Through a host of trials and tribulations, the National Women's Hockey League now has two seasons under its belt and is in the midst of preparing for its third season. The league's Founding Four teams will return, but with a slew of player and personnel changes across the league.
Perhaps one of the biggest storylines entering this season is the notable absence of national team players, who are centralizing prior to the Olympics. The NWHL will be without players like Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Emily Pfalzer, to name a few. The absence of these talents will no doubt be noticeable, but will allow other players to shine, such as Harrison Browne and Jillian Dempsey.
Before we look at each team heading into the coming season, a few quick league notes: the NWHL has formed a partnership with Twitter that will result in 19 games being live-streamed over the social media platform. The New York Riveters formed a strategic partnership with the NHL's New Jersey Devils, becoming the first NWHL team to enter into such a partnership. With this, the Riveters underwent a rebranding including new jerseys and a new name: the Metropolitan Riveters.
The Riveters aren't the only team to undergo a jersey change, however; all four teams have new jersey designs. Finally, Mike Boyle, who has served as the strength coach for the Boston Pride for two seasons, will now act as the strength and conditioning consultant for the entire league.
Now, for a quick look at each of the league's four teams, their offseasons, and what to expect in the 2017-18 NWHL season:
Aside from their name and jersey changes, the Riveters' roster underwent a makeover, too. Erika Lawler, who was the director of the NWHL Players' Association in the inaugural season, has returned to hockey to suit up for the team. She'll be joined by Harrison Browne, who spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Beauts. These two huge additions will play alongside returning players, including All-Star goaltender Katie Fitzgerald, forward Alexa Gruschow, and defender Ashley Johnston.
One big piece the Riveters will not have is Janine Weber, who's signed with Boston. Weber led the team in goals and points last season, and her offensive prowess will certainly be missed.
Last season, the Riveters finished second in the league with a record of 8-7-3, but ultimately failed to find success in the postseason. Chad Wiseman returns behind the bench for the team, along with his assistant Sis Paulsen.
Last season, the Beauts discovered the championship feeling as they won the Isobel Cup. This season, with a lot of new players, they'll look to repeat that feat. They'll be helped by the likes of power forwards Jess Jones and Rebecca Vint, who've come over from the CWHL, and fellow newcomers Taylor Accursi and Jordan Ott, among others.
Buffalo has a few returning players, including Corinne Buie and Amanda Leveille, both of whom have won a championship three years in a row. But the Beauts also had a lot of players leave, including Harrison Browne, Paige Harrington, and Devon Skeats.
It's clear that the Beauts want to repeat as Isobel Cup Champions, but they'll have to do so with a largely-new team, including many players who are new to the NWHL. Craig Muni and Ric Seiling will return behind the bench as co-head coaches, but the team has also added goaltending coach Tom Draper.
The Connecticut Whale will be led by several returning players, including Kelly Babstock, Elena Orlando, and Sam Faber, but the team also has several new players on its roster. Among the newcomers: goalie Keira Goin and forwards Jamie Goldsmith and Grace Klienbach, along with former Penn State standout Cassie Dunne.
Last season, the Whale finished last in the league, winning just five of 18 games. No doubt they'll try to improve upon that this season. One of the pieces that might help: a new head coach. Ryan Equale will take over for Heather Linstad behind the bench; Equale is a former collegiate hockey player and current Level 4 certified USA Hockey Coach.
One place where the Whale have had trouble with consistency is in finding a permanent home. This season, they'll play at the Terry Conners Ice Rink, which will be their third home rink in as many seasons.
The Boston Pride head into the 2017-18 season with a revamped team, with the Olympians out at centralization. The Pride have historically been stacked with Olympic talent, but with those players out of the picture for the time being, Boston will have to rely on some other players to step up.
One such player is Jillian Dempsey, who has been announced as the captain of the Pride. This will be her third season with the team. She's joined by returning players Lexi Bender and Jordan Smelker, among others. The Pride also made several notable signings over the offseason, including defender Paige Harrington, the offensively-talented Janine Weber, and Dana Trivigno. These acquisitions will help ensure that the Pride remain a threat.
Thomas Poeck takes the helm as head coach of the Pride, leading new assistant coach Lindsay Berman and goaltending coach Steve Silverthorn.
The National Women's Hockey League opens its third season with a pair of games on Saturday, October 28. The Boston Pride will visit the Metropolitan Riveters at Prudential Center, while the Connecticut Whale will host the Buffalo Beauts at Terry Conners Ice Rink.