Not only is Janine Weber one of the remaining handful of active players in the PHF who played in Season 1 of the NWHL, but she was the first player that signed in the league back in the summer of 2015 when she joined the New York Riveters. Now, in the winter of 2023, the Austrian superstar is in her seventh season in the league (fourth with the Connecticut Whale) that is still around and kicking eight years later.
Not only is Weber a star on the ice, but off of the ice she has always been an A+ person. After a recent game in Connecticut, we reunited and spoke for about ten minutes and I asked her for some thoughts on how much everything has changed in a league that has had its ups and downs while navigating and growing these past seven seasons.
“It’s crazy. That first year was so special. It (the NWHL) came out of nowhere and we were so grateful for everything we got,” Weber explained. “Seeing how it’s gotten more professional; obviously the pay, it increased and then took a little dip, but now it’s going back up. The people that are involved now; I think our new commissioner is doing a great job communicating, she’s brought in people like Bells and Decker (Kacey Bellamy and Brianna Decker) - people who played here and then played in the PWHPA. Having those people back brings credibility to this too, I don’t think they’d come back if they didn’t believe in this.”
Weber played the first two seasons with the Riveters (and was their leading scorer in Season 2 w/10g-12a) against both Decker and Bellamy on the Boston Pride, and then when they left the NWHL, Weber signed in to play in Boston for Season 3, the year the Rivs won their lone Cup.
“I think it’s crazy to think about all of the things that have happened over these eight years. The product on the ice has gotten a lot better too,” declared Weber. “The skill, every year is getting better, new players are coming into the league. Players aren’t stopping (playing) after college anymore. They have a legit goal, to play here, now.”
Weber has unfortunately suffered a few injuries along the way, so she hasn’t hit 100 games in the league just yet and as of press time she is sitting at 96 (88 in the regular season, 8 playoff games). This past season was her best/closest chance at winning the Isobel Cup, but as she explained, that isn’t necessarily why the 31-year-old keeps playing.
“There are multiple reasons. Personally, I feel like can keep getting better, I enjoy working on things in and out of the gym, getting a little better every day,” Weber revealed. “On the other hand, with everything that has been happening in the league - investments, private ownership…I think when I was on the fence about continuing to play those were the main reasons for me. And then obviously our season last year, we came very close (to winning a championship).”
So is winning an Isobel Cup, is that something that drives you, or is it a personal goal? Or is it more of something that would be a nice cherry on top of a career that has already won championships? Plural.
“I would say more like, it would be nice. But, I won’t not be satisfied with my hockey career - all the places I saw, and the friends I made - if I don’t win the Isobel Cup. Obviously, it would be a nice thing and that is absolutely our goal - especially after coming so close last year.”
This season Weber’s best friend, Kiira Dosdall-Arena, is on the Whale as a practice player, reuniting the former teammates in the NWHL, CWHL, and EWHL once again. I asked if she had a hand in recruiting the new mom and she smiled and said yes, it was something she had been working on for a few years now.
Dosdall-Arena may play more than anticipated following the broken leg that defender Mallory Souliotis suffered when the Whale played a neutral-site game in Pittsburgh. When we spoke it was a few days after the game and wanted to get her thoughts on it all because I hadn’t had the chance to see it live. KDA, like Weber, has been a part of the league since day one.
“It was great to play in a really nice facility like that one, the ice was great, the fans were into it, and it was really cool to meet the Pennies!”
“Obviously Mal’s injury, that was tough and you never want to see that. You hope it’s not that bad, and then you hear what it is and you feel so bad (for her),” recalled Weber. “We’ve been keeping in touch with her and she’s been updating us with some funny Snaps from the hospital. We’re thinking about her a lot and hoping she can come and join us soon. We know it’s not the easiest getting around (with that injury).”
WATCH: Janine Weber sets up Katelynn Russ for her second goal of the game! The @CTWhale_NWHL are ahead 3-2! What 👏 a 👏 pass 👏. #2020NWHLPlayoffs #NWHLonTwitch— PHF (@PHF) March 7, 2020
📺: https://t.co/EHkD9gflXv pic.twitter.com/nMJlmbMtoH
On one of, if not the deepest rosters in the league, ice-time isn’t just given, and with one extra forward the Whale has a healthy competition for playing time within their group that everyone understands, including the veteran of seven NWHL/PHF seasons.
“I think right now we’re working on playing the right way as a team for 60 minutes, having smart changes, all the little things that make a hockey team successful and we’ve been improving on that in every game,” she said. “There are no easy games in this league, we know that and we take everyone seriously no matter who we play.”
This season Weber has played in 12 of Connecticut’s 14 games, missing one due to injury and one as a healthy scratch. She hasn’t recorded a point yet, but I have a feeling she is saving those for the biggest games of the season. Just a hunch.