Around the Rink in the PHF: Week 13

This week we hear from Boston’s Olympian Evelina Raselli, Riveters’ captain Madison Packer, and a look at some of Connecticut’s dominance in 2022.

Once again, thank you to all of the players/staff of the six teams for your openness, time, and assistance when I piece these columns together. Also, a special thanks to my teammates at TIG and everyone who reads these, shares them, comments about them. I, and we appreciate it. Also, feel free to check out the PHFuture Considerations podcast (listed under The Ice Garden) wherever you listen to them at. Episode 3 dropped right after the last Around The Rink.

And here, we, go!

Point Shots

1* One of the bigger stories this weekend was the Connecticut Whale finishing off a road sweep of the Minnesota Whitecaps winning their 9th and 10th consecutive games - setting a new franchise record. Perhaps more eye-opening for me than the extension of their win streak was - the last time we saw The Pod was back on Feb. 5-6 - a month ago - when they dismantled the Boston Pride on consecutive days.

We’ve talked a lot this season about how this is the deepest Whale team in franchise history, and it showed as they finished Season 7 with an impressive record of 7-3-0 on the road. Every skater currently on the roster has at least one point and with the expanded game-day rosters for the rest of the season - good luck to everyone else slowing them down. They are four lines deep. Our friend Kaycie Anderson summed it up best after her second goal of the season on Saturday night during the intermission interview.

“We’re just going to keep trying to play our game, and they’ll adjust to it, or they won’t.”

So far no one has been able to adjust, as the Whale is undefeated in the year 2022 and the last time they lost a game was way, way back in November. Will they be looking past Buffalo this weekend as they anticipate the monster season-ending series with first-place Toronto? We’ll see this weekend when the scrappy Beauts travel to Danbury.

2* The other big news leaked on Saturday night and was eventually confirmed on Monday morning - the Toronto Six have been sold by BTM Partners to a new ownership group. The group is led by retired NHLer Anthony Stewart, and he’s joined by Hockey Hall-of-Famer Angela James (who is currently an assistant coach for the T6), Carnegie Initiative co-chair Bernice Carnegie, and former NHL coach Ted Nolan. When the sale is officially completed, the full list of investors will be revealed. Watch the video below to hear more in-depth comments from Stewart and James, it’s worth your time.

“Together with my partners, we know how much representation matters and how important role models are for young hockey players. It brings me great joy to be part of something special and help strengthen a platform that will make the game better for the next generation and grow the game in the community that I love,” Stewart said in the press release. “We believe the PHF is well-positioned to become a leader in professional sports and look forward to continuing to build the Toronto Six into a winner on and off the ice.”

BTM Partners are still co-owners of the Pride and owners of the Metropolitan Riveters.

3* Will we see former Buffalo Beauts legend Kelley Steadman in Beauts’ blue again? It seems like a strong possibility based on what we’ve seen lately on social media. If they do sign her, and I haven’t asked their GM if it is happening, I would assume it is only for the playoffs in Florida because that is where she is currently based. Something to keep an eye on as we get closer to the March 14 deadline for PHF teams to add any additional reinforcements.

4* Over the last two weekends I was able to see Swiss Olympian Evelina Raselli play three games for the Pride, and prior to Sunday’s game against the Riveters in New Jersey, I had the honor of speaking with her. Like another Swiss player I cover (New Jersey Devils captain Nico Hischier), she’s very humble, very team-oriented, and was comfortable enough to crack a joke or two, which isn’t necessarily always the case with European players I’ve encountered over the years. Sometimes they are a little guarded, just want to do the interview and go on their way.

“It was a huge experience for me to be at the Olympics representing my country; it’s the highest accomplishment you can achieve in women’s hockey. It’s every athlete’s dream,” Raselli replied when I asked about the experience of participating in her third Winter Olympics. “But I can say I’m still disappointed…ending in fourth place, it’s tough. I’m not the youngest anymore, so I don’t know if I will have another chance.”

5* Was she surprised when Boston selected her with their choice (3rd overall) in the NWHL International Draft? “Oh yeah! Totally,” she said while laughing, “as I said I am not the youngest player so I wasn’t planning on playing in the PHF this season, but everything worked out and I am really happy to be here.”

Raselli went on to explain how she and Head Coach Paul Mara got to know each other virtually leading up to that selection, and how she knows her strengths are in defensive areas so she is trying to fill her role the best she can every time she jumps over the boards. She also revealed that she came into this situation without knowing anyone with Boston prior to the draft process.

“I knew no one, not a person before I came here, but I have to say everyone has been really nice here and I have felt very welcomed since the beginning of the season,” Raselli said, “and everyone has been helpful…like repeating the things when I don’t get them the first time, hahaha!”

Raselli picked up an assist in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Rivs and has two points (1g-1a) in 12 games, has won .613% (111-70) of the face-offs she’s taken as their third-line center, and as a penalty killer.

5.1* Two weekends ago in Boston, I asked Raselli’s teammate Kayla Friesen about how the team was able to navigate the long stretches with no games. “With covid, it’s tougher, but we made it a priority to hang out away from the rink because it's just as important as hanging out at the rink. We’ve been working hard at practice, but getting to hang out together outside of the rink is a blast too.”

6* Hard to believe but after Sunday’s game, I spoke in person with Riveters captain Madison Packer for the first time since we chatted following a practice in March 2020, ahead of a Rivs playoff game in Minnesota. We’ve connected since then via zoom or DMs, but it was good to catch up with her in the flesh for the first time in a very long time.

Everyone has their opinions of who she is, which I understand, but all I’ll say here is that a whole lot of those opinions are based off of what they know or what they see, without actually speaking with her. Is she perfect? No, nobody is. But she keeps it real. And she is authentic, which honestly, is a rare trait these days. As a journalist, I love it, even if it may make the league and team executives hold their breath when she speaks.

Here’s a snippet of our conversation (the rest will likely pop up in multiple ATR in the near future). I was intrigued by her comments after the All-Star Showcase in Buffalo when she said, ‘people learn that I’m a different person on the ice compared to who I am off the ice’. So what exactly does that mean?

“I like to think I’m a good person, I’m not a jerk. You saw a couple of times today - if you try to run me over, I’m going to win that fight. People get all bent out of shape, like today when a few times people tried to hit me. I’m a big, strong player; I’m going to give it back,” said Packer. “People don’t always like that. I stand up for my teammates. I don’t shy away from a fight or battle, and people don’t like being pushed around. They think ‘that kid’s a jerk’, but no, we’re out there competing. It’s okay to be a competitor and be fierce out on the ice, and then grab a beer together after the game. I leave it out there.”

6.1* When you see her off the ice, out of her gear, holding her son (like she did for the duration of our eight-or-nine minute chat), she isn’t the biggest woman, she’s certainly not the tallest by any stretch. When you see her on the ice, she’s like a bulldog combined with the Incredible Hulk. Fierce. Unrelenting. Always chirping, always lurking. Does she sometimes play on the edge? Yeah, 100%. But her confidence in herself, and what she can do on the ice - there isn’t anyone, not a single person, that she is going to back down from.

“Fratty (Kaleigh Fratkin) and I went at it in front of the net yesterday; she cross-checked me a couple of times and I turned around and said ‘dude if you do that again, I’m gonna drop you.’ I mean, my wife is her Maid of Honor this summer,” the Rivs captain quipped with a sly grin. “It’s all good fun, I mean we’re not playing in a beer league. We’re playing for a paycheck and a championship. It’s finding that balance, and because there are so few teams (right now), everyone is familiar with each other and it’s easy to hold a grudge. That’s why I like the All Star Game, you can get to know people better.”

7* Circling back to the Pride, Boston didn’t have Mary Parker for the games in New Jersey against the Riveters and Packer, but Coach Mara confirmed to ATR that her absence was not injury-related. He also quipped that they are saving some of their tricks for Florida at the end of the month when the playoffs begin.

Special shoutout to Colleen Coyne, Boston’s Team President, who was on the road trip and gets the primary assist for helping to coordinate my interviews with Raselli and Jenna Rheault (for a longer feature that may run after the season). Was great to finally meet face-to-face with her after our interactions online during the season.

7.1* The crowd on Sunday in New Jersey for the Pride-Rivs game was a lot leaner than Saturday’s game, which is insane (and disappointing) to me because on Sunday the New Jersey Devils-St. Louis Blues' game ended 30 minutes before the PHF game started. How did the Riveters not have someone outside the lobby doors ushering people in, or a giant arrow pointing towards the doors, or giving NJD fans free tickets as they walked out of the other rink?

For those that don’t know, or aren’t familiar with the setup here - the Riveters' home games are in the Devils practice rink, which is attached to the Devils' main rink in the Prudential Center. I literally took an elevator down four floors from the press box to the event level, walked through two sets of doors, and was watching the PHF team's pregame warmup.

I will add that other than an RT here or there on Twitter I didn’t see any advertising whatsoever inside the Devil's rink on Sunday or in any of the games leading up to that day. But if it was my team, I would’ve been busting my ass to get butts in the seat that day, even if it meant inviting them in for free.

8* Back to the Minnesota-Connecticut games, there was a major issue with the game clock on Sunday - in the first and second periods the time froze at around 3:50 (left in the period) while gameplay continued. In the first period, the Whale scored the first goal of the game with 2:28 left. Would it still have happened if there was no malfunction? I don’t know, and I don’t know if it’s an appealable thing. Good on the broadcasters for calling it out, because the refs had no idea in the first period, and in the middle period they ended up running off some time but it was about 45 seconds less than it should have been.

Speaking of the broadcasts…why in the world are so many games starting at the same time? Good grief. At most, there are three games per weekend. Can’t we stagger them by an hour, or more, so everyone can watch them live? Why are you cannibalizing your own fans? Would love to see the viewership numbers, but I’d bet a dollar that the games that don’t run at the same time have more eyeballs on them.

This upcoming weekend’s games start at 2 pm, 2 pm, and 3 pm on Saturday and 1 pm, 2 pm, and 2 pm on Sunday. Insert shrug emoji here. For the final regular-season weekend (March 19-20) Saturday’s games are perfect - 3 pm and 7 pm. Sunday, not so much, as both games will start at 1 pm.

8.1* Stick taps to a dear friend here at TIG - goalie Allie Morse for the Whitecaps - for suiting up in Minnesota’s final home game of the season as the backup tendy with so many injuries in their crease. She’s never said peep about getting a raw deal (in our mind) all season and has been a loyal teammate who shows up for every single practice.

9* We expect that Elaine Chuli will start this Saturday for the Toronto Six against the Boston Pride and if she does she will be looking to establish a new NWHL/PHF record with her 14th win in a row, snapping a tie with Boston netminder Lovisa Selander. Chuli’s last loss - came at the hands of the Pride in the Isobel Cup semifinals on March 26, 2021 (a 6-2 Toronto loss where she was pulled after the fifth goal). Selander won her first 13 starts for the Pride (Oct. 5, 2019 - Jan. 25, 2020) and finished that season 17-1-0.

10* The Buffalo Beauts were off last weekend, but in my travels, to and from The Rock, I was thinking about how much their 2021 draft class has made an impact on the roster. Counting the International Draft (which, let's be honest shouldn’t have been a thing), the Beauts selected eight players and six of them have played fairly regularly/have important roles on the team. The picks (in order) - were defender Emilie Harley (Rd. 1), forwards Anjelica Diffendal (Rd. 2), Kennedy Ganser (Rd. 3), and Missy Segall (Rd. 3), and defender Allison Attea (Rd. 4); plus goalie Lovisa Berndtsson.

Harley is tied for third on the team in points (8) and has taken only one penalty. Diffendal is tied for the team lead in goals (5) and is third in shots on goal (40). Ganser has been solid taking face-offs (121-115) as the second-line center behind ace Cassidy MacPherson. Segall has shown her versatility and played on multiple lines with players in and out of the lineup for various reasons. Attea has been a solid defensive defender who has given teams fits in front of the net. Berndtsson has primarily been the backup to Carly Jackson but twice has faced 40 shots as a starter including her last appearance - a 1-0 loss in Boston.

Buffalo needed a refresh, reset, reboot after the past two seasons and GM Nate Oliver’s work may not be paying off in the W-L column yet, but what could this group do with a season or two under their belts? Something to keep an eye on. After speaking with a majority of this season I would be shocked if they have more players return than they have in recent memory.

It PHFeels Like the PHFirst Time

Welcome to the Federation! Stick taps - hopefully, the first of many.

PHFirst Goal: Melissa Samoskevich (CTW)

Quote of the Week

“Over there (at the Olympics) the rinks were the same size as here, so it was good for me that I was able to play this season in Boston on these rinks. I do have different roles on this team and with Team Switzerland, but I have some experience - so I know how to handle, how to deal with that. I’m really excited to be here, on this team. I knew at the beginning I would miss a month with Boston, so I was prepared for it all mentally, too.” — Pride forward/Swiss Olympian Evelina Raselli on balancing playing for Boston and her National Team.

My 3-Stars of the Week

* Kennedy Marchment (CTW) - one of the PHF’s leading MVP candidates had another monster weekend with five points (2g-3a), leading the Whale to their first-ever sweep in Minnesota, extending the team’s win streak to a franchise-record 10 games, and setting a new franchise record for points in a season with 24 (11g-13a) and four games left. In each of her last four games - all on the road - she’s scored one goal.

** Taylor Wenczkowski (BOS) - there was a bit of confusion over whether she tipped the shot by Kali Flanagan on Boston’s opening goal in Sunday’s game, but Wenczkowski confirmed to us on Monday night that she inadvertently did in fact deflect the puck, giving her a four-point (2g-2a) weekend against the Rivs. Her play away from the puck in both games was on point as she certainly was a thorn in the side of the home team. Wenczkowski is now up to 12 points (7g-5a) in 16 games this season, is currently on a four-game point streak (2g-4a), with nine points (4g-5a) over her last seven games.

*** Breanna Blesi (MIN) - let’s all give Blesi a round of applause for her performance this past weekend. Because of multiple injuries in the Whitecaps crease she ended up playing four periods - relieving Jenna Brenneman in the third period on Saturday (seven saves) and the entire game on Sunday (29 saves) after not playing in any real game for a year and a half. Sunday’s game could have very easily been an 8-1 loss rather than 4-1 if not for a handful of remarkable saves the 22-year-old, former Wisconsin Badger made.

Did You Know?

As mentioned above, Kennedy Marchment set a new franchise record on Sunday for points in a single season with her 23rd point, snapping a tie with Kelli Stack (Season 1), Kelly Babstock (Season 1), and Haley Skarupa (Season 2). Marchment has four games remaining to extend her record.

This season Minnesota’s Allie Thunstrom scored eight goals in four games against Buffalo and Connecticut’s Taylor Girard has six goals in four games vs Minnesota. Something to keep an eye on if we end up seeing those matchups at some point in the postseason.