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.
In the first installment of this year's CWHL Draft in Review, I'll be looking at the teams that chose first: the Worcester Blades, Toronto Furies, and Markham Thunder. The full draft list can be found at the bottom of this article. Calgary, Shenzhen, and Montreal are covered in Part II.
The Blades didn't manage to publicize their pre-signings ahead of the draft, but they did complete them. The good news is that pre-signee (and first overall pick) Lauren Williams described new GM Derek Alfama as very organized -- a sign that he's been communicating well with players. The bad news is that Worcester didn't seem all too prepared for the live portion of the draft, regularly taking more time than other teams, even though many of its draftees had selected only one location. The Blades also made some choices that are questionable at best, and would seem to indicate either a lack of scouting or a failure to understand the competitive draft format. It's still early days for this management group, so hopefully the experience will serve them well going forward.
↑ Lauren Williams: Williams, a stay-at-home defender who played nearly every game through her final three years at Wisconsin and amassed just 24 career penalty minutes in 141 contests, was the first overall selection of the 2018 CWHL Draft. The 5-foot-9 left shot is originally from Windsor, Ontario, but will be attending graduate school in Springfield, Massachusetts -- she was excited about the relocation from Boston, which will make her commute a little easier. Williams is an excellent addition for the Blades, who can expect a reliable presence on the blue line. While she may not add scoring to a team that's losing offensive talent, her time at Wisconsin proves that she can defend against top players without resorting to taking penalties. Fun fact: she also trained service dogs while in Madison, but unfortunately her new landlord doesn't allow pets and Massachusetts doesn't have legal exemptions for service dogs in training. (For the curious: Que, from the video, never did get used to goalies -- or any hockey equipment for that matter -- but is now in the final stages of his training. "It's like a proud mom. I had you for six weeks of your life but I am part mom!")
↓ Meeri Räisänen..?: Räisänen is a world-class goalie. As much as Williams was a great choice for one of the Blades' pre-signings, it seems inarguable that the Finnish netminder was the highest-calibre player to declare Worcester an acceptable location. She was also one of presumably very few to have selected multiple locations. Everything seemed to be in the Blades' favor -- all the other teams already had strong tandems either signed or recruited, and besides, Worcester picked first in every round. Yet somehow, they bungled it. Räisänen is a 2018 Olympic bronze medalist (as back-up to Noora Räty), won bronze at the 2015 World Championship as starter, and has excelled in Finland's Naistan Liiga. When she was still on the board in the eighth round, Markham finally scooped her up. The Blades, who apparently weren't paying much attention, then attempted to choose her in Round 10. If it all sounds a bit ridiculous, that's because it is. Räisänen had no business still being available so late in the draft, and there's no excuse for Worcester letting her slip away. Other GMs, recognising that Räisänen deserved to be more than a third goalie, confirmed that they even had pre-draft conversations encouraging Worcester to choose her. Lauren Dahm might be good, but she's just one person. The Blades regularly face huge volumes of shots and you just don't turn down a player of Räisänen's level.
The Furies filled needs at every position, and made good use of their pre-signings. Multiple GTA draftees said that they were courted by both Toronto and Markham and considered both teams, signaling that the Furies have both been doing solid recruitment work and built a sales pitch that can compete with the reigning champs.
↑ Early draftees: Sarah Nurse needs no introduction, but it's worth noting that GM Sami Jo Small had her locked down almost as soon as she stepped off the plane from Pyeongchang. Nurse said she was never in contact with the Thunder: "I kind of settled in with Sami Jo kind of right off the bat after we got home from the Olympics, so that was really exciting and I really liked the direction that they were going." Shea Tiley fills an obvious need in net and completes a solid tandem with Elaine Chuli, and Brittany Howard is fresh off an impressive showing at Hockey Canada's development camp. By the end of round three, Toronto had claimed an elite NCAA goalie, two forwards in the national team program, and, in Mellissa Channell and Julia Fedeski, the two best GTA-based defenders in the draft.
↑ Recruitment: Nurse wasn't the Furies' only recruitment success story. Howard said she'd had conversations with both GTA teams and had heard convincing arguments from all sides, but ultimately chose Toronto (due in part to an easier commute). Markham's second-rounder Ailish Forfar also talked to both clubs and nearly wound up on the Furies, whose mentor-coach Ken Dufton coached her in minor hockey, before taking up the opportunity to pre-sign with the Thunder. Victoria Bach is another player who had discussions with both teams, and Toronto's fourth pick, Channell, even filled out a pre-signing form, just in case.
The Clarkson Cup champions are returning most of their 2017-18 roster, so unlike Worcester and Toronto, they were mostly drafting for depth.
↑ Filling the gaps: Markham lost three forwards and a defender to retirement this off-season, so it makes sense that its first four picks were exactly that. Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Victoria Bach will add offensive spark to a team that often relied on a combination of Jamie Lee Rattray and its world-class defence last year, and the Thunder picked up a few goalies who will likely compete for the third spot. GM Chelsea Purcell explained that drafting players who could earn ice time in Markham's deep line-up was one of the trickier parts of her job, and that's a pretty good problem to have.
↑ Treating it like it's serious: We rarely see women's hockey teams make big moves, since athletes' best interests are prioritized over clubs' (as they should be). So it was refreshing to see Markham snag Meeri Räisänen after the elite netminder, who had listed three acceptable locations, went unclaimed for seven-and-a-half rounds, and equally refreshing to hear Purcell admit that the pick was largely for trade leverage. The Thunder already have their top two goalies, but they aren't holding Räisänen's CWHL career hostage -- Purcell indicated she'd happily trade Räisänen to Worcester if she wants, and if not, Markham will likely have a tandem spot for her next year. The Blades deserve to get bitten for leaving her so late, and taking it seriously will hopefully force everyone to pay more attention and be better next time.
(Photo credit: Chris Tanouye/CWHL)
2018 CWHL Draft Results
|1||Lauren Williams||D||Worcester Blades|
|2||Sarah Nurse||LW||Toronto Furies|
|3||Victoria Bach||C||Markham Thunder|
|4||Halli Krzyzaniak||D||Calgary Inferno|
|5||Kimberly Newell||G||Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays|
|6||Shea Tiley||G||Toronto Furies|
|7||Morgan Turner||C||Worcester Blades|
|8||Brittany Howard||RW||Toronto Furies|
|9||Ailish Forfar||C||Markham Thunder|
|10||Rebecca Leslie||RW||Calgary Inferno|
|11||Leah Lum||LW||Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays|
|12||Geneviève Bannon||RW||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|13||Meghan Turner||RW||Worcester Blades|
|14||Mellissa Channell||D||Toronto Furies|
|15||Hannah Miller||C||Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays|
|16||Megan Sullivan||LW||Markham Thunder|
|17||Annie Bélanger||G||Calgary Inferno|
|18||Julia Fedeski||D||Toronto Furies|
|19||Jessica Convery||G||Worcester Blades|
|20||Emma Greco||D||Toronto Furies|
|21||Daniella Matteucci||D||Markham Thunder|
|22||Alex Rigsby||G||Calgary Inferno|
|23||Taylor Willard||D||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|24||Rebecca Fleming||C||Worcester Blades|
|25||Mackenzie MacNeil||RW||Toronto Furies|
|26||Gina Repaci||D||Markham Thunder|
|27||Tori Hickel||D||Calgary Inferno|
|28||Catherine Daoust||D||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|29||Jennifer MacAskill||RW||Worcester Blades|
|30||Megan Quinn||D||Toronto Furies|
|31||Kelly Gribbons||C||Markham Thunder|
|32||Venla Hovi||RW||Calgary Inferno|
|33||Marie-Joëlle Allard||D||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|34||Carrie Atkinson||D||Worcester Blades|
|35||Alysha Burriss||LW||Toronto Furies|
|36||Elijah Milne-Price||G||Markham Thunder|
|37||Kaitlin Willoughby||RW||Calgary Inferno|
|38||Emma Martin||D||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|39||Chih Lin Liu||D||Worcester Blades|
|40||Emma Pearson||D||Toronto Furies|
|41||Meeri Räisänen||G||Markham Thunder|
|42||Eden Murray||C||Calgary Inferno|
|43||Kelsey Neumann||G||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|44||Hannah Desjarlais||LW||Worcester Blades|
|45||Andrea Ziesmann||D||Toronto Furies|
|46||Mariah Fujimagari||G||Markham Thunder|
|47||Natalie Fraser||D||Calgary Inferno|
|48||Olivia Atkinson||LW||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|49||Shannon Hickey||C||Worcester Blades|
|50||Stefanie Thomson||LW||Toronto Furies|
|51||Malika Aldabergenova||C||Markham Thunder|
|52||Kendra Hanson||C||Calgary Inferno|
|53||Caroll-Ann Gagné||D||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|54||Tzu-Ting Hsu||G||Worcester Blades|
|55||Briana Vachal||D||Toronto Furies|
|56||Kimberly Gallagher||D||Markham Thunder|
|57||Cheyann Newman||C||Calgary Inferno|
|58||Maude Gélinas||RW||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|59||Mizuki Nishi||RW||Worcester Blades|
|60||Theresa Woodland||F||Toronto Furies|
|61||Tatiana Rafter||C||Calgary Inferno|
|62||Andréanne Carlos||C||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|63||Akane Konishi||G||Worcester Blades|
|64||Nina Rodgers||LW||Calgary Inferno|
|65||Maude Nicol||G||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
|66||Aki Fujimori||RW||Calgary Inferno|
|67||Nicole Gass||D||Les Canadiennes de Montréal|
Filed under: cwhl; 2018 cwhl draft; worcester blades; Toronto Furies; markham thunder; Lauren Williams; Meeri Raisanen; Chelsea Purcell; Sami Jo Small; Sarah Nurse; ice hockey; boston blades
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