The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
The NWHL held its first summer free agent camp from June 10-12 in Newark, New Jersey. The camp consisted of drills and scrimmages, with all four NWHL general managers in attendance. Here are some news and notes from Saturday's scrimmage:
- Non-stop action: Saturday's scrimmage featured 60-minutes of non-stop gameplay. While that's impressive on its own, both red and white teams played with depleted rosters. NWHL veterans Gabie Figueroa and Elena Orlando were two of only three defenders on their team.
"The pace was really good," Danielle Ward said. "That was a fast game, especially 4-on-4, and it was a lot of fun, too. [There was] a lot of ice.”
- New York's game plan: Riveters GM Chad Wiseman said that the team isn't looking to address any specific weaknesses. At camp, Wiseman said that he might be looking to fill one spot on defense and several on forward.
"We want smart hockey players who can play any system and any style," Wiseman said. "Here we're just looking for [players] to fit certain roles, whether we're looking for checking forwards, [players] that are willing to compete, block shots, penalty kill [and] stuff like that.
- Practice players are key: Connecticut GM Lisa Giovanelli said that her team is looking mostly for practice players.
"Practice players played a huge role in our league last year with so many injuries, so they were stepping in a lot," Giovanelli said. "I think it's really important for us to have very strong practice players and that's what we're seeing here, which is great."
Veteran mix: While the camp was mostly comprised of recent college graduates, several veterans of the inaugural season also attended, including Hayley Williams, Danielle Ward, Elena Orlando and Gabie Figueroa.
"It's nice to see them compete against players who've played in the league, and you could see the difference sometimes with their compete level," Giovanelli said. "They know what the level was [in] the league last year, so it was nice to see some of the younger players rise to that as well."
Figeuroa and Orlando played for the Riveters last season, while Ward played for the Whale and Williams for the Beauts.
"Maybe for next year, we can work on getting more players in these camps...It just brings the intensity up right," Wiseman said. "I remember going to NHL camps and all of a sudden you're out there with the best NHL players in the world [and] you have to up your game. And it's the same thing here."
Players who stood out: It's tough to gauge players from one day, especially when it's 60 continuous minutes of gameplay. But Figueroa, forward Kaycie K. Anderson, and goaltender Mariah Leanne Blackmore all stood out. Ward and foward Lauren Jones also looked phenomenal together.
Offseason shape: Boston University alumnus Dakota Woodworth said she's focusing on conditioning this offseason, while Ward is trying to get stronger.
"You get out of game shape really fast as soon as the season ends," Woodworth said. "That’s always kind of the hardest things to get back quickly once you’re back in season, so just keeping your conditioning level up is definitely one of the most important things for me.”
- Looking for contracts: The veteran players without a contract this year are looking to sign, but former Riveters defender Figueroa said she would be happy to play as a practice player.
"I’m hoping to be on the Riveters again, whether it’s in a contract position or as a practice player," Figueroa said. "I believe so much in Chad’s systems, I’m so happy for the players that he’s got coming in here that between the talent and the team run by Chad, I think they’re going to give Boston a good run."
Orlando, Figueroa's New York teammate, said she's aiming for a contract but will keep an open mind.
"I think being in the league itself is just a really big honor," Orlando said.
Wiseman said both of his former defenders were noticeable at the scrimmage.
- Scouting through coaches: The camp allowed GMs to see players they often don't see live. To scout, Giovanelli said she uses tapes, but relies on coaches to recruit the right players.
"I've been trying to find video, but mostly talk to their coaches," Giovanelli said. "That's the biggest aspect for me of building a new team. I want to know how they are off the ice, what kind of teammate they are. And I used to coach college hockey, so I have a good relationship with a lot of the coaches and so I trust their perspective and their thoughts, and most of them have seen our games as well, so they're going to tell me if they think they fit in with team as well so that's cool."
- Signing Amanda Kessel: The Riveters are building a solid team this offseason, and Kessel was a big signing. Wiseman said that Kessel and the team negotiated the contract without an agent.
"It was nice and we kind of got to build a small relationship before the season started," Wiseman said. "Any time you can attract a player like that, it's going to attract other better players as well. We're happy to have her, and you know she's going to be a big part of our offensive core again on the front end there."
Up next: The NWHL draft will be held on June 18, online only, at 12PM Eastern.
(Photo credit: Jashvina Shah)
Filed under: nwhl; ice hockey; danielle ward; lisa giovanelli; chad wiseman; amanda kessel; gabie figueroa; elena orlando; dakota woodworth; kaycie k. anderson; mariah leanne blackmore; lauren jones; hayley williams
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