The NWHL continues to grow its team rosters with free agency signings coming near-daily, it seems, since the draft in late June.
On July 9, former Boston Blades captain and player Jessica Koizumi and Danielle Ward became the fifth and sixth free agents to sign with the Connecticut Whale. The Whale currently has five skaters and a goalie signed; four of the five skaters are forwards.
The Whale might have drafted deep on defense, but when it comes to free agent signings, forwards are leading the charge in Connecticut.
While both Ward and Koizumi will play up front for the Whale, their roles will be designed to take advantage of specific skills. And they seem to have been signed for their formidable prowess at scoring.
Ward played most recently for the Black Bears at the University of Maine, graduating in 2012. In two seasons she notched 55 points in 68 games, 25 of which were goals. As a senior in 2011-12, she collected 31 points in 31 games, earning an Honorable Mention as a Hockey East All-Star.
Prior to transferring to Maine, Ward played at the University of Southern Maine, competing at the Division III level. She put up 69 points (26 g, 43 a) in 49 games, including one hat trick her sophomore year against Colby College. Her play earned her an Honorable Mention to the ECAC East All-Conference Team as well as the Husky Athletic Academic Achievement Award at USM.
The transition from USM to Maine wasn’t easy for Ward, not only because she was jumping from Division III to Division I hockey, but because Maine was already full up at center, Ward’s natural position. So she made the transition to right wing.
Her former head coach at Maine, Maria Lewis, lauded Ward’s work ethic and skill in a 2010 interview.
“Danielle is a real hard worker,” Lewis said. “She sees the ice real well and understands the game. She has a lot of energy and the big thing is that she is a competitor.”
Ward is noticeable on the ice for her footspeed and quick release on her shot, playing to her strengths as someone who’s only five feet, four inches. But she’s not afraid to get physical, despite her small stature. Her penalty records from USM and Maine show someone who goes after the puck no matter what, displaying real tenacity.
On a line with Sam Faber, a prolific goal-scorer, playmaker and recent addition to the Connecticut Whale, Ward would put up quite a show against opponents.
However, she might find a linemate in teammate Jessica Koizumi as well.
Koizumi is a graduate of Minnesota Duluth, and was a two-year captain on the Bulldogs. She helped lead her team to a place as NCAA runner-ups in her senior year at Minnesota Duluth and was also named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team and All-WCHA Third Team that season. Koizumi posted 155 career points (84 g, 71a) in 132 career games.
After graduating Koizumi won a silver medal at the Four Nations Cup in 2007, a gold medal at the 2008 IIHF Women’s World Championships, and is a two-time veteran of the Under-22 program.
Koizumi has played with the Boston Blades since the club’s inaugural season, 2010-2011. She was the first Blades player to earn 50 points for club, doing so by her fourth season. With them, she won the Clarkson Cup championships in 2013 and most recently, in 2015.
Koizumi brings with her a lot of coaching experience as well; she is an assistant ice hockey coach for the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, CT and has coached there since Sept., 2010. While she hasn’t played as many games in recent years as she did immediately after graduating from Minnesota Duluth, it’s safe to assume that her skills may be just a little rusty, but will soon be back up to full speed.
You can watch a brief highlight video below.
She’s incredibly agile on her feet, the result of years of training combined with a large dose of natural talent. Whether skating forwards or backwards, Koizumi is able to keep up with, and even outrace opponents. She’s not a player opposing defenders can forget is on the ice; they’ll end up with her . But it’s her stickhandling and her sense of space on the ice that sets her apart.
Saying Koizumi has soft hands feels like a poor description. Instead, she has sure hands. There are no extra movements with the puck when it’s on her stick. She can score on the backhand as easily as on the fore, and she does it as often as possible. Koizumi particularly likes to wrist the puck in, keeping it as far from her body as her stick can reach, giving herself some extra leverage and a little more room to change the angle of the puck up.
Almost anyone would benefit from being on Koizumi’s line, but as the Whale’s roster currently stands, a line made up of her, Faber (another former Boston Blades player) and Ward would be prolific, though Shiann Darkangelo, another forward who can score seemingly at will, would be an interesting linemate for Koizumi.