It’s been a busy week for the Connecticut Whale. They were a part of the first trade in NWHL history when they sent goaltender Chelsea Laden to New York for Shenae Lundberg, their former head coach, Jake Mastel, resigned on Thursday night before practice, they hired a new coach, Heather Linstad, the following morning, and five of their players returned from the NWHL All-Star Game last weekend. It was going to be a difficult test against the Boston Pride, and ultimately, it was the Pride that emerged victorious in a 5-2 win in Connecticut.
Knight scored two goals in the victory, one of which proved to be the game-winner, after she got just two hours of sleep the night before. The NWHL All-Star went to her second All-Star event in as many weekends to sign autographs and meet up with fans at the NHL Fan Fair in Nashville with fellow national team players Anne Schleper and Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux. She flew in today for the game with the Pride and quickly let everyone know that she wasn’t going to let fatigue stop her from playing well.
“I think when you play with good players, the puck moves and you just lock in,” said Knight. “It’s easy to play with good players.”
Meanwhile, the Whale had a lot go wrong this game that the Pride capitalized on quickly. Connecticut had two power plays in the first period that they couldn’t convert on, and though they exited the first period still tied at zero, when the puck dropped for the second period, the Whale seemed to be chasing down the Pride a little too often.
“I think we kind of just got into a lull of not shooting and I think in general, second periods always are ten times slower than the first, [with] everyone kind of relaxing and takes their foot off the gas a little bit,” said forward Kelli Stack. “We made some mistakes – big mistakes, against them, and against a team like that, you can’t do that, they’re going to capitalize every time.”
Just 18 seconds into the second frame, Gigi Marvin scored to put the Pride on the board. A minute later, the Whale had another power play opportunity, but shortly after that, Kaleigh Fratkin took a poorly-timed penalty for body-checking to send the squads to 4-on-4. Just a couple minutes later, Jordan Smelker scored to make it 2-0, and then 49 seconds later, Knight scored her first of the night off a pass from Smelker to make it 3-0.
The Whale got on the board off of a beautiful tip from Stack in front of the net that flew past Brittany Ott, but after that, it was more of the same for Connecticut. The team continued their uninspired play, and on yet another power play opportunity, Decker managed to score on a 2-on-1 after Knight’s initial shot rebounded off Jaimie Leonoff’s pads.
“On the power play, giving up a two-on-one- we can’t have that, we can’t have them score a shorthanded goal,” said Stack when asked about mistakes the team needed to cut back on. “They should only be scoring on even strength [and] their power play, so that hurt us big time.”
Knight scored again in the third period, and even though Kelly Babstock got the Whale another goal after a scramble in front of the net, Connecticut didn’t come any closer to the Pride, and Boston took the 5-2 win, moving them just one point behind Connecticut in the league standings.
Part of the reason the Whale struggled might have been because this was the first time their that Linstad had actually gotten to meet the team. Considering she was learning on the fly, Stack thought she did really well for her first game.
“She was great, very vocal and positive. She’s just trying to get her feet wet with our team, trying to get to know everybody, I’m sure it was really hard on her – you know, the first time she’s on the ice with everybody is a big game, but no, she was great.”
On top of a new coach, everyone had to adjust to new line mates after an injury in practice this past week meant that the team had to shuffle lines around.
“We had another injury in practice, this past week, so we kind of had to switch the lines around a little bit this week.,” said Stack. “It’s tough when you only have three lines, and then people start getting hurt, so that’s tough to deal with.”
Details about the injury itself and the timeline for when said player will be back are still unknown, though All-Star forward Shiann Darkangelo wasn’t on the ice for today’s game. The reasons for her scratch were not disclosed.
The Whale did get some silver lining in today’s loss, however – Anya Battaglino, who’s been out for a couple of months with an injury, rejoined her team for her first game back and looked really strong. That’s going to be a big help for a Whale team in transition as they try to hold on to first place in the standings down the stretch.
Quotes provided by Kate Cimini