Jaimie Leonoff surprised the NWHL fanbase when she left the Connecticut Whale on the first day of free agency and inked a contract with the New York Riveters for $10,000, the minimum salary in the new league. In spite of her position as starting goaltender in Connecticut, Leonoff clearly saw value in joining a team that has, thus far, shown to be in complete rebuild mode.
Today’s Slapshot spoke with her to learn more about why she chose the Riveters over her former team, her motivations behind taking such a small salary, and what role the gregarious netminder sees herself playing on her new team.
Kate Cimini for Today’s Slapshot: Congratulations on signing! It’s wonderful news that you’ll be back next year.
Jaimie Leonoff, New York Riveter: Thank you so much. I’ll be excited to be a part of New York. I heard amazing things from the girls from last year about the staff, the coaches and everything that team was about and I’m really excited to be a part of the organization.
When you were looking at signing with New York, what tipped you over that way? What were your priorities?
Well, I really do like their coach. I had a discussion with Chelsea [Laden, former Whale goaltender, traded to the Riveters midseason] about it because she played for the Riveters last year and she only had amazing things to say about how much development they had over there and the atmosphere and the environment they had and it just sounded like something that would be a good fit for me personally, actually.
It is nice to be closer to New York and the commuting in general is very difficult. It’s a lot of time, and I don’t know what time we’ll be practicing this year, but last year it was a lot of commuting and a lot of late hours of the night so it will be a little bit more convenient for me, especially commuting-wise.
Did the Riveters having a goalie coach have anything to do with you wanting to go there?
Um, no, actually, I didn’t even really know the extent to which their goalie coach works with the girls, how often he comes, what type of work he does with them. I’m really not familiar with it.
I’m still working with my goalie coach, especially when I’m in the states. I’m with my goalie coach from Yale ’cause he operates out of Northford, Conn., actually.
But, yeah. It’s obviously really convenient to have a goalie coach on the program, especially when they’re affiliated with the team. That’s very, very cool and I’m looking forward to meeting with him and working with him throughout the year. I’ve heard great things from everyone involved.
So, you took $10,000 last year on the Whale and you posted the highest save percentage in the league for 2015-16…but then you signed for $10,000 again this year, this time with the Riveters. Why did you do that?
It’s very, very tight salary cap and I’m looking to play on a team that…I want to play on the winning team. And I know that salary cap is limited and I feel like it opens up space for high-end players. I…I just want to play on a strong team and I want to make that possible.
You, personally, don’t need the money. But it’s necessary. Everyone in this league needs to get paid in order for its promise – to pay women athletes a salary – to be real.
Yeah. But it’s not about needing it or not needing it. At the end of the day I find that…it’s not like I’m giving up a few hundred thousand dollars. It’s an opportunity for our team to be stronger. That means more to me.
Have you gotten a chance to look at your team’s roster as it is right now?
I saw that they brought back probably five returners and I know that me, Kaleigh [Fratkin] and Amanda [Kessel] are three they signed Sunday. I’m not sure – oh, and they signed Miye D’Oench as well. I played against her. Got a great memory of where she scored on me, off her head, in playoffs in double overtime. That was a tough one. That was a good game, though.
She’s really talented and I think they’ve put together a great team.
Speaking of Amanda Kessel, she’s signed with the Riveters. Are you looking forward to playing with her?
Yeah. I never actually got to play against Kessel but I’ve heard some very, very good things about her. She’s an extremely talented forward and she’s a great scorer. I’m looking forward to her being on my team and not against me. [laughter]
I’m sure Chad Wiseman, the Riveters head coach, has talked to you about his plan for the team. What are you anticipating is going to be your role?
It’s actually kind of funny; I really haven’t talked to him since…oh, it’s been a few weeks. Especially about what his plans are for the team. I didn’t really ask. I have faith in the management that they’re going to bring in the players they feel are the right fit for New York and the players they’re looking for, as in a player type, personalities, character.
Honestly, coming in as a new person, and especially in the goalie position in the new league where there’s only four teams, which means there’s only four starting goalies in the NWHL, those aren’t buttons I really like to push and I didn’t want to come across as a person who’s so much looking for the right mixture of players, because that’s their job.
My job is to come and play hockey and not get involved in who they’re bringing in. I thought coming in, in early April, asking to be a part of the Riveters, I didn’t feel like I had any right to ask who was going to be on the team, coming from that position.
I’ll be just as surprised as you are over the next couple of weeks, who they’re signing, who they’re trading and all that. I really have no idea and it’s kind of exciting to find out.
Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to doing with your new team?
Looking forward to winning some games and getting to meet all my new teammates. I’m sure they’re going to put together a great team and I’m really excited to be a part of a new organization. Coming in is almost like coming in like a rookie again and it’s a good challenge for me.