Around the Rink in the PHF: April Angst

Lots of news has happened since the Cup was handed out & we try to cover it all. Plus we spoke with two great rookies - Buffalo’s Emma Keenan & Connecticut’s Taylor Girard!

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

It’s been just almost three weeks since I posted one of these so it was time - because we all know nothing stays quiet for longer than a day or two in the world of hockey. I anticipate there will be no shortage of news over the next few weeks and months - so we’ll be back probably sooner than later. Thanks again to all who have been along on this journey, and especially thank you to my teammates, and the players and staff who are always so helpful.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* As we reported last week for The Ice Garden, expect the Metropolitan Riveters to announce Digit Murphy as the team’s new President. Murphy leaves the same position in Toronto, whom she has been with since their inception in 2020, for a new gig. For all of her accolades in women’s hockey, Murphy is also a polarizing figure because of her previous alliance with the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group - a group with transphobic views, something that she addressed (sort of) in an interview with our Mike Murphy last June.

The news was met with a lot of reaction, deservedly so, but at the same time there wasn’t a large outcry throughout the season that just ended while Murphy was President of the Toronto Six, was there?

1.1* On April 13 Riveters GM Anya Packer announced (via Twitter) that she was opting not to renew her contract for the upcoming season. If you read between the lines there is a connection between the two things we just mentioned. We’re also expecting to see other staff changes as well, some of which you may have seen or heard about already.

For what it's worth, if we’re being honest - the Riveters weren’t exactly a ‘model franchise’ in either of the last two seasons. Maybe a full overhaul is what is needed, but that’s not for me to decide. Will Murphy even make it to the start of the regular season? Or will the outside noise become too loud for the ownership group to block out? Something to keep an eye on this summer.

Anya Packer declines to renew contract as Riveters general manager

2* By all accounts the exhibition between the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps in Tulsa, Oklahoma on April 2 (and 3) was a great success. The fans in attendance - estimated to be over 2000 - had pretty short notice and still showed up to see the two teams play less than a week after the PHF playoffs finished.

Following the game (Whitecaps 5 Beauts 2) there was talk of making it an annual thing, which we have no issue whatsoever with - as long as it isn’t after the season. I love the idea of neutral site games, during the regular season. Not after the season, and definitely not during the playoffs.

I recently spoke with Beauts defender Emma Keenan about a myriad of topics (for a feature article on her coming soon) and one of them was the exhibition in Tulsa. We had a fantastic chat that I cannot wait to share with y’all, and it should be no surprise that GM Nate Oliver has another gem of a person on his roster. Here are some of her thoughts on the experience.

2.1* “We went to Tulsa and there was great fan support there. All the way down in Oklahoma, we had people telling us they drove five hours to come to watch that game. We were actually able to meet fans there, with covid not as prevalent anymore, and we were able to interact with them a lot. That’s something that I really missed this year,” Keenan told us, “we haven’t been able to do with all of the restrictions in place. I would be super excited to have that opportunity to meet more of our fans personally here in Buffalo. They really do make a difference and make it a fun city to play in.”

Keenan went on to say that the environment in Oklahoma reminded her of her time with Clarkson University and their trips to the Frozen Four. As a journalist, you can always tell when someone is passionate about something: you ask them a single question, and their answer is 2-3 minutes long. Which was the case when asking Keenan about the unique experience for her and her teammates less than a week after their season abruptly ended.

“It was just a great experience - all the way around; there were so many people who were excited, and appreciative of us, and we were able to skate with a lot of kids that Sunday morning. That was so cool. Seeing all of the little girls, and boys, from all different levels and ages, and they were so excited to just be out there with us,” Keenan recalled. “We met these people that had never seen a women’s hockey game or even knew that women could play hockey. It was so cool to show those little girls that, yeah, this is something that you could do. You can go to university and play afterward, and keep growing the game with all of these different opportunities. It was great, and we were treated very well down there. We’d love to go back and play more hockey there.”

Not only did Keenan, the Beauts, and the Whitecaps have an impact on those people who showed up to see them play or skate with them. But the impact went both ways.

“Stuff like that, adds a lot of meaning to it. It makes you step back and take a look at the bigger picture; like wow, there are people who didn’t know that women could do this, play hockey,” said Keenan, who I could hear smiling through the phone. “So the fact that we were able to change some of those perceptions, opinions, and the impact it could have on the little girls that saw us play there and might go buy a pair of ice skates.”

“There was one little girl who said she only did figure skating and now she wants to play hockey. We told her if you want to, do it. It’s never too late; I tell them all it’s a fun game.”

2.2* Ticket sales were in the crapper for most of the season in certain rinks, so why not have the Beauts and Whitecaps play a weekend in Tulsa next season where each team is the designated home team once. Maybe the Connecticut Whale and Boston Pride can do the same in Providence, or the Six and Riveters can face-off in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Or wherever. Hold more events like this, not in NHL rinks, but in ECHL and AHL rinks. Or on college campuses. Let’s really get out there and grow the game with something that can eventually be annual. 2000 fans in a rink that holds 4500 or 3000 looks a lot better than 2000 fans in a building that holds 15000.

3* ATR has learned that the Whitecaps have chosen to not renew Jack Brodt’s contract for next season as their GM. No word on his other roles yet, but we expect that Brodt the Goat will still be involved in some way. We also believe that Ronda Engelhardt, who had been co-Head Coach with Brodt, has taken over as Head Coach.

4* As I reported on Mar. 30, the PA of the PHF announced that Nicole Corriero - a former player who graduated from Harvard and is currently a lawyer - is their new Director on April 13. From what I learned this was official a while ago, but the players wanted to wait until after the playoffs were completed to make the official announcement.

4.1* As of now all is quiet on who will succeed Ty Tumminia as the commissioner. The majority of her staff will also not be returning. Nothing new to report there, but you can bet the discussions and process is well underway (we hope) and that TIG will be all over it when it is announced.

5* We’ve heard whispers that there may not be a draft for collegiate players this off-season via reporting from Melissa Burgess from The Victory Press. That’s a bit disappointing after last year’s draft was so successful and produced bonafide stars such as Taylor Girard, Emilie Harley, Mak Langei, and Taylor Davison.

A total of 14 players (out of 30) from last year’s draft class played during Season 7, including five of the six players selected in the first round. I recently reached out to Girard, who was selected first overall in the 2021 NWHL Draft, to get her input on the process and her thoughts.

5.1* “I had multiple teams reach out to me before the draft. I think the draft means something; if a team drafts you and you end up playing there it means something. I think if they made it earlier (in the off-season than last time) it could be a way to bring more attention to the league,” Girard told ATR.

The 23-year-old was not only one of the best rookies in the PHF but one of the best players in the league - top-5 in my opinion, for whatever that’s worth. Girard finished with 24 points (11g-13a) in 20 games and added another two points (1g-1a) in the playoffs - which included a goal in the 2022 Isobel Cup Final.

“It was such a great season, I really didn’t want it to end,” Girard said with a laugh while driving home (to Michigan from Connecticut). “I was just thinking this morning as I head home, wow, how quick did this year go by?”

There wasn’t much of an adjustment period for her this season as she jumped from Quinnipiac to the Whale. Girard had at least one point in 18 of the 22 games she played and finished her rookie campaign with at least a point in each of Connecticut’s final nine games (6g-8a).

“It was a lot of fun, I joined a great team, and we made some great strides this year,” Girard said reflecting on the season. “I honestly felt pretty comfortable all season. I think at the beginning of the year I was maybe more nervous than anything. I didn’t feel like the speed, or even the mental speed was much different (from college); maybe slightly, but nothing too crazy. I just needed to find my groove on a new team.”

Yeah, I think she found it. And I think we found one of the pillars that this league can continue to build upon. I for one, cannot wait to see what Girard does going forward. And yes, she confirmed that she expects to be back with the Whale next season.

6* If there is no draft we could see more teams resorting to tryouts or free agent camps this off-season, which would be a-okay with me = road trip(s)! The Buffalo Beauts have already announced their annual tryout/camp for prospective players, to be held June 18-19 at their home rink.

7* One thing we haven’t heard yet, but are curious to see is the ratings for the 2022 Isobel Cup Final that was broadcast on ESPN2. Honestly, I was expecting a bit more from the broadcast - which was basically a cut and paste of the ESPN+ broadcasts. Not that the broadcasts were bad this season, because they weren’t, but there was no upgrade of graphics or anything like that.

7.1* Hopefully next season we can get more weekends where the games are spread out. With eight teams playing 28 games apiece it’s fair to expect that some games may overlap or even start at the same time. But if four games are going to start at the same time on a Sunday afternoon…what are we doing? You’d be dividing your own fan base into fractions, and not allowing them to consume the most possible broadcasts of your product.

8* Other things I’d like to see upgraded next season: designated areas for postgame interviews, the PHF amplifying more articles from The Ice Garden and The Victory Press (yes, we notice when you share articles from entities that barely pay attention to you during the season). More professional updates on roster and team news than whatever this past season was. A real trophy or trophies for major awards like MVP, Playoff MVP, etc. And as we mentioned above - keep the neutral site games for exhibitions and regular-season games, and let the team’s fans have a chance to see their teams play in the playoffs for the first time since March 2020.

9* Some of these topics were discussed a bit deeper, some weren’t, on the newest edition of the PHFuture Considerations Podcast. Which you should totally listen to, subscribe to, and give us feedback on. This off-season we will have a few shows dropping intermittently and I can tell you now that we have already scheduled to have Girard and Allie Morse on future shows. Every episode can be found by searching for The Ice Garden wherever you listen to podcasts!

10* Things that make you go hmmm: why haven’t we voted on awards yet for Season 7?

Notable Quotable

“I’m definitely looking to come back to this league. We have some (team) meetings coming up in the next few weeks, and a lot of decisions will have to be made. But, I definitely would love to come back, and like you said - take care of some unfinished business; and show what we can do with this team. I love Buffalo, I love the fans here, and I’m looking forward to coming back if the opportunity is there.” — Emma Keenan on if she will return for a second season with the Buffalo Beauts.

Stat of the Day

Thank goodness for Motor Mike, who put all of this together so we can have accurate stats to refer to, and so the players have accurate stats that reflect their performances when they enter contract negotiations.

*See you soon PHF fans! Thanks for reading and the support! - DR