There are more than five impressive rookies in the National Women’s Hockey League for the 2018-19 season. From Olympians to standout NCAA talent, there are plenty of newcomers this season, thanks especially with the expansion to five teams. In selecting a top five, I opted to shine light on one player from each team. This is my list of top five NWHL players to watch. Have a look and comment on the list in the comments below.
Boston Pride - Katie Burt
The college career Burt had cannot be overstated! She was a four-year starter for the BC Eagles. She posted three 30-win seasons and holds the NCAA record in all-time wins. She led BC to four consecutive Hockey East regular-season titles, three consecutive Beanpots (2016-2018) and two consecutive Hockey East Tournament crowns (2016, 2017). She is top five in NCAA history in wins (121, 1st), winning percentage (.863, 5th) and shutouts (35, 5th).
While the Pride have returned veteran Brittany Ott, the struggles of the Boston Pride last season — and Ott arguably for the last two seasons — just might leave the top goaltender spot wide open. It is also worth noting that Burt was selected for the USA Hockey Women’s Festival earlier this year. New Pride head coach was one of the assistant coaches for the gold medal winning senior national team at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Will Mara go with an NWHL veteran, or a USA Hockey prospect as his top netminder?
Buffalo Beauts - Shannon Szabados
Not a first-time pro, but playing in her first women’s league, Shannon Szabados coming to the NWHL made headlines for a slough of reasons. To begin, she is a three-time Olympic goaltender for Canada. Szabados took an alternate route and made her mark in the WHL and the AJHL, as opposed to the CWHL in between Winter Olympic years.
Szabados is not too worried about the transition from men’s to women’s hockey. After all, she plays for Hockey Canada’s women’s team. However, she did admit there are differences in approach when playing with men versus women.
“They’re different games. You know not one better than the other, but it’s just a different type of game. I guess the women’s game is a lot of possession. You know, I hate to say it but I think the women’s game the players play the game smarter and sometimes that means hanging onto the puck a little bit longer or making a pass whereas sometimes a guy would shoot it,” she told me for The IX Newsletter.
Szabados continued, “[It’s] just minor adjustments like that sometimes as a goalie you need to be aware of. I think my patience in the women’s game, it shows a little bit more. You know, I [have] to be a little more patient and try to read the play a little bit more.”
Connecticut Whale - Michelle Löwenhielm
The Connecticut Whale franchise tested the international market in the offseason, opting to sign Olympians from the Swedish and Korean teams. Löwenhielm competed with her home country of Sweden in the 2014 Olympics, but may have found herself on the outside looking in for the 2018 Winter Games due to disagreements with her (former) federation coach.
New #NWHL @CTWhale_NWHL Michelle Löwenhielm says she was left off the 2017-2018 #Damkronorna squad and Olympic team due to disagreements with Leif Boork (shocker 😶) She’s only 23 and hopes to make a comeback. Onward & upward, Michelle! https://t.co/9CSblbHKRd— Meredith Foster (@fosterwrites) July 17, 2018
The University of Minnesota-Duluth alumna notched a career 10 goals and 32 assists for the Bulldogs.
For Sweden, Löwenhielm has three U18 bronze medals, and has played in four IIHF World Championships. She is also a 2013 SDHL champion with AIK.
She will be reunited with UMD teammate Katerina Mrázová, who won a Clarkson Cup with the Boston Blades in 2013.
Metropolitan Riveters - Chelsea Ziadie
Now that you are done screaming about Szabados being on a rookie list, let’s get to Chelsea Ziadie. The recent Harvard alum was defensive partners with 2014 Olympian and newest Riveters captain Michelle “Shelly” Picard. That alone should be a good indication of the type of play we can expect to see from the Montreal native.
She impressed against Luleå in the Champions Cup, “She was one of our top players today,” head coach Randy Velisheck told Mike Murphy and other members of the media Saturday afternoon. “She stood out. She can skate and she can shoot, and she sees the ice well.”
The Riveters climbed their way to the top of the NWHL last season by way of their blue line. Four-year NWHL and Riveters veteran Kiira Dosdall and Defender of the Year Courtney Burke were away from the team this weekend, but Ziadie holding her own bodes well for the defending champions as the season approaches.
Minnesota Whitecaps - Allie Thunstrom
They say speed kills. Well, just watching Thunstrom recaps on Twitter about leveled me. As with many of my rookie picks, Thunstrom is no novice. She is an Olympic speed skater and former USA Hockey player. Thunstrom has played with the Whitecaps before, including an exhibition game against the New York Riveters and the Boston Pride ahead of the inaugural NWHL season in 2015.
The Boston College alumna scored a hat trick during the preseason, leaving little question she is a player to watch.
Amazingly, her hands can keep up with her feet. I don’t think the NWHL goalies will be too keen to make a cameo in any forthcoming Thunstrom highlight reels.
There is not a shortage of talent in the NWHL this season. Can the Riveters become the first-ever repeat Isobel Cup Champion? Will former champions Boston (2016) or Buffalo (2017) reclaim Isobel? Or, can the Connecticut Whale or the Minnesota Whitecaps claim their first NWHL title in franchise history?
Tune in to NWHL starting next week to find out!