Around the Rink in the PHF: No June Swoon

Updates from Tryouts in New Jersey and Minnesota, plus hear from the Rivs coaching staff and Tera Hofmann.

Welcome back to Around the Rink!

With presumably four months until Season 8 of the PHF gets underway I’m sure everyone out there is refreshing their Twitter feeds for new info every morning. There have been announcements of signings nearly every weekday since free agency opened in early May, and I know there are a lot more coming. Boston once again is the lone team yet to announce, but rest assured Pride fans- the champs have signed their share of players.

Once again, thanks to all of the readers who have been along on this journey, and especially thank you to my teammates, the players, and staff who are always so helpful.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* It felt great to be back at a rink again this past weekend! I headed over to nearby Newark, New Jersey to take in the Metropolitan Riveters Free Agent Camp, and while I was there I not only saw a lot of familiar faces but also met briefly with each of the franchise’s new (and old) leadership group. I did miss the early portion of the day - which was a skills and drills session - but I was able to catch the scrimmage that ended the day, and lasted about an hour.

Here’s a list of the 30 players who were in attendance, with the last team that each player played for in parentheses:

Goalies: Brooke Wolejko (Rivs), Sonjia Shelly (Rivs), Cassandra Goyette (Rivs), Caty Flagg (Beauts), Tera Hofmann (Six), Jessica Strack (Whale).

Defenders: Elena Orlando (Beauts), Rose Alleva (Rivs), Rachael Ade (Rivs), Rebecca Morse (Whale), Colleen Murphy (Rivs), Lenka Curmova (Rivs), Kara Santoro (Nichols College), Sally Hoerr (Liberty).

Forwards: Emily Janiga (Rivs), Nora Mclaine (Rivs), Romana Kosecka (Rivs), Mallory Rushton (Rivs), Mel McAleer (Nichols College), Sarah Martoni (Vålerenga), Alexa Renzo (Rowan), Iveta Klimášová (MAC Budapest), Lunasa Sano (Harvard), Brooke Avery (Rivs), Haley Frade (Rivs), Maeve Reilly (Rivs), Tatiana Shatalova (Belye Medveditsy), Melissa Robbins (Sacred Heart), Alana Lopez (PWHPA), Brittany Mulholland (West Chester University).

1.1* So how many spots were actually up for grabs over the weekend? “There are still some moving pieces for sure, but we’ve been working pretty fast in building our roster,” new Rivs Head Coach Venla Hovi told ATR, “so there weren’t too many spots up for grabs today.”

For whatever my opinion is worth, I thought Janiga was the best skater on the ice. Every time she had the puck she did something that made me say wow, ooh, oh snap, holy toffoli, etc.

I think a lot of us were surprised (in a good way) when Hovi was announced as the fourth bench boss in franchise history. How quickly did it all come together? Here’s what she told us.

“Everything happened extremely quick. I had another opportunity and had to make a decision soon on it, but that didn’t work out and I was planning on staying in Canada where I was living. Literally, the day after that opportunity had passed I got the phone call and started talking about the option of coming here (to the Riveters),” she explained. “I don’t even know how long ago it was, every week has kind of blended in because we started working right away on the roster and recruiting (players). It was maybe a month or so.”

Speaking of the roster, Hovi and her staff have been hard at work with their reconstruction of the Rivs after another disappointing end to their previous season. As of now (June 7) they have only announced six signings, but ATR has learned that they have somewhere between 12-14 players signed - and that “There are a bunch of Olympians that’s for sure. American and European.”

Buckle up Rivs fans! We also learned that they were in on forward Denisa Křížová, who ultimately chose to sign with the Whitecaps, as well as netminder Klára Peslarová who signed for a sixth season in the SDHL.

2* Hovi joins the Riveters with two Olympic medals and four World Championship medals in her back pockets, as well as a Clarkson Cup, so she will (and should) immediately have the respect of her new team. She’s excited about the new challenge, and to continue to break barriers down for women’s hockey.

I ended our chat by asking her what it means to see all of these new opportunities for current players to make a living wage playing the sport they love so much, and her answer didn’t disappoint.

“To be quite honest, I still don’t believe it,” Hovi told me. “I just retired three years ago and I went through 27 years of playing and getting a tiny bit of funding the last few years of my career. I never actually played professionally when it comes to the financial aspect of it. It’s really amazing, and just the fact that I’m calling some of my former teammates and offering them contracts where they can just play hockey is…hard to explain. That’s where we’re at with women’s hockey and it's only going to get better from here.”

2.1* With the regime change some were surprised to see former Head Coach Ivo Mocek remain with the franchise in a different role, as Associate Head Coach following three seasons as their bench boss. “It’s great to be a part of the process, not only with our team but with this league as well. I couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming season,” he told us over the weekend.

“Ivo has been amazing,” Hovi added. “It’s a really unique environment for us to coach in the States - two younger, European coaches. I think we’re both really skill-focused from what I know of Ivo so far, and I think we’re going to work really well together. All of the info I don’t have, he has it.”

3* For Mocek, he wasn’t a shoo-in to return, but once he got to talking with Digit Murphy about who she wanted to bring in, and what type of role he would remain in with the organization, he was on board with finishing what he started with the Riveters way back in Season 5.

Mocek said he was alerted to the incoming changes by outgoing GM Anya Packer after she chose to not renew her contract. She wanted the role of President and when that wasn’t a possibility - that's when she left and on the way out let him know they’d be looking to hire a woman as Head Coach.

“I knew since day one, this is a women’s league and there should be women coaching, not just as assistant coaches, but as head coaches. So I’m fine with that as long as there was some communication, and the very first time Digit and I spoke she told me - ‘I don’t want to bring you back as Head Coach,’ and I said nice to meet you too,” Mocek told ATR while laughing.

“I think it was the first thing she said, but we went on to talk for a while and she says here’s the deal - I wanted to do this in Toronto and it didn’t work out. But I feel we can do it here and really start to rebuild this organization from top to bottom. So she says she wants to bring someone in to coach with me, and I’m good with that.”

“I’ve been here for a while and I don’t want it to be like I’m taking a step down, or becoming a cone pusher. And I was surprised, she said from day one that wouldn’t be the case and that I’d be Associate Head Coach, still doing the same things that I’ve been doing plus keeping the role of Director of Player Personnel - talking with, recruiting players - she said she wanted myself and whoever the other coach would be building the team and as GM Tori Charron can focus on technical stuff like contracts, keeping the budget together with the salary cap.”

3.1* Once Mocek and Hovi got to talking and their ideals aligned, it’s been full speed ahead. They both can learn and are learning from one another and are hard at work to rebuild the Rivs.

“I want to be an ally and to help grow this team, this league. But at the same time, I’m a young coach and I want to learn, I want to grow. And that was my big focus in all of those talks - that I could still grow and develop as a person and as a coach. I didn’t want to be in a background role where I wasn’t really having any impact,” Mocek told us.

“That was my number one concern and it has been a non-issue; as Venla and I have been piecing together this roster. I can definitely learn from Venla as a coach and I think she can from me as well in this league. It feels like a win-win situation for all of us.”

“This coming season, the team we’re putting together…we have some Huge talent. I’m not gonna lie, besides the bubble team that lasted three games in Lake Placid, I’ve never had a team like this here.

4* The Minnesota Whitecaps held another round of tryouts last weekend as well. While we don’t have a full list of players who were there we do know most of the names.

Players under contract included Jonna Curtis, Sydney Baldwin, Sidney Morin, Denisa Křížová (not officially announced), and Amanda Leveille (not officially announced).

There were also some other familiar names: Theresa Knutson (Rivs), Amy Menke (PWHPA), Meaghan Pezon (Whitecaps), Chelsey Rosenthal (Whitecaps), Elizabeth Bauer (PWHPA), Mak Langei (Whitecaps), Emma Stauber (Whitecaps), Stephanie Anderson (Whitecaps), Nicole Schammel (Whitecaps), Taylor Turnquist (Whitecaps), Natalie Snodgrass (UConn), Audra Morrison (Whitecaps), Brooke White Lancette (Whitecaps), Anna Klein (Minnesota-Duluth), and Maddie Rowe (Whitecaps).

5* I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that as of today (June 7) I don’t believe the PHF will be expanding this upcoming season. We are already too far into the off-season where even if a team was revealed tomorrow they would already be severely behind the other franchises and at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to signing players. Watch the announcement drop tomorrow or the day after now, hah!

6* There are two prominent (in my mind anyway) players who are in the top-20 of PHF/NWHL all-time scoring that have yet to be signed. One of those players hasn’t even received an offer and was offered a tryout for a franchise they haven’t played for previously and the other has yet to receive a fair offer. With the resumes that each of these players has, this news is mind-bottling to me. Hopefully, they find the right deal for themselves and we can see them on the ice in Season 8.

7* The Connecticut Whale have announced ten signings thus far, and nine of them were all a part of the PHF’s first-place team and Isobel Cup Finalists. Four of those players have re-signed for the next two seasons, so Colton Orr and his Pod are looking like a strong bet to be in the mix for Izzy in Season 8, and beyond.

The lone newcomer so far is Caitrin Lonergan; all she’s done is put up 214 points (90g-124a) over the past six seasons/166 games at Boston College and Clarkson University. Connecticut lost only six times in 22 games last season, and they might be even better this season.

8* The Buffalo Beauts will hold their Free Agent Camp in about ten days and some of the names that you see listed above from the Rivs’ camp will also be in Western New York. All told there will be about 7-10 players there with previous experience in the PHF at the rink that weekend, including a few goaltenders.

8.1* One of those who will be in attendance is Tera Hofmann, who was at the Rivs Camp and played for the Toronto Six last season after appearing in one game for the Riveters’ three-game season in Lake Placid. The only time she played a full game this past season, was against Buffalo in the outdoor game where she was the hard-luck, losing goalie who gave up one goal in a 3-0 loss. Hofmann told ATR she found out she was starting minutes before puck drop.

“For me, I’m just looking to take any opportunity I can get to play and that was an unexpected opportunity. I was informed that I was going to be starting that game during pre-game warmups on the ice,” Hofmann said via phone Tuesday afternoon. “Honestly, it's a testament to how ready I am at any given moment - to hop in and play with confidence. I’ve been ready, I was ready all season and didn’t get a lot of chances to show what I’m capable of. I tried to take advantage of the limited chances that I did get.”

We asked if she was nervous or caught off-guard with the late notification that she’d be playing after not playing for over 30 days. Nope. Cool as a cucumber, and - thankful for the opportunity. She was prepared, and it showed.

“That was the only full game I played and it was a wonderful opportunity,” added Hofmann. “I don’t think many people have a chance to play outdoor games like that, so it was really special. The Buffalo fans were great that day, too.”

9* I was recently told that Buffalo has been working on two ‘WOW’ signings. Perhaps this is one of them: over the weekend Jeff Marek from Sportsnet reported that goaltender Kassidy Sauvé will be signing with the Beauts. He followed that up the next day by reporting that Carly Jackson, who has tended goal for Buffalo the past two seasons, will likely end up in Toronto.

I had heard chatter that Jackson wouldn’t be back in Buffalo and this likely clinches that. It also seemed this was destined to happen (and I believe I hinted at this in a past ATR) when Lovisa Berndtsson was the first goalie the Beauts signed this off-season. Why’d the CJ-Buffalo relationship end? Unclear at the moment, but I’m sure we’ll find out at some point where it went off the rails.

9.1* Marek was also the first to report the Brittany Howard signing by the Toronto Six. I think we all figured the Six would make a big splash after losing Mikyla Grant-Mentis to the Beauts last month, and adding Howard is a pretty big splash. I’ve recently found out that the Six will be naming a new Head Coach this off-season, and that Mark Joslin will be reassigned within the organization.

9.2* Some goalie names I’ve heard connected to PHF teams - keep your eyes peeled for Lauren Bench (MoDo Hockey, University of Minnesota) and the Whitecaps, and Rachel McQuigge (Princeton) and the Riveters.

10* What’s it like to be a goaltender at these tryout camps, fighting for ice-time and an audition? “You focus on yourself, what you’re doing, capable of and the rest will come. It doesn’t matter what kind of shooters you’re facing,” Hofmann told us. She was one of six netminders on the ice Saturday in New Jersey, which I thought was a large number. Knowing the type of person she is, I shouldn’t have been surprised with the positive and lovely answer Hofmann had when I asked about the dynamic.

10.1* “It’s an interesting dynamic. I think for goalies, at least at this level, we’re all really supportive of each other; that’s the experience that I’ve had. So it was nice to have five other goalies there, five people cheering you on,” said the Yale grad. “You take the opportunities you can get. If it’s three minutes at a time (for each of us) in the scrimmage, you can’t control what kind of shots you’re going to face in those three minutes. You just have to work with what you have.”

You can only control what you can control, or focus on yourself as Hofmann told us earlier. “Near the end when people started to get tired, after a long tryout, I didn’t face any shots during my last two-three shifts. That’s hard, it’s not ideal.”

“Overall, it felt really good to be back on the ice with other pro players; that’s something that’s often lacking when you’re in the off-season. It was nice to be out there with a full group. It’s the perfect kind of skate for the off-season.”

PHFuture Considerations

In case you missed it - we recorded a new PHFuture Considerations podcast recently with rising star Taylor Girard from the Connecticut Whale. After winning Newcomer of the Year for Season 7, she told us about her rookie season, some funny chirps she’s heard on the ice, why she re-signed for two seasons, and more.

Also, a heartfelt thank you to all who have been listening to Eleni, Mike, and I through 8 episodes. I heard a bunch of feedback at the rink this weekend and it was really neat to hear. Words can’t explain what I want to say here, but thanks for allowing us into your ear space every now and then.

Notable Quotable

“I’d like to first see all of the players and what type of team that we’ll have (before deciding). We’ve been focusing on just filling out the roster right now - signing players, and finding the right fit for our team. But as a coach, I think about those things all the time (laughs), so it’s on my mind, but that’s the next step after we have our roster figured out.” — Riveters HC Venla Hovi when asked if she knows what style of play the team will play this upcoming season.