Melissa Burgess

NWHL: Connecticut Whale Season Preview

Three Olympians, six former CWHL players, and multiple NCAA standouts highlight the Connecticut Whale roster as the team prepares for its inaugural NWHL season, which kicks off this Sunday.

A sold-out crowd at Chelsea Piers, Connecticut for Sunday’s game against the New York Riveters will see national team members from the United States, Canada, and Russia face off in the league’s opening weekend.

The Whale’s roster is led by two-time Olympic medalist defenseman Molly Engstrom. The former University of Wisconsin blueliner won a silver medal in 2010 and bronze in 2006.

She became one of the first two Wisconsin players to represent the United States alongside Carla MacLeod. Engstrom has earned numerous honors and has also won six IIHF Women’s World Championship medals. She has previously played for the Brampton Thunder, Minnesota Whitecaps, and Boston Blades of the CWHL.

Joining Engstrom on the Whale is another Olympic silver medalist, forward Kelli Stack. The Boston College standout won silver in 2010 and 2014; she’s also got three Women’s World Championship medals under her belt. Stack has appeared in five Four Nations Cups over the course of her career.

Yekaterina Smolentseva completes a trio of Olympians on the Whale. A member of the Russian national team since 1999, Smolentseva has appeared in eight Women’s World Championships and four Olympic Games. She captained the Russian squad in the 2014 tournament and recently played for HC Tornado.

Smolentseva joins Russian national teammate –- and Tornado teammate -- Lyudmila Belyakova in the NWHL this season. Belyakova will suit up for the NY Riveters.

In addition to Engstrom, five other former Boston Blades players will also suit up for the Whale this coming season: defenders Lindsay Berman and Kayleigh Fratkin, and forwards Micaela Long, Sam Faber, and Jessica Koizumi.

Berman played for the Blades between 2010 and 2014. The former Northeastern defender was also selected to the Hockey East All-Star Team in 2009, after being invited to USA Hockey’s U-22 National Development Camp the year prior. She also coached at UMass-Boston and Brown University.

Fratkin won a Clarkson Cup title with the Blades in her CWHL career, but that’s not all. The Boston University defender also spent significant time with the Canadian National Women’s Development Team, winning silver at the U18 Women’s World Championships in 2009. She was also part of the 2015 Nations Cup championship team.

She’s joined by another former Boston University defenseman, Shannon Doyle, on the Whale. Doyle won gold with Canada at the 2010 U18s and spent two years at Colgate before transferring to BU, where she earned numerous honors. She also won gold with Canada at the Four Nations Cup this past January.

Long most recently played for the Blades in 2010-11. She spent several seasons playing at the University of New Hampshire, leading the team to four consecutive NCAA appearances and two Hockey East titles. Off the ice, she’s worked as a teacher at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford.

Faber, another former Blade, also spent time at the University of New Hampshire. She registered 189 points in 143 career games and won a gold medal with the U.S. National Team at the World Championships in 2008.

Finally, Koizumi has won two Clarkson Cup championships with the Blades (2013, 2015). She also played for Minnesota-Duluth and has competed in multiple events with the US national team. She won gold at the 2008 world championships and silver at the 2007 Four Nations Cup.

The Whale roster this season will also feature a trio of players from Quinnipac, including two forwards and one goaltender. Kelly Babstock, Shiann Darkangelo, and Chelsea Laden all join the Connecticut squad.

Laden finished her collegiate career with 26 shutouts in 88 games, a 1.56 GAA, and a .923 save percentage. Darkangelo, her teammate, registered 102 points in 144 games with the Bobcats. She also won silver at the 2014 Four Nations Cup.

Babstock finished her career at Quinnipiac as the program’s leader in every offensive category, with 95 goals, 108 assists, and 203 points in 147 games. She also played lacrosse for the college after completing her hockey career.

Rounding out the defensive core for the Whale will be former Colgate and University of Wisconsin blueliner Jordan Brickner. Maine forwards Brittany Doughterty and Danielle Ward, along with Northeastern’s Alyssa Wohlfeiler,complete the offensive side of things.

Finally, Yale’s Jaimie Leonoff and Brown’s Nicole Stock will be the Whale’s other netminders for their inaugural season.

Leonoff appeared in 99 games over four years with the Bulldogs. The Montreal native had a .918 save percentage and 2.96 GAA, with a 26-57-11 overall record.

Stock went 24-54-10 with a .921 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA in four seasons with Brown, which included a freshman season that saw Stock help lead the team to the ECACHL Semifinals.

Jake Mastel and Ashley Parker will be behind the bench for the Whale.

Mastel is a former NCAA Division III national champion who played for the University of Wisconsin River Falls, where he won the championship in 1994. He also previously played for the USHL’s St. Paul Vulcans. In his coaching career, he’s worked with Whale forward Koizumi and most recently coached the U19 and U12 Mid-Fairfield Connecticut Stars.

Parker coached the Connecticut Northern Lights Squirt Team this past spring and has been involved with multiple facets of the organization for the past several years. The Northern Lights program supports “the development of young women as athletes, leaders, and members of society through a competitive hockey environment” and works to instill values, including teamwork, sportsmanship, and work ethic.

Harry Rosenholtz was also hired as the Whale’s general manager after Chris Ardito stepped down from the position. He was formerly coach and recruiting coordinator for Yale and Quinnipiac and also worked with USA Hockey as a goaltending specialist.

The Whale have played several exhibition games leading up to their inaugural season, including matchups with the CT Junior Rangers (U18 boys) and Minnesota Whitecaps. They’ll kick off the season at home on October 11 vs. NY before visiting the Beauts on October 18th.

Season ticket packages for the Connecticut Whale are $150, while individual game tickets are $20 (general admission). Both are available here. You can also find the full Whale schedule for their inaugural NWHL season here. Finally, don’t forget to follow all the Whale players on Twitter!

Check out all of Melissa's 2015-16 NWHL season previews:

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