Around the Rink in the PHF: Neverending Summer Finally Ends

Season 8 is Here! Hear from Packer, Marino, Turner, Berndtsson, Ganser, and Keenan as they get ready to chase that Cup!

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

Congratulations. We made it to the start of the season. Longest summer ever, right? Hopefully, I don’t offend anyone this week, and hopefully, we see a great, competitive season and a longer-than-usual playoff, too! As I’ve said previously, any weekend there is at least one game the column will arrive on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Thanks to all of our readers at The Ice Garden, and thanks as always to my teammates at TIG, as well as the players and coaches throughout the league.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* Shameless plug - if you haven’t listened to the latest episode of the PHFuture Considerations podcast, Eleni, Mike, and I were thrilled to be joined by two PHF All-Stars and Nova Scotians - Connecticut Whale defender Allie Munroe and Toronto Six netminder Carly Jackson. If you did listen, you know Munroe asked me if I knew New Jersey Devils defenseman Ryan Graves, who is from the same town as she is.

Long story short, I spoke with Graves the next night and he told me about how Allie was his first call when he started a hockey school back home and more: Ryan Graves Growing the Game Back Home in Nova Scotia.

You can find every episode of PHFuture Considerations by searching for ‘The Ice Garden’ wherever you listen to podcasts.

2* From Junior Whitecaps to Whitecaps, sort of. Sydney Brodt and Natalie Snodgrass were among the last group of players on the Minnesota Ice Cats before they folded and the remaining players were inherited by the Minnesota Junior Whitecaps. Brooke Madsen also played for the Junior Whitecaps, where she was coached by her current teammate (and linemate) Meaghan Pezon, who was on the first Minnesota Ice Cats team, way back when. Other current Whitecaps who went through the Jr. Whitecaps first include Sidney Morin, Sydney Baldwin, Jonna Albers, Liz Scheppers, and Jenna Brenneman.

3* Here’s a part of my conversation with Riveters’ captain Madison Packer from last month. I asked Packer, who has been with the NWHL since the early days, if she was proud of what the group of players has accomplished since back in 2015, or if she even thought about it.

“I think maybe for the first time I’ve started to think about it. I said to the group the first day we were together - congrats on being here. When you are in it day-to-day you don’t stop and think about it, how far it’s come,” Packer explained. “We’re a small group of people that are getting paid a pretty decent amount of money to play hockey in North America this year. It’s an accomplishment. It’s not easy, it’s not easy to get here and stay here.”

“I just said to my mom the other day: the only wish that I have is that I wish I had more time (to play). I always tell everyone - I’ll play as long as I’m relevant, so I’ve got a couple of years left in me, and then maybe I’ll get involved on the other side of things. You’ve been there, it’s crazy how fast it’s gone; and yeah, it hasn’t been perfect and there is room for improvement still,” she continued. “But it’s moving in the right direction, and I’m really grateful I can continue to be a part of this. I think even next year you’ll see a lot of (more) positive things.”

“My goal (now) is to get to 10 seasons. Anya wants me to play long enough now that our newborn Harlan will remember me playing. That might take me past ten seasons, but we’ll see,” Packer added with her familiar smirk. “One year at a time.”

4* Did former Buffalo Beauts teammates Kennedy Ganser and Emilie Harley plan on signing with the Riveters this off-season? Not necessarily at first, but…

“Yeah, so we have this group chat that Emilie started with everyone this summer asking where everyone was going to be playing, what their plans were. So I say I had just committed to the Rivs and she replied, NO Way, I’m talking to them right now,” Ganser revealed. “So I told her to do it and commit. It worked out perfectly. She and I are able to live together here, and it’s really nice to have a familiar face (with you) going to a new team.”

5* Prior to their first game ever (an exhibition vs. the Boston Pride at the University of Vermont, the Montreal Force named Anne-Sophie Bettez as the first captain in franchise history. I think we all expected that, and she is a perfect choice. Their alternate captains will be Sarah Lefort and Catherine Daoust, and it was Lefort who scored the first and only goal for Montreal in the 3-1 loss to the defending champs. Next up for the Force - they begin their first season on Nov. 5 in Buffalo.

5.1* The Beauts announced the remainder of their leadership group, naming Cassidy MacPherson and Claudia Kepler as their alternate captains for Season 8. Dominique Kremer was announced as their new captain at the onset of their training camp.

The Whitecaps leadership group for Season 8 will look like this: Sydney Brodt becomes the second captain in franchise history, succeeding Winny Brodt Brown (no relation). The alternate captains are Jonna Albers, Sydney Baldwin, and Sidney Morin.

The Riveters leadership for Season 8: Madison Packer is the captain for a fourth season, and the alternates are Kaycie Anderson, Amanda Pelkey, and Minttu Tuominen.

The Six leadership group for Season 8: Shiann Darkangelo is the captain for a third consecutive season, and the alternates are Taylor Woods, Breanne Wilson-Bennett, and Emma Woods.

The Pride leadership group for Season 8: Jillian Dempsey is the captain for a sixth consecutive season, and the alternates are Kaleigh Fratkin and McKenna Brand,

The Whale leadership group for Season 8: Shannon Turner is the captain for a fourth consecutive season, and the alternates are Janine Weber, Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Emma Vlasic, and Kennedy Marchment.

6* Why did Lovisa Berndtsson return to Beauts/the PHF for a second season? “I had a wonderful year in Buffalo last season, even though I didn’t get to play too much. I loved my time there, and the team that we had so I felt like I wanted to give it one more year; and also give myself a chance to develop more and see what I can do in another season here.”

Although she didn’t suit up for the preseason games when I was able to meet up with her due to a minor ailment, it wasn’t related to her hips, which are fully recovered now.

“It was tough to play (last season) after my hip surgery while also transitioning to the North American game. I am excited to be back on the ice and healthy and I am good to go for when the season starts.”

6.1* It ultimately didn’t happen this year, but the Beauts were in talks to play/host a preseason game against Frölunda HC and now it may happen prior to Season 9. Buffalo GM Nate Oliver is good friends with their GM, Kim Martin Hasson, and the two are working towards having their squads play a friendly match after being unable to find a date that works for both sides during this preseason.

7* Was able to get my first glimpse of the Connecticut Whale last weekend after making the drive to Milford for their exhibition game against the Riveters. The Whale won the game 4-1 behind goals from Janka Hlinka, Taylor Girard, and Kennedy Marchment (x2); Emilie Harley had the lone goal for the Rivs in the third period after it was 4-0. Evelina Mäkinen started in goal for the Riveters and Rachel McQuigge took over midway through regulation; Meeri Räisanen went the distance for Connecticut.

The Whale had a full lineup, minus defender Tori Howran (non-injury related), and looked as formidable as expected. Amanda Pelkey was held out for Rivs but ATR was told that she is expected to play in their season opener in Boston.

I’ve gotta say, it was great to see so many familiar faces at the rink. I had a nice chat with Hanna Beattie, who played five years for the Whale, and is now their Director of Youth Hockey and Game-day Operations (you can find her at the merch table), and watched the majority of the game in the stands with Laura Brennan - who held every job under the sun for the franchise. Also spotted in attendance were former player Sarah Hughson, and their former athletic trainer Paul Fernandes.

7.1* Also of note, Kiira Dosdall-Arena played in the game and has joined the Whale as a practice player. Quite the addition for a stacked roster, anytime you can add a player with her experience and skill set, that’s a win. Jessica Strack is also now the team’s equipment manager in addition to being a practice player. By the way, the neutral site game set for Jan. 14, 2023, between the Whale and Force will be in Pittsburgh (actually the suburb of Cranbury, where the Pittsburgh Penguins practice, the location of the second NWHL All-Star Game, and where Connecticut has played two ‘home’ games a few years back).

7.2* I asked captain Shannon Turner after the game if she and The Pod are ready to be the hunted now. No longer are the Whale that lovable underdog. Now, they are going to be the hunted, and she told me that they are ready for the challenge.

“Last year it was a little bit of a different feeling - in our locker room - where we knew we were going to be very good, a talented team that you should not bat your eyelashes at. Now, the expectation part is there - which will be a challenge to play against, but it is a privilege to get everyone’s best every weekend,” Turner said as she gets ready for her eighth season with the franchise and in the league.

“We’re not going to get the backup goalie, we’re not going to get the third line seeing most of the ice against us. We’re going to get everyone’s best, every time, making every game very exciting. Every win we get, we’re going to have to earn it this year.”

8* Keep an eye out for news on defender Lenka Čurmová. I’ve heard the 2020 All-Star and former Beaut/Riveter is looking to possibly make a return to the PHF.

8.1* The Riveters signed Hungarian forward Fanni Garát-Gasparics. You may remember her name from the ever-popular NWHL International Draft of 2021 where she was selected (6th overall) by the Minnesota Whitecaps. They also inked forward/defender Reagan Rust, who I believe will be playing forward, but we’ll see. Both players will be available to play in their season opener in Boston on Nov. 6.

8.2* Montreal added defender Taylor Baker to their inaugural roster this past week.

8.3* Still trying to confirm this, but it appears as if Becca Gilmore who I had heard left the Pride is now back with the team and Mary Parker, who replaced Gilmore, is no longer with the team. (I just want the season to start!).

9* Here are each franchise’s regular season records heading into the beginning of the season:

Boston Pride: 81-27-10

Toronto Six: 20-4-2

Minnesota Whitecaps: 38-23-3

Montreal Force: 0-0-0

Buffalo Beauts: 50-59-8

Metropolitan Riveters: 48-58-9

Connecticut Whale: 42-65-9

9.1* Boston is 19 wins away from becoming the first team to reach 100. Will the Riveters reach 50 wins before the Whale? Connecticut is eight wins away, but their geographical rivals are only two away. Minnesota needs 12 wins to reach 50, and they gave the Rivs and Whale a three-season head start!

The next team to beat the Six in Toronto will be the first to do so after the team went 10-0-0 in their first season with actual home games.

10* Stick taps all around to our five remaining OG players - Jillian Dempsey, Shannon Turner, Kaleigh Fratkin, Madison Packer, and Kiira Dosdall-Arena. They have been around for every season since the NWHL was formed and history began. And they are all very different people, who have impacted women's hockey in their own, unique ways.

Kudos also to Janine Weber (seven seasons), Alyssa Wohlfeiler (five seasons), and Shiann Darkangelo (five seasons) who were a part of that inaugural season, but have not played in every season.

Next on the list of longest-tenured players: Amanda Leveille (seven seasons), Kaycie Anderson (six seasons), Mallory Souliotis (six seasons), Amanda Boulier (six seasons), Jonna Albers (five seasons), Meaghan Pezon (five seasons), Emma Stauber (five seasons), McKenna Brand (five seasons), Lauren Kelly (five seasons), Allie Thunstrom (five seasons), Grace Klienbach (five seasons), and Taylor Marchin (five seasons).

Season 8 Milestone Watch

Boston’s Allie Thunstrom (that still feels weird to type) had played in every game for the Minnesota Whitecaps since they joined the NWHL back in 2018 - 64 regular season, 7 playoffs; the only player to do so. She’s also the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (48). Jonna Albers (nee Curtis) is expected to surpass Thunstrom’s team record for games played in the fourth game of the season.

Albers is two assists away from 50 career helpers and Thunstrom is two goals away from 50.

Pride captain Jillian Dempsey enters Season 8 as the league’s all-time leader in points (118), goals (56), games played (118), and Isobel Cups (3), and is tied with teammate Kaleigh Fratkin with 62 assists.

Riveters captain Madison Packer starts the season as the franchise leader in games played (107), goals (54), and assists (54).

Riveters forward Kelly Babstock (43), Whitecaps defender Amanda Boulier (43), and Pride forward McKenna Brand (42) could all reach 50 career assists this season.

Babstock will reach 100 career games if she plays in her team’s first 12 games. If Janine Weber doesn’t miss a game this season, she will play in career game no. 100 in Connecticut’s final game of the regular season.

Beauts forward Cassidy MacPherson has played in 50 games (all with Buffalo), and in her 17th game this season she will set the franchise record for games played, surpassing Taylor Accursi’s total of 66.

Boston netminder Lovisa Selander is four wins away from 25 in her career and Toronto’s Elaine Chuli is five away from the same mark.

Season 8 Players to Watch

Here is one new player to the league/for each team that I can’t wait to watch and who I think will have a big impact on this season.

Boston: Loren Gabel

Buffalo: Kassidy Sauvé

Connecticut: Lenka Serdar

Metropolitan: Sarah Bujold

Minnesota: Natalie Snodgrass

Montreal: Kristina Shanahan

Toronto: Brittany Howard

Notable Quotable

“I’m excited. Those girls are like family to me and I’m not someone who holds grudges. It will be interesting to see how we stack up against them. I’m looking forward to those games and I have a few friends from college who are on the team now. As much as it’s a reunion, I want to also prove to them where I’m at.” — Riveters forward Leah Marino on what it will be like to play her former team (Nov. 19-20) the Toronto Six.

Notable Quotable II

“Oh my gosh! I accidentally cross-checked (Kennedy) Ganser in front of the net! The whistle blew and she looks up, I said Sorry Gans!! I honestly didn’t know it was her and I don’t think she knew it was me. I felt a little bad about that one. It’s always good to see familiar faces and fun to play against them. But once you are in the play I feel like you don’t always realize who you’re going against in a corner battle or whatever.” — Connecticut defender Emma Keenan’s reply when asked if she gave any of her former Beauts teammates an extra shot or two on the ice.

Notable Quotable III

“It’s been a rollercoaster if I’m being completely honest. It’s no secret. The public has been with us from day one, as have our fans who have been loyal since day one. Everything that’s new and worth doing takes time, it takes effort, and it doesn’t come easy. Nor should it. I’m really proud of the league and it’s super exciting to have players like Katka come back, like Meeri coming back; the quality of players that have other options to make a living in other leagues and opted to come to our league is great to see. Players like Lauren Gabel and Giguere, just talented players getting on board proves that we’ve set a standard now as a place where people want to play. I’m grateful to still be here and grateful that this program that I knew was good from year one and I knew could be really good has really hit our stride the last two seasons.” — Shannon Turner, who’s been with the Whale and the league since day one, shares her thoughts on the progress that’s been made.