The CWHL’s upcoming 2016 Draft has some interesting names attached to it, and is the most international the league has ever had, with six countries represented in the 81 players who entered their names. Among the dozens of players, though, are still many homegrown talents from the U.S. and Canada, who see the CWHL as their best chance to continue to play at a high level of competition.
While the 2016 draft class has fewer Olympic-caliber names, like Marie Philip Poulin and Hayley Wickenheiser, than 2015, there are a number of depth players whose presence will give teams more flexibility.
One such name is that of Cassandra Opela, a 2016 University of Connecticut graduate and defenseman whose abilities on the ice could lend depth, size, and dedication to any organization that picks her up.
Opela will join fellow UConn graduate and right winger Margaret Zimmer in the draft this Sunday, as well.
Opela is from upstate New York, very close to the greater Toronto area, making her a strong depth addition for the Brampton Thunder, Toronto Furies, or even the Boston Blades, should the UConn grad choose to stick around Connecticut or Massachusetts.
If she selected Boston as one of her locations – draft picks are required to select between one and three locations where they will agree to play if drafted – the Blades will be the likeliest landing spot for her as the team is desperate for depth throughout the lineup.
A defensive defender, Opela is most at home when blocking shots around the net, keeping her zone free of opposing forwards and moving pucks away from her goal. Opela has some size to work with as well, at 5’8″ her longer reach is useful in disarming opposing forwards and disrupting plays.
Opela began her career at UConn under head coach Heather Linstad, who left the program in 2013 after the season had ended. Opela’s sophomore season saw her best play during her collegiate career, statistics-wise, despite her team’s losing record.
As a sophomore, she was fourth on the UConn team and eighth in Hockey East with 51 blocked shots. That season the team went 3-29-3 with only one in-conference regulation win and a coaching change subsequently took place. That resignation was later brought up again in a Title IX lawsuit against the school.
During her four years at UConn Opela played in 99 games and posted a plus-minus of minus-29, netting three points – all assists – for her team. She saw less time on the ice as the years went on, playing in only 18 games as a junior and 11 games as a senior; she finished her career at UConn with 71 blocked shots to her name, according to her college stats page.
Opela needs more of an offensive edge to her game to become truly effective, and at times she can find herself out of position or caught behind the run of play.
As a senior, she earned a spot on the 2015-16 Hockey East Academic All-Star Team, along with ten of her teammates.
“I think it’s a class that’s a very resilient bunch,” Chris McKenzie, the UConn women’s head coach, explained in the video above. “They went through a coaching change with us. I appreciate the fact that they bought into what we’re trying to do as a staff. They’ve led the way here on the scoresheet, they play gritty, they have an offensive touch and they’re team players.”
That resilience and grit will serve Opela well as she makes her way in the CWHL, and will be welcome on Brampton’s or Boston’s back end.