in my recent writings, tweets, or podcast appearances - this is the Whale’s year. I don’t think anyone will be able to stop this speeding locomotive during Season 8.

They have two goaltenders who play different styles and the coaching staff trusts them immensely. Their defense has a great mix of offensive and defensive talents, and their forwards are going to wreak havoc when they come to your team’s town.

I’m not ready yet to say that they are going to go 24-0-0 or 23-1-0, but ask me again in a month and I might! The Isobel Cup is theirs to lose. They have everything they need to do it, now, they just have to do it.