At the risk of sounding corny, it’s hard not to be thankful for women’s hockey this Thanksgiving. It has been a tremendous year for the game, with plenty of twists, turns, new beginnings, nail-biting finishes and flipped narratives.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at who’s hot, who’s not and who to keep your eye on in the NWHL after the holiday.
Trending up: the Beauts’ top line, BUF | 9 combined points, 2 games vs BOS
Reigning Rookie of the Year Hayley Scamurra and Maddie Elia established formidable chemistry on the Buffalo Beauts’ first line last season. Even with the departure of Kourtney Kunichika, they have been able to maintain elite offensive production with Emily Janiga completing the trio on the wing.
With Dani Cameranesi absent from last weekend’s festivities with a lower body injury, Scamurra and Elia went to work picking up the offensive slack. Scamurra scored Buffalo’s lone goal in Saturday’s loss, also registering a pair of shots on goal. Elia added two more shots.
The floodgates opened on Sunday, with Scamurra erupting for four points including three primary points. Elia netted a pair of goals. Janiga collected an assist. The line in total generated five of the Beauts’ six goals this weekend.
Buffalo’s first line does not simply light up the scoreboard. Their defensive prowess leads to high-danger shot generation and forces plenty of turnovers on the forecheck. In this particular play from Sunday, Elia uses her long reach to knock the puck off a Boston stick, glide behind the net and quickly feed Scamurra. Scamurra, having read the play all the way, snuck between the hashmarks and buried the shot past the glove of Burt.
Elia now leads the league with six goals. Scamurra leads with seven assists and 12 points through six games.
Trending down: Savannah Harmon, BUF | 0 SOG, -2, 4 goals against, 2 games vs BOS
Unfortunately, it was far from a perfect weekend for the Buffalo Beauts. It was a particularly tough weekend for rookie defender Savannah Harmon. Harmon, who is known for her propensity to shoot the puck, exited the weekend without registering a shot on goal. Worse, she was on the ice for four goals against and finished a -2 on the weekend.
Harmon entered the weekend with 13 shots on goal in four games. In her last game against the Minnesota Whitecaps’ speedy forecheck, she rifled off four shots on net. Yet Harmon was not as involved in either contest this weekend. Perhaps defensive miscues on Saturday resulted in fewer chances being taken on Sunday. Whatever the reason, it was a rare quiet weekend for the rookie out of Clarkson.
Harmon here is tangled up with Pride sniper Jillian Dempsey between the hashmarks. With the initial shot being directed towards Nicole Hensley’s pad, Dempsey spins off Harmon like Tina Charles in the paint to bang home the rebound. Harmon is left checking air.
Dempsey scored twice with Harmon on the ice this weekend. Chalk it up to the veteran taking advantage of rookie mistakes.
Trending up: Meeri Räisänen, CTW | First NWHL win, 27/28 saves vs MET
The stars aligned for the Connecticut Whale Sunday afternoon. Kateřina Mrázová has been heating up offensively. The Riveters were missing several key players from their lineup including leading scorer Amanda Kessel. And most notably, their goaltender, Meeri Räisänen, has looked stronger with each passing game.
All this came to a head when the Whale earned their first win of the season against the slumping Riveters.
Räisänen looked remarkable all afternoon, stymying all five Riveter power plays and making some key high-pressure saves late in the game.
With 1:19 to go in regulation, Shannon Doyle wired a seeing-eye wrist shot past Katie Fitzgerald to seal the victory for Connecticut.
Räisänen’s performance earned her co-Player of the Week honors with Hayley Scamurra. She will likely get another shot against the Riveters this coming Sunday, once again in New Jersey. The game will be featured on Twitter.
Trending down: Alexa Gruschow, MET | 0 points, 10 SOG, -12 through 7 gms
Some may have predicted a championship hangover for the Riveters as Minnesota, Buffalo, and Boston beefed up their rosters with Olympians. Some may have anticipated a rough patch as the team adjusts to a new system under a head coach in his first professional women’s hockey gig.
I don’t think very many could have seen this coming.
Not only have the Riveters now dropped six of seven to start the year, but their offense has gone bone dry. Sure, the team was without Miye D’Oench, Amanda Kessel and Courtney Burke on Sunday. One of the main points of pride in last year’s squad, however, was how deep they were.
And they were led by Alexa Gruschow.
Gruschow won MVP honors for her stellar performance last season. She scored a remarkable airborne championship-winning goal in the Isobel Cup Final. #AlexaTheGreat flooded Twitter streams.
This year, she has been deathly quiet. She has yet to register a point on the year, is a team-worst -12, is second on the team in PIMs and is only seventh-best on the team in shots on goal.
Many are struggling on Metro at present. None have fallen quite so harshly on hard times as Alexa Gruschow. Perhaps the return of her former linemate D’Oench will provide a spark. On the other hand, at the rate lines have been juggled in a search for production, it is anybody’s guess when the real Gruschow will return.
Trending up: Kimberly Sass, MET | Getting first start of the season on Sunday
In a fantasy NWHL league, Kimberly Sass is worth a pickup. Sass was victorious in her first (and to-date, lone) league start against the Whale back in January. She turned aside 21 of 23 shots on goal in an impressive 3-2 win.
Sass will be patrolling the crease Sunday afternoon in her first start of the season as head coach Randy Velischek looks to send a message to his team. Though Fitzgerald had a solid game, she allowed another uncharacteristic goal from the point.
Though the defensive schematics have been a mess, now is as good a time as any to get Sass some work. If nothing else, it gives Fitzgerald a mental break from a chaotic season.