Melissa Burgess

NWHL: Connecticut Whale Season Review

The Connecticut Whale finished the inaugural NWHL season second in the league. Ever since then, they've struggled and have finished last in the league for two consecutive seasons, including the recently-completed 2017-18 campaign.

This season saw the Whale win just three of 16 games, a franchise-low for them, and put up eight points, four shy of the Pride for third place overall. All three of their wins came against Boston in a season that included a seven-game losing streak, and a four-game losing streak to end the season.

The Whale also started this season with a new head coach, as Ryan Equale took over for Heather Linstad behind the bench.

From the beginning, it was a struggle for the Whale. They dropped their first game of the season narrowly, a 3-2 decision to Buffalo. Just a week later, they notched their first win, a 2-1 victory over the Pride.

Another loss -- this one a 5-1 fall to the Riveters -- was followed by another win, a 4-3 decision. Things weren't going badly for the Whale, not by any means. But once the calendar hit December, things fell apart. Connecticut lost seven straight games, including several by margins of four or more goals.

They wouldn't find the win column again until February 2. That victory, a 3-2 win, was then followed up by four straight losses.

Though the standings won't show it, five of the Whale's losses this season were by just one goal. Conversely, however, all three of their wins were also only by one-goal margins, so they didn't really dominate by any stretch of the imagination.

Overall, the Whale went 3-3 against the Pride, 0-5 against the Beauts, and 0-5 against the Riveters in the regular season -- which makes sense given the Beauts and Riveters were the best two teams in the league. The Pride and Whale were left to fend each other off in a battle to not end up last.

It was no big surprise, then, that the Whale were the underdog heading into their Isobel Cup semifinal game against the Riveters, who had dominated the NWHL all season. Any hope of a rally was squashed in the 5-0 loss, but give the Whale credit: they were in it until the Riveters scored three goals in a span of less than four minutes in the third period, which greatly skewed the outcome of the game.

This season's Whale roster had quite a different look from the team that hit the ice in 2016-17. There were 10 returning players, including Jordan Brickner, Elena Orlando, Sam Faber, and Kelly Babstock. But there were also a lot of players from last season's team who didn't come back: Kelli Stack (who went to the CWHL), Dana Trivigno, and Haley Skarupa among them.

With that, it meant the Whale had a slew of new players on their roster this season, many of whom were making their NWHL debuts. The roster turnover, which is not unique to the Whale or to this season, certainly affects team chemistry.

Newcomers included Sophia Agostinelli, Emily Fluke, Cassie Dunne, and Sydney Rossman. Two of the Whale's three netminders were new to the team entering this season, with only Laura Brennan returning to the team from last year.

Emily Fluke was the only Whale player to hit the double-digit mark in points, as she put up 11 (4G, 7A) in 16 games. She was also one of four Whale players to appear in all games this season, alongside Elena Orlando, Juana Baribeau, and Rachael Ade. Those three combined registered five points.

Kelly Babstock, arguably the offensive powerhouse of the Whale, managed nine points (4G, 5A) in 14 games, while Amanda Boulier, despite playing in only 12 games, potted eight points. Like the Pride, the Whale also did not manage to score shorthanded this season.

Sydney Rossman was arguably Connecticut's best player this season. The goaltender appeared in all 16 regular season games and registered a 3.14 GAA and .885 save percentage.

Several members of the Whale were named to the NWHL's All-Star roster, including Babstock, Boulier, Rossman, and Faber. Connecticut was the least-represented team in Minnesota.

At the season's end, two players were honored by the league and received NWHL Awards. Sophia Agostinelli was voted by the fans as one of the league's Three Stars, while Rachael Ade was her team's winner of the NWHL Foundation award for applying "the core values of hockey to her community as well as growing the game and improving hockey culture."

Entering the NWHL's fourth season in fall, the Whale are now the lone team to have not won the Isobel Cup. They're also the only team who hasn't made it to the Isobel Cup Final at least once.

2017 NWHL draft pick Sam Donovan joined the Whale for two games this season, and there's potential for other picks to sign fall, including Yale's Eden Murray, Northeastern's Denisa Křížová, and BU's Nina Rodgers.

Can the Whale find their way out of the league's basement and finally make it to the Isobel Cup Final next season -- and maybe even win it all?

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