Kateřina Mrázová’s magic hands

The Whale may have found their next star forward

Watching Kateřina Mrázová when she has the puck on her stick is downright enchanting. The Connecticut Whale’s newest star is one of the most creative and entertaining players in the NWHL. She’s also beginning to look like the game-breaking forward that the Whale have needed so badly, especially after losing Kelly Babstock in free agency to the Buffalo Beauts.

Mrázová is considered an NWHL rookie, but she’s definitely not inexperienced. She’s been a staple on the Czech senior national team since she was 16 and won the Clarkson Cup with the Boston Blades when she was 20. After getting a taste of North American pro hockey, Mrázová began her collegiate career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. It didn’t take long for her teammates there to fall in love with playing alongside the creative yet unselfish forward.

“When I’m on a line with her, [Mrázová] says, ‘Don’t call for the puck, don’t call for the puck, because I’m going to find you.’ I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll do whatever you say,’” Team USA’s Sydney Brodt told Matt Wellens of the Duluth News Tribune last February. “I love playing with her because I know the puck is always going to be on my stick in front of the net. She’s always going to make a great play.”

Mrázová finished her collegiate career with 75 points in 117 games. Those numbers might not jump off the page compared to other established stars, but consider the fact that Mrázová missed the entire 2015-16 season with a knee injury and that her knee has been surgically repaired three times. Mrázová is so skilled that it looks like the game is almost easy for her, but she has worked harder than anyone to stay on the ice and keep playing the game that she loves.

Mrázová has two goals, one assist, and 15 shots on net in her first three games with Connecticut. She has breathed life into the Whale’s even strength offense and power play. Her Oct. 20 power play goal was the Whale’s first power-play goal since Feb. 18, 2018. She was also named the first star of the game in the Whale’s first win of the 2018-19 season.

What separates Mrázová from other exceptional forwards is her sensational stickhandling. She routinely pulls off highlight-reel moves to create time and space for herself and her teammates. Some might consider her style of play to be flashy or filled with risk, but Minnesota-Duluth coach Maura Crowell trusted Mrázová completely. And it appears that Connecticut Whale head coach Ryan Equale is beginning to do the same.

Equale wasted no time giving Mrázová a featured role in his offense. He believes that she brings something to the Whale that they were missing last year. Mrázová’s ability to make something out of nothing is more than just entertaining to watch; it’s changing our expectations of what the Whale, as a team, are capable of.

“Any team not having her is missing that,” Equale told the Ice Garden after Connecticut’s first win of the season on Nov. 18. “Her hands — she’s like a video game — her hands are just ridiculous. She does things with the puck where, even in the middle of a game, I’ll just turn to the coaches and shake my head. Not only because [she has] the creativity and the thought process, but also because she has the skill set to actually do it.

“It’s very unique on our team and on any team,” Equale continued. “For us, having a player like [Mrázová] really adds another dimension that we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”

In her first 180 minutes of NWHL hockey, Mrázová has been the Whale’s most valuable skater. She’s missed one of the team’s first four games but still leads Connecticut in goals, points, and shots. It’s still early, but Mrázová is beginning to look like the next star forward that the Whale can build around.