Despite putting together one of the best rosters in women’s hockey and another strong postseason performance, the Connecticut Whale's season ended with disappointment, as the Isobel Cup was once again, just out of reach.
The Connecticut Whale finished the regular season in third place with a 14 -8-2 record. They were difficult to play against, consistently turning opponents’ mistakes into their own opportunities.
The Whale were the third-seeded team going into the playoffs and matched up with the second-place Toronto Six for a best-of-three series. The Whale never seemed outmatched in this series, going shot for shot, save for save, shift for shift. It took all three games to settle this matchup, with the Whale taking the first one, then narrowly losing the second in overtime, and being shut out by elite goaltending in the third.
The Whale’s nonstop offense this season was led by the dynamic duo of Kennedy Marchment and Taylor Girard. New additions Caitrin Lonergan and Justine Reyes slotted in seamlessly to make the Whale’s top lines almost unstoppable.
“Playing with Kennedy is so nice because she makes those unreal passes,” said Girard following the Whale's Game 1 victory over the Toronto Six.
The Whale played an excellent transitional game, which allowed them to be offensive threats even when they were on the penalty kill.
“Last year we were pretty confident with [special teams], but this year our power plays have been taking off, our penalty kill's been taking off just in comparison to last year. It's really nice to be able to go on the PK and think ‘hey we might score a goal on this,’” said Girard.
Girard led the league in shorthanded goals with four. There were only two other players who scored multiple shorthanded goals in the regular season — Girard’s teammate Marchment, and the Metropolitan Riveters’ Sarah Bujold, each with two.
Defense is at its best when a blocked shot can turn into a scoring opportunity, and by that metric, the Whale blue line was one of the best in the league. The Whale’s blue line got a few upgrades before the season started, with Emma Keenan and Mallory Souliotis joining the team.
Just like their offense, defense was a full team effort for the Whale. The forwards trusted their defenders to make plays to break the puck out, and likewise the defenders trusted the forwards to get back and play D when they needed to.
“It just goes hand in hand, defense trusting the offense, offense trusting the D,” said Girard.
Allie Munroe in particular jumped up into the offense on more than one occasion, assisting on 15 goals and scoring one of her own, good enough to be the team's highest-scoring defender.
When they did struggle, it was in turning defensive zone possession into defensive zone exits, which ended up costing them when it came down to putting the puck in the back of the net.
Abbie Ives was once again the Whale's go-to goaltender. She started 16 of the Whale's 24 regular season games, with Meeri Räisänen taking the remainder. Ives finished the season with a .904 SV% and Räisänen finished with a .894 SV%. Both goaltenders struggled throughout the regular season, and the playoffs were another challenge for Ives as she faced Toronto's relentless offense in the semifinal series.
Most Valuable Player
It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and start to think that the most important asset in hockey is goal scoring, or save percentages; but leadership is a far rarer and far more valuable gift to give your team, and it’s one that Shannon Turner has been giving her team season after season.
We often use numbers to decide which player meant the most to their team. The statistics can tell truths that we might not be able to see with our eyes. The most valuable player might be the one who scored the most goals or made the most plays. It might be the defender who blocked the most shots, or the goaltender with the highest SV%. We might look to fancy stats to find out who created the most high-danger scoring opportunities over the course of a season.
There’s one number that really defines Turner’s contribution to the Connecticut Whale: 132. Since there has been a Connecticut Whale to play for, Turner has been there. She’s racked up 132 games played — 142 if you count her appearances in the postseason. She’s part of an ever-shrinking list of players who stayed with one team for her entire career. Head Coach Colton Orr credits her with singlehandedly turning the Whale’s culture into something positive.
“That was the point of joining the league and staying with it all these years,” she said. “I’m just so proud of all the hard work and how it’s paying off and how excited everyone is about where the league’s heading and the future it has for female athletes.”
Lonergan came to the Whale out of Clarkson University, where she had 17 goals and 30 assists in her senior season. Lonergan was one of many NCAA players who benefited from taking an extra year of eligibility to stay with her college team through the 2021–22 season. Lonergan hit 47 points in 36 games in her final season with Clarkson, scoring 17 goals and picking up 30 assists.
She came to the Whale ready to hit her prime with minimal adjustments. Lonergan was quickly given top-six responsibility, she was the perfect player to add to a top line that already had Marchment and Girard, and she finished the season just behind them in scoring with 18 points in 23 games.
The Whale’s offseason is already off to a strong start. Though Turner has hung up her playing skates for good, Marchment and Girard are signed through 2023–24. The core remains mostly intact with Munroe, Melissa Samoskevich, and Tori Howran also contracted to return next year. Additionally, the team extended head coach Colton Orr for next season.
The Whale have always been good at finding top talent from NCAA schools, so despite some minor rebuilding that needs to be done, next season is looking good for the Whale.