STAMFORD, Oct. 25 – The third season of the National Women’s Hockey League opens Saturday with the Connecticut Whale hosting the defending NWHL champion Buffalo Beauts at 7 p.m. in the Whale’s new home – the Terry Connors Rink here in Stamford.
The Whale, who played in North Branford a year ago, return to Stamford where they played at nearby Chelsea Pier’s in the first year of the league.
Connecticut will be looking to rebound from a poor 2017 season that saw the Whale (5-12-1) finish last in the league, score a franchise-low 44 goals and give up a team-record 68 goals. Former UConn All-American Ryan Equale takes over behind the bench as coach, relieving Heather Linstad, who stepped away to take care of business interests in the Boston area.
Only nine of 20 players from a year ago are back. Three players signed with Boston, including leading scorer Haley Skarupa (11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points) and Dana Trivigno (4-6, 10).
One of Connecticut’s best players in the first two seasons – Kelli Stack – signed with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to play with their expansion franchise out of China. In two years with Connecticut, Stack scored 21 goals and had 22 assists. She was a surprising omission from the U.S. national team when the team was selected last April.
There are no multi-year contracts in the NWHL and players frequently sign deals with teams near where they have full-time jobs.
It will be a new year for the Whale and the other three teams in the NWHL. Since the Winter Olympics are in February, players on the U.S. national team won’t be playing in the league this year to prepare for the Games. Boston has seven players on the national team, Buffalo has two and New York – now Metropolitian, who play out of Newark, N.J., – has one player on the national squad.
The Whale do have some veterans returning. Forward Kelly Babstock, a two-time NWHL All-Star who has scored 19 goals and 24 assists in two seasons, resigned with Connecticut along with forward Sam Faber, who has scored six goals with eight assists in two years.
“I’m a power forward who works hard and likes to get dirty in the corners,” Babstock said. “I love battling.” With five of last year’s top scorers no longer with the club, the Whale will be looking to Babstock and Faber for some offense.
The move of the team to Stamford and the city-owned Terry Connors Rink helped convince Faber, 30, to return.
“I couldn’t hang up the skates when I heard the Whale were moving back to Stamford – the city where I live,” said Faber, a former U.S. national team skater. “I am super-excited to be back and have my friends and family come and watch me play another year. The hiring of [head coach] Ryan Equale also made my decision pretty easy. I have known Ryan for a while and not only does he know the game of hockey extremely well, but he is a great person and someone I truly look up to. It’s time for the Isobel Cup to be in Connecticut.”
Defensively, Connecticut was the worst team in the league a year ago. The Whale will have some experienced players as they try to get better. Two-Time NWHL All-Star Jordan Brickner (1-4, 5) returns along with veterans Shannon Doyle (0-7, 7) and Cydney Roesler (1-6, 7). Brickner had 12 assists in year one with the Whale.
But Connecticut will need the youngsters to contribute offensively and defensively.
The Whale have three new goalies this season with Utica’s Keira Gorin and Quinnipiac’s Laura Brennan and Sydney Rossman vying for playing time.
The Whale host Buffalo on Saturday at 7 p.m. Next week, Connecticut travels to Boston before coming back to Stamford on Saturday, Nov. 11, against Metropolitan at 7 p.m.
NOTES: All four team will play 16 games this season. Opening night is Saturday with the final day of the regular season on Saturday, March 10. Connecticut will play one game per week. There is one game on a Friday (Connecticut at Boston on Feb. 2), 19 games on Saturdays and 12 on Sundays.
There are two neutral-site regular season games featuring the defending Isobel Cup champion Buffalo Beauts: Buffalo will face the Riveters in Rochester on Nov. 4, and the Whale in Pittsburgh on Jan. 14. The 2018 NWHL All-Star Weekend will take place on Feb. 10-11 in an NHL city to be announced. … The Whale went 13-5 in their first season in the league before losing in the semifinals of the Isobel Cup tournament to Buffalo in a best-of-3 series, 2-1. … Skarupa and Stack represented Connecticut when they played with Team USA at the world championships last spring. The Americans beat Canada, 3-2 in OT as Stack won her fifth world championship and Skarupa won her third.
2017-18 Connecticut Whale schedule
Saturday, October 28: BUFFALO, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov 4: at Boston, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 11: METROPOLITAN, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 19: BOSTON, 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 3: at Metropolitan, 3 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 10: BOSTON, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 16: at Buffalo, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 7: at Metropolitan, 3 p.m.
Sunday, January 14: vs. Buffalo in Pittsburgh, 2 p.m.
Saturday, January 20: at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Saturday, January 27: METROPOLITAN, 7 p.m.
Friday, February 2: at Boston, 6 p.m.
Feb. 10-11: NWHL All-Star Weekend
Sunday, February 18: at Metropolitan, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 25: BOSTON, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 3: at Boston, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 10: BUFFALO, 7 p.m.
National Women’s Hockey League
2016-17 final standings