Last season the Connecticut Whale had their best season ever and fell just short of their ultimate prize - the Isobel Cup. In the PHF, just like in any other sport, no team stays exactly the same from one year to the next. There are always personnel changes, and sometimes even locations. So in the off-season, the Whale did what every other team did, they added reinforcements in hopes of strengthening their team.
One of those reinforcements was signing defender Emma Keenan, who played last season with the Buffalo Beauts. While it was her first season in the PHF, Keenan had already played two pro seasons overseas in the SDHL following a college career that saw her win two NCAA titles (2017, 2018).
“I had a talk with (Head Coach) Colton (Orr) and he said I was a player he remembered his team playing against, and that I was annoying to play against,” Keenan told the Ice Garden. “I knew Kennedy (Marchment) and Allie (Munroe) a little bit from our days in Sweden and college as well. But most of the girls here I was not familiar with really, everyone is sorta new to me (here).”
Emma Keenan can't be stopped. Locked in for her first Whale goal!— Connecticut Whale (@CTWhaleHockey) December 4, 2022
Un aperçu du but de Keenan qui nous donne l'avance. pic.twitter.com/8ZBKlnkR6g
So far, she has fit in nicely with last season’s runners-up and has already picked up two points (1g-1a) over her first seven games with The Pod, but she’s also been a steady force protecting the Connecticut crease with seven blocked shots and numerous clear-outs. After a really nice season with the Beauts (3 goals/6 points/25 blocked shots in 20 games), it was a bit surprising that she was allowed to walk away from the team, so we asked Keenan to give her side of how the off-season unfolded.
“I wanted to keep my options open going into free agency and it was a crazy period of time for everyone I think. I had some different options and then things came together at the last minute with Connecticut,” the 25-year-old defender told us. “They were a team I was really interested in from the start; I liked the things that Colton had to say, the culture here, the way the team plays. I’m super excited that it worked out and that I’m here now.”
“You can see in our practices, this whole group has that competitiveness.”
To start the season, Keenan was paired with Mallory Souliotis - who was also new to the team (from Boston), but as the season has gone on she has taken a shift alongside each of the other blueliners (Shannon Turner, Tori Howran, Hannah Bates, Kiira Dosdall-Arena, and Munroe). While it has maybe looked, on the surface, like a seamless transition, a lot of work when into that.
“I got here I think two weeks before official practices started. It was good to get on the ice (for some informal skates) with some of the girls more casually, to get to know them and the area,” said Keenan. “Everyone here has been super welcoming and friendly. I never lived here before but it’s nice here and I think I have things figured out now. This is an easy group to fit right into.”
“We also had that team bonding weekend prior to the season, and I think that helped too. Just having all of us together for two nights - away from the rink and the game.”
“It’s early, and there is still a lot of time to go in the season, but all of our D has been playing well and contributing a lot,” she went on to say. “Jeff (Devenney), our D coach is really good at giving feedback. All of the coaches are very good at knowing who to match up against who and things like that. There is so much depth and talent on this team, so whatever role they want to use me in I’m excited for and I just want to perform the best I can.”
Another factor that will make the Whale defense corps stronger is that they have to defend against the reigning MVP - Kennedy Marchment - and all of the talent that Coach Orr and his staff have assembled in practice on a weekly basis. On paper, and on the ice, Connecticut has one of the best forward groups in the PHF.
“It totally does. Our team has four really strong lines and all of our forwards are super talented. As a defender, that is so beneficial to your game - to do every rep in practice against good players, a good line,” Keenan confirmed.
Tie game. Emma Keenan scores the first goal of her PHF career. Great play by Cassidy Vinkle to make this happen, it should be her A1.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) December 19, 2021
Keenan now has 3 points in 4 GP as a Beaut. Vinkle with 4 pts in 4 GP. pic.twitter.com/TbipowJh6H
“These are players that can make plays and passes that help you get better every practice, every rep; which I love. I always want to improve, improve my game, and be pushed. So I feel like our practices and the pace really pushes you to improve your game. I love it. I can’t complain, and I don’t have to defend Kennedy or this group in games,” she added with a smile.
There is still a long way to go, and a lot of games to play. But don’t be surprised if the savvy addition of a player like Keenan pays huge dividends for the Whale at some point this season when we get into elimination games.