With the start of the NWHL and CWHL seasons creeping ever-closer, we’re kicking off a series of season previews for both leagues where we will encompass all new fans need to know about last season, what might happen next season, who to keep an eye on and which player we’re oh-so-glad (or sad) to be rid of.
Today we begin with the Boston Blades.
Recap of last season
Can we skip this section? Last season didn’t go too well on the ice. After the rather sudden departure of the majority of the team for greener (literally, there was money on the table) pastures in the NWHL, new general manager Krista Patronick was more or less left with six weeks to fill close to a full team roster.
While the Blades put up a good fight, most of the newly-rostered players did not have the same skill level as the Olympians that had held their positions previously. The season ended with them left out of the playoffs, having won only one game over the course of the year.
Boston did improve defensively as the season went on, but its lack of depth proved its fatal undoing on offense. The Blades finished having scored 18 goals and allowed 122 despite pretty exceptional goaltending. That’s six times more goals allowed than goals scored. Six. Times.
That’s not a season you bounce back from easily.
Thankfully, this upcoming campaign looks to be much stronger than the last was, though Boston’s still not quite in Clarkson Cup territory yet. Over the offseason Patronick re-added Tara Watchorn (signing her to another two-year contract) and picked up a barrel full of players at the CWHL draft. Chief among them was first-round pick Kayla Tutino out of Boston University, a forward who averages a little less than a point-per-game, which the Blades will find immensely useful up front.
Patronick also drafted workhorse forward Margaret Zimmer, depth defender Cassandra Opela, a number of former Eagles who will improve Boston’s skill and depth, as well as two goalies: Amanda Fontaine from Sacred Heart University and Lauren Dahm, a Clarkson graduate. Both were drafted because the Blades suffered a loss this offseason in goal.
There’s no other option for this category –– especially as no other player left Boston after last season –– but she’s the obvious choice nonetheless: Genevieve Lacasse. She stood in net for 23 of Boston’s 24 games and faced an average of more than 40 shots a game (she began the season with an average of nearly 50 shots per game).
A Team Canada netminder, Lacasse earned a gold medal in Sochi and may very well find a spot on the team once again in Pyeongchang. In short, Lacasse was not the kind of player teams let go of easily.
She was a regular presence in net, dramatic, fidgety and fun to watch for her windmilling saves and spur-of-the-moment decisions to leave the net and get a stick on the puck. Her decision to move to Calgary helped the team go from stacked in net to truly stacked in net, but it left Boston searching desperately to try and fill a hole, one that could be very difficult to cover, indeed.
Player to watch
While Patronick drafted a number of interesting, high-value players, Sarah Duncan may continue to be the most interesting development story on the Blades. Duncan started the 2015-2016 season as a liability on the back end, routinely giving up too much space and letting forwards blow by her or overcommitting to a check and ending up with the same outcome.
Duncan was clearly frustrated by her own play and over just one season, doubled down on her own skating abilities. She grew a tremendous amount over the past season and should she continue on this path, will pay dividends in a big way.
Surprisingly, the Blades might be better off on offense than they are on defense. Boston hired a defensive coach last month in Michael Diamantopoulos, leaving head coach Brian McCloskey free to focus on the offense, the team’s biggest weakness. After a strong draft on forwards, the Blades will look different up front; Patronick and McCloskey now have the opportunity to build a solid foundation that will see them continue to level up the team each consecutive season.
The Blades’ goaltending is one big question mark, particularly as the two newly-drafted netminders have never faced down the kind of elite players that populate the Canadiennes de Montreal and Calgary Inferno.
Backup goaltender Amanda Cariddi didn’t spend enough time on the ice last season for many to get a good bead on her, leaving all three netminders on equal footing when it comes to the starting spot. A starter or tandem will certainly develop as the season goes, but which goalie will shine depends as much on the players in front of her as it does on the goalie’s style of play.
In short, while I’m not sure we can call the goalie position Boston’s biggest weakness but it certainly is an area of concern.
Bold and overly specific prediction
Boston will not make the playoffs! But they will have a very bitter fight for fourth in the league, which they will then lose definitively in the second-to-last game of the regular season on a scrappy garbage goal shoveled in by Jamie Lee Rattray, who will be suffering from a head cold.
Most likely to have been an extra in Ghostbusters: Megan Myers.