NWHL

The Connecticut Whale’s cornerstone players

What is a cornerstone? The block the builder can rely upon, if we’re going to get Biblical. The player you can build your team around, if we’re going to sit in our general manager armchairs.

Every team has cornerstone players, ones who would never be traded away if the organization can help it at all and can likely demand a hefty price in return. That’s Shea Weber on the Nashville Predators, Marie Philip Poulin on Canadiennes de Montreal, and Anne Schleper on the Minnesota Whitecaps.

The question we are left with is: who are the cornerstone players for the Connecticut Whale? Which players can they afford to lose, and which players do they absolutely need to keep, no matter the cost?

Kelli Stack

It’s not difficult to understand why Stack is a must-keep. Her hockey knowledge is out of this world; she can slip through traffic around the net with ease, and her speed has led to more than one breakaway goal for the Connecticut Whale.

Not to mention the fact that she’s one of the most prolific goal-scorers on Team USA, and possibly most prolific, lifetime-wise, on the Whale with 144 goals earned at Boston College, the CWHL and Team USA.

Stack finished the season with 22 points over 18 games played (8 goals, 14 assists) and one of the highest Corsi For percentages on the team at 52.39 percent, indicating positive puck-possession for her team while she was on the ice.

Despite having to commute two hours each way to the Whale’s practice and game facility in Stamford, MA, she showed up regardless of rain or shine. Stack might be on the higher end of the age spectrum at 28, but she’s still a regular at Team USA camps and competitions. Her work ethic is a large part of that but her creativity on the ice is another. Letting Stack go to another team would be an enormous mistake for Connecticut, as her scoring isn’t easily replaced.

While Shiann Darkangelo might have scored more than Stack if she had been healthy all season long (Darkangelo missed four full games due to a knee injury incurred at the end of January and still posted the most goals on the team overall at ten), she is not as good a puck-mover as Stack,  which is a talent the Whale took full advantage of this season.

Jordan Brickner

Jordan Brickner calls the play at NWHL Boston Pride at Connecticut Whale 12/27/2015. Mandatory Photo Credit Kaitlin S. Cimini

Brickner was one of the Whale’s quiet stars this season. A player who, for the most part, flew under the radar, did so because she rarely got into trouble. Brickner made playing hockey look easy, in large part because of the intelligence of the decisions she made on the ice.

Because of her smart decisions and a decent slapshot from the point, Brickner led the defense in points with 12 assists. She didn’t get close enough to the net to get the goals that Molly Engstrom picked up but she learned from Engstrom, being regularly paired with her.

Brickner has the potential to be the anchor for the Whale’s defense, despite her sub-par Corsi For percentage of 46.15 percent. It also seems that Brickner was regularly employed in tougher defensive situations than some of her counterparts, regularly coming on the ice while the Whale were on the retreat.

Kelly Babstock

Babstock started off the season as a good player, keeping up with play on the ice and contributing but she became better and better as the season wore on, turning into a key player on offense for the Whale.

She kicked it up a level in the playoffs, generating an enormous amount of offensive pressure on the Buffalo Beauts. Although Buffalo eventually took the series in three, Babstock’s play was what kept Connecticut in the game when the team trailed.

By the end of the season, Babstock was second in points overall and second in goals, behind only Darkangelo in goals and Stack in assists (and behind both only by one point in each category). She finished the season with 22 points to her name (9 goals, 13 assists) and pushed through on the postseason, leading the team in points with 4 goals.

Those four goals represented 57 percent of playoff scoring.

Babstock also has the second-highest even strength shot-assist percentage at 23.85 percent, coming in second only to Sam Faber, who rang in at 27.03 percent by the end of the season. This, in part, was because Faber missed a little over a month of games with an upper-body injury, thus keeping her total numbers higher than average, but is also due to the fact that both Babstock and Faber are tremendous playmakers whose contributions can go unnoticed since they do most of their best work on the perimeter.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Babstock earned 22 assists during the regular season; she earned 13.

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