In August, long before any other team had done so, the Connecticut Whale announced its practice player roster for the upcoming 2016-2017 season, bringing back a few players from the inaugural season and adding a handful of brand new ones as well. Anya Battaglino, Laura Brennan, Celeste Brown, Shannon Doyle, Elena Orlando and Jackie Raines have agreed to practice player contracts with Connecticut’s general manager, Lisa Giovanelli.
“The Whale is very confident in the abilities of this group of players and firmly believe they will have no problems stepping into the lineup when called upon,” said Giovanelli. “As witnessed last season, the practice players play a huge role in the success of an NWHL team, and we expect this group to make huge contributions in our quest for the Isobel Cup.”
Anya Battaglino | F/D | Connecticut Whale
Battaglino was a standout player for the Whale’s practice squad last season, having played eight games on both ends of a lower-body injury incurred mid-season.
Unusually, Battaglino transitioned from a defensive role last season and is not listed as both forward and defense, likely indicating Giovanelli might have wanted to bring her back more than the team needed another defender. Giovanelli stressed in the spring that character and the way players worked together was forefront in her mind when re-signing and signing players for the Whale’s second season. Battaglino’s positive attitude, social media skills and her occasional trips to the broadcasting booth as color commentator for the Whale may have helped her along in that regard.
“I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to continue to chase my dream,” said Battaglino. “Being a player that works hard day in and day out to see my team and the league improve is so important to me. I look forward to getting back on the ice and fighting to make my teammates better and to get called into a game.”
Laura Brennan | G | Quinnipiac University Bobcats
Goaltender Laura Brennan played in 32 games with Minnesota State’s Mavericks between 2003-06 before moving to Quinnipiac for the 2006-07 season. Over her career, she collected a .886 save percentage and allowed an average of 3.48 goals-against. At Minnesota State, Brennan posted a .914 save percentage behind a strong defense and offense her second season; that number dipped a bit in her third season as did her games-played.
After moving to Quinnipiac for her final season Brennan faced far more shots on goal and her save percentage dropped as her goals-against average rose. Over the course of her college career, Brennan earned a 10-39-7 record.
Brennan played goal in Sweden for a professional women’s team for the Linden Hockey Club and since then has kept her hand in, coaching girls’ hockey. She spent a season as an assistant JV girls hockey coach at Choate Rosemary Hall, where Hilary Knight attended high school, and continues to run clinics and give lessons.
Celeste Brown | F | New York Riveters
Brown, an escapee from the Whale’s (formerly) nearest rival, the New York Riveters, is a scrappy, invaluable player along the lines of Danielle Ward. Brown scored four assists in 18 games with New York and was an important second- or third-liner for the team as she helped with puck possession and kept play focused on the opponent’s net. She was a good fit for the Riveters’ blue-collar identity and may very well bring an aspect of play to the Whale Connecticut has not yet tapped.
Brown was so focused on making the NWHL that she attended all four training camps the league held, two of which were in the same weekend, back-to-back mornings and evenings.
Shannon Doyle | D | Connecticut Whale
Doyle was initially signed to a roster contract, which, Doyle, a Canadian citizen, requested be voided in favor of a practice player contract so she could seek employment outside the hockey arena and still follow the terms of her U.S. work visa. Doyle scored five points (two goals, three assists) in 18 games as a defender in her first season of professional hockey.
Doyle tends toward the defensive defender role, preferring to block shots, poke-check opponents and keep the area around her net clean but is capable offensively, always ready with a low, sharp slap shot.
Elena Orlando | D | New York Riveters
Orlando is a typical stay-at-home defenseman, which may not be necessarily what Connecticut needs on its back end –– it is very well stocked with defensive defenders, possibly too much so –– but her athleticism could make her a terrific get for the Whale if she is utilized appropriately. While Orlando was listed as both a forward and a defender for the Riveters, she found a home on the blue line and it is there she will stay, at least for the time being.
Orlando collected just one assist in 17 games in the inaugural season; any offensive play Orlando is capable of was not evident from her time on the Riveters. That, however, is not the only aspect in which a player can contribute in hockey. Per Orlando’s own admission, she likes to battle for the puck and block shots; she enjoys the hard work in hockey.
Orlando is more than capable of taking extra shifts, as she regularly did for New York alongside captain Ashley Johnston when the team started off the season shorthanded on defense. Her athleticism and strength sometimes worked to her disadvantage, though, as she could be overly aggressive and get caught behind the play; she also tended to ice the puck more often than necessary instead of setting up a strong transition for her forwards.
Jackie Raines | F
New to Connecticut is forward Jackie Raines, who finished her collegiate career at Yale in 2015 under assistant coach and Whale forward Jessica Koizumi. A capable scorer, patient player and regular on the power play at Yale, Raines will likely be a regular addition to the Whale come game time.
Raines was one of three finalists for ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year Award as a freshman and continued to impress. As a junior, she won the Mandi Schwartz Award for hard work and determination after taking what should have been her junior season off due to injury. Coming back from that, Raines mounted a strong junior campaign and even scored four goals in 5-3 win at Princeton, a game that clinched Yale’s berth in the ECAC Hockey playoffs. That would be Yale’s first playoff appearance since 2008. Raines was named to the second team All-Ivy League as a senior. In 101 games with the Bulldogs Raines scored 66 points (37 goals, 29 assists), averaging over a point per game.
Correction: Laura Brennan was originally listed as playing for the Golden Gophers, not Mavericks, before transferring to Quinnipiac University. This article has been updated.