Sam Faber takes a shoulder by Meghan Duggan. Buffalo Beauts at Connecticut Whale postseason series March 4-6 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini
Womens Hockey

NWHL Season Preview: Connecticut Whale

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 what 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 take on the Connecticut Whale.

Recap of last season

The Whale’s first season was pretty brilliant and ended abruptly, faster than many (save Buffalo and their fans) expected. While Connecticut held the wins record throughout much of the regular season, it was aided by a soft start to the season against a Buffalo team with an obscenely short bench (at times playing with only 13 skaters) and an exhausted Boston team that didn’t handle the Four Nations break and subsequent month of games too well.

The Whale was plagued by off-ice issues as well, with coaching difficulties, clashes between general managers and the league’s front office and more, all of which took a toll on the players themselves. It was a rocky road, to be sure.

The Whale rebounded a bit in the end, just enough to push its postseason partner to three games but Buffalo managed to take the win home and earn a spot in the first-ever Isobel Cup Final, putting an end to Connecticut’s Cup dreams in 2016.

Key additions

While the Whale has made some pretty interesting and depth-savvy moves during the offseason, the additions of Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno, two forwards out of the Boston College and U.S. national team programs are the most intriguing of all.

Both Skarupa and Trivigno agreed to sign with the Whale for $20,000 apiece, both are pretty solid goal-scorers, and both have seriously upped the star power of this team. Trivigno is close to a point-per-game player; she netted 138 points (57 goals, 81 assists) over the course of 148 games.

Skarupa, on the other hand, is more than a point-per-game player. In fact, she’s nearly a two-point-per-game player. She posted 244 points (115 goals, 129 assists) throughout her 144 games at Boston College and earned a Patty Kazmaier Award top-ten finalist position as a junior at Boston. These two are sure to raise some eyebrows when they first step on the ice, and watching them add their A-game to Connecticut’s roster is going to be a treat.

Jessica Koizumi reaches for Kacely Bellamy while Micaela Long wheels, searching for the puck. Boston Pride at Connecticut Whale, Feb 21, 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Jessica Koizumi reaches for Kacely Bellamy while Micaela Long wheels, searching for the puck. Boston Pride at Connecticut Whale, Feb 21, 2016. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Key departures

Into every life some rain must fall. Gone are a large number of players from last season, and though some are returning as practice players, many others have re-signed with other teams and are gone for good.

Shiann Darkangelo, one of the Whale’s best snipers, is one such player who inked a contract with the Buffalo Beauts for 2016 and will not be back for the upcoming season.

Darkangelo might be a great fit in Buffalo but she brought in ten goals by herself last season, which will be missed. Her tireless work battling it out in the corners was very useful in Connecticut and her departure leaves the Whale at a bit of a disadvantage, height-wise, going from one of the tallest teams in the league to one of the shortest overnight (though, to be fair, it’s not a long way to fall with only four teams in the league).

Player to watch

She might not be on everyone’s radar, but she should be. Sam Faber, a returning player from last season who suffered an upper-body injury in January that derailed her season, will be a revelation––if she can stay healthy. She was chugging steadily along, getting back in hockey shape and back on track finesse-wise when she was injured and forced to take more than a month off. In a league where people have more fingers and toes than players have games, Faber lost more than a quarter of her season to injury; before that, every game had been better than her last.

Faber was back on the ice a game or two before she truly got back up to speed, which meant Connecticut fans were left without a satisfying conclusion to her year-long development; this season offers the chance for Faber to jump her play to an even higher level.

Biggest strength

Once again, Connecticut seems to be strongest on offense, stacking scorers like Kelli Stack, Kelley Babstock, the aforementioned Skarupa and Trivigno and depth players like Micaela Long, Faber and Jessica Koizumi. Lisa Giovanelli, the Whale’s general manager, signed only forwards who could produce offensively and have a history of doing so; the Whale will not suffer from a shortage of goals this season.

Biggest weakness

Can the Whale develop and play to its coach’s vision of what the team should be? The defensive corps leaves room for skepticism about the Whale’s offensive output from the back end, but that’s a minor side issue when looking at Connecticut’s issues last season as a whole.

The Whale’s biggest focus should really be building cohesion between coaches and players. It’s no coincidence that the majority of voluntary departures from the Whale this offseason were young, just-out-of-college players and those who re-signed had worked with head coach Heather Linstad before and were familiar with her systems and manner of coaching. Should Connecticut and Linstad build a strong buy-in from players, the Whale could be a top contender for the Isobel Cup but failure to do so will ensure an early exit from the postseason.

Bold and overly specific prediction

Meagan Mangene will have the highest Corsi-For percentage on the Whale until she turns the puck over in a foolish move midway through the season when she passes to former teammate Gigi Marvin, who is stationed at the point.

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Ivana Bilic

NWHL Season Preview: Connecticut Whale

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