With the National Women's Hockey League offseason now in full swing, there are a handful of news tidbits to keep tabs on. As the summer progresses, return to the Victory Press for regular notebook updates on the NWHL from yours truly.
This week, we'll touch base on some news and notes from the free agent camp held recently by the Buffalo Beauts; the league's upcoming drafts and free agency periods; a new head coach for the Toronto Six; and player signings across the league.
Beauts Free Agent Camp
There were a handful of interesting names in attendance at the Beauts' recent free agent camp, held June 5-6. Among those: goaltender Cassandra Goyette and forward Nicole Guagliardo, both of whom played previously with the Whale; and defender Samantha Fieseler, from the Riveters. Presumably, these players are not anticipating a return to their previous teams and are looking for a new home.
Former Beauts Tiffany Hsu, Maddie Norton, and Hayley Williams were also in attendance. Kelsey Neumann and Iveta Klimášová were the only Beauts players from last season at the camp, but don't read too much into that. Other players could (and certainly are) returning.
Lauren Dahm, previously with the PWHPA, is an intriguing option in net for Buffalo. However, they've already got two of three goaltending spots locked up, with Carly Jackson and Caty Flagg signed, and with six netminders at free agent camp, well.... you do the math. Only one could make it.
A quick glance at the roster from the Beauts camp speaks to the current level of talent that is predominant in the NWHL at this point. There were a significant number of former D-III players in attendance, and only two former D-I athletes. Those two? Clare Werynski, who played at Mercyhurst and graduated in 2020 after not recording a point in any of her four years; and Katie Maroney, who graduated from Ohio State University in 2007 and hasn't played anywhere since.
With that said, Beauts GM Nate Oliver expects there are only a handful of roster spots open for players who attended the free agent camp, so it's likely only the best of the crop – or those who fit the team's culture on and off the ice, a key sticking point for Oliver and head coach Rhea Coad – will see a contract offered.
"It's not just adding the best hockey players that we can find, but it's also adding to the recipe that we already have," Coad said. "Our players got extremely close in the bubble last year, and we want to continue that and grow."
One staffing note: former Beauts netminder Julia DiTondo is joining the team as a special assignments coach. She was on the ice for both days of free agent camp.
As the team looks ahead, the Beauts are prepping for the draft, where they hold the top pick.
"This season is obviously really tricky with an extra year of NCAA eligibility and same with U Sports," said Oliver. "It required a lot more scouting than what I would expect in a typical season, and a lot more discussions with coaches just to find out who was available, and who had an interest in turning pro. A lot of the big names are anticipated to go back and do that extra season, and I don't blame them. I think it's a great opportunity, but for those that are ready to turn pro, it's really trying to pick the best out of that group and addressing our needs, as well."
"This season, the draft is later than what it's ever been before," he added. "Normally, we have the advantage of drafting our players in March or April, and then you go into the free agent camp and you have a better idea of what your roster's going to look like. This one's a bit more of a balancing act to scout some players that showed up for free agent camp and see where they fit in, and also be mindful that there's some really good collegiate players that are available, pinpointing them & how they're going to best benefit the program."
Another tidbit I picked up in my conversations: expect the NWHL's regular season to begin the first weekend in November, with training camps and preseason the month prior. (As a side note, Long Island University has already announced an exhibition game against the Whale on October 23.)
On Independent Ownership
With the Beauts one of only two teams still without independent ownership, I asked GM Nate Oliver if he had any knowledge or inklings about the topic:
"Right now, we're still owned by Andy Scurto and Women's Hockey Partners, and I don't foresee that changing," Oliver said. "Obviously, anything could happen, but right now, I don't think so. [WHP] will continue owning us and the Whitecaps right now. At least right now, it's just business as normal, and we're going with the assumption that it's going to be that way into and through the season."
With the league expressing an eventual interest in focusing on hyper-local ownership, I also asked Oliver if there's been any push to find a local group for the Beauts. The short answer: no.
"Nothing that I've heard of," he said. "I think it'd be great. It'd be nice to have a Buffalo backing, even if we're talking sponsorships or anything like that. People that are born and raised in Buffalo, there's a different feeling there, right? There's a difference compared to other sports teams. I think it'd be wonderful to have a Buffalo tie for ownership, but I've heard nothing along those lines."
Toronto's New Head Coach
The Toronto Six announced that Mark Joslin has been appointed as head coach for the upcoming season. Joslin most recently spent four seasons with the OJHL's Toronto Patriots (a U20 boys' team) from 2016-20.
He succeeds Digit Murphy, who remains in her current role as team president.
The Connecticut Whale are finally on board with a few signings. They made a splash, bringing on free agent Kennedy Marchment from the SDHL. Marchment is an offensive powerhouse and will bring her talents to a Whale team that has historically been the underdog of the NWHL. They've also added former Syracuse University defender Allie Munroe out of the SDHL and returned Emma Vlasic to their roster as well.
The Toronto Six re-signed goaltender Elaine Chuli, who recorded a .936 save percentage and 1.61 GAA in her first NWHL season in Lake Placid. Elsewhere, we know that Sarah-Ève Coutu-Godbout will not be returning to the Six, as she's signed with AIK of the SDHL.
Signings for the Buffalo Beauts continue to roll in, with the team's 2021 scoring leader Autumn MacDougall as the latest announced.
An important note here: although these are the signings that have been announced, there are definitely more players signed. Beauts GM Nate Oliver said that his team has several players signed who haven't been announced yet, and it's safe to assume the same is true across the league.
Tuesday, June 29 @ 7:00 PM Eastern, Twitch: 2021 NWHL Draft (collegiate graduates) - five rounds, 30 picks total
Sunday, July 25 @ 1:00 PM Eastern, Twitch: 2021 NWHL International Draft (for players born outside of North America who are at least 21 years of age on/before September 1, 2021 and who have not previously played in the NWHL or consumed any eligibility at the NCAA or U SPORTS level) - single round, six picks total
The Beauts will pick first in both drafts. There is no guarantee that any player selected in either draft will sign with the team that picks them, or sign in the NWHL at all. Teams have exclusive signing rights for their draft picks for the two weeks following the draft.