Boston Blades surge back with 9-4 win over New England Eagles

Meghan Grieves just after shooting and scoring on the New England Eagles' goal.
Blades forward Meghan Grieves just after scoring on the New England Eagles.

Saturday night, the 2016-2017 Boston Blades met the New England Eagles in a preseason outing at The Edge in Bedford, MA. The stands were fuller than most of the Blades games I attended last year, thanks in part to a profusion of Eagles fans; those arriving early were treated to the end of an East Coast Wizards boys’ game. While my visit to the Blades’ selection camp last month had left me hopeful, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the new roster or their opponents. I definitely wasn’t expecting such a dramatic victory for the Blades, let alone one that gave me as many questions as answers.

First, let’s address their opponents. The New England Eagles are a local veteran’s team that’s part of the Skate for the 22 Foundation. This Saturday’s game against the Blades was the first game for the Eagles as part of the foundation’s hockey program. Considering their background and freshness as a team, the Eagles played an incredible game against the Blades. They scored the first goal and matched the Blades goal-for-goal for the first period. The Eagles had a strong offensive presence and a lot of reach on the Blades working in their favor, but their energy flagged over the course of the game. This was not an easy 9-4 contest. The Eagles made the Blades work for their win.

That win. Where to start? Let’s begin with the forwards, where Boston has made the biggest gains. The team’s newcomers scored five of those nine goals, with one each for BC alums Meghan Grieves and Kate Leary, BU’s Dakota Woodworth and Kayla Tutino, and UConn’s Margaret Zimmer. Their play was fast and dynamic, long passes easily connecting through traffic, with more backhanded passing than I saw last year. “Very strong forwards,” Tutino said of her linemates, “Lots of speed and they’re strong on their sticks, so they made some great passes today.” While the 2015-2016 Blades generally relied on a chip-and-chase strategy to move the puck into the offensive zone, these players and their linemates alike confidently carried the puck across both blue lines toward the Eagles’ goal. Even at close quarters with Eagles players, who relied on their long reach as well as generating traffic near their goal, the Blades continually generated scoring opportunities and kept the play in their Eagles’ zone.

Newcomers weren’t the only forwards who shone in this game. Last year, the Blades had few goals and few consistent scorers. Megan Myers, a returning 2014-2015 player, and Megan Shea led the team with four and three goals respectively; Captain Tara Watchorn (on defense), alternate captain Kristina Brown, and Elizabeth Tremblay each scored two. Against the Eagles on Saturday, Brown scored as many goals in one game as she did in the entirety of the 2015-2016 season. Myers and returning 2014-2015 player Casey Pickett scored one goal each. After the game, Brown was glowing. “Everyone’s really starting to gel together off the ice and it was awesome to see it come together on the ice,” she said. “We obviously always have room for improvement and cleaning some stuff up, but it’s really exciting to get to our next game in Toronto.” With teammates who are truly peers on the ice, these returning players are getting the opportunity to showcase their strengths and contribute even more to the team.

Speaking of returning players, my award for Most Improved must go to Clara St. Germain, who held her own on the same line with Watchorn last night. “Clara is one of the hardest workers out there,” said assistant coach Mike Diamantopoulos. Coach Brian McCloskey elaborated, “She’s very smart, very coachable. She did improve a lot last year, I was impressed. You can always find a place for a player like her: even though she might have the size and the skating ability of some other players, she makes up for it by being really intelligent and knowing her limitations.” The Blades’ defense spent less time protecting their goal than preventing turnover—the chippy play of last year was replaced by tight, controlled forward play supported by the defense. Watchorn and returning player Dru Burns continue to be key pieces for the Blades, each assisting on a goal of Brown’s. I was less impressed by newcomer Cassandra Opela, who seemed to have trouble shooting in tight quarters and through traffic.

Finally, there are the Blades’ two new goaltenders: Lauren Dahm, who started for the Blades, and Shelley Payne, who came in during the second period. While Dahm allowed three goals and Payne only one, it’s difficult to compare their performances on that basis alone—Dahm was facing much more shot pressure from the Eagles, while the Blades kept the Eagles penned in their own zone for most of Payne’s time in net. That said, Dahm appeared nervous and unsteady on her feet: the first goal she allowed came when she was too far out from the net to block the shot, the second and third when she fell forward. Payne seemed more comfortable on the ice, steady on her feet and easily moving from standing to butterfly position; the final goal of the game went in right behind her shoulder. “Both played solid,” said Diamantopoulos. “It’s tough for them, too, playing against guys and the way they can shoot—it’s a lot different from what they face normally.”

The lineup for Saturday’s game included some practice players and does not fully reflect the final roster, which GM Krista Patronick will share this week: those players will face the Furies in Toronto on October 15 and 16 as the Blades begin their season on the road. Still, the change in energy and direction from last season is clear. Tutino and Leary were cheerful after their first professional game, eager to talk about how much fun they were having. “This is a great group of girls,” said Tutino; “It was a great game to play, and obviously fun to win,” said Leary. Meanwhile, captain Watchorn was beaming. “It’s exciting this year,” she said. “It’s going to be good. This is great.” And a hard-won great it is, too.

Boston Blades Selection Camp: “Bladies Are Back”

Morgan Grieves skates out in front of the net at Boston Blades Selection Camp
Boston College alum Morgan Grieves at the 2016-2017 Boston Blades Selection Camp

On September 15th, the second day of Selection Camp for the Boston Blades, the arena at UMass Boston was quiet. Players were already on the ice when I arrived at 8:45, demonstrating their skating skills before moving onto their stickhandling. Coach Brian McCloskey and Assistant Coach Mike Diamantopoulos (a new addition to the Blades staff) were on the ice, their eyes on the players; GM Krista Patronick watched from the stands. “Every time I watch this group skate, I just feel more and more optimistic about the season to come,” she said.

With a 1-23-0 record for 2015-2016, the bar for improvement is low. After their roster was decimated by the outflow of players from the Clarkson-Cup-winning 2014-2015 roster, the Boston Blades struggled to fill spaces at the start of the season. Patronick recruited heavily from Boston College, community ball hockey (Patronick is a goaltender), and former NCAA players looking to make a comeback to the game. While the team struggled on the ice, they flourished off of it. “Our team, how we connected was unbelievable,” says forward Erin Kickham, who joined the team last season after her graduation from BC. “That seems to be happening [now], and we’ve had two practices. That’s special. You can’t teach that.”

Another connection is evident on the ice, noted by defender Dru Burns: “One-touch passes, people are filling lanes, supporting people.” Two skates in, the 2016-2017 Blades prospects already look more coherent than the rostered players of last season. Both Patronick and Diamantopoulos expressed their excitement about influx of forwards from the 2016 CWHL draft in August. While the main roster for the team is 25 players, Patronick can protect up to 40: she expects that this will include most of the forwards.

More visible in the group of players on the ice Thursday was the new crop of goaltenders: a total of six were in attendance, taking up much of the sheet’s real estate. Patronick has since released Sarah Quigley and offered Amanda Fontaine a spot on the reserve roster. It will be difficult to replace Olympian Genevieve Lacasse, who logged 1345 minutes in 23 games last year and overtook the CWHL record (649) in just 15 of those games. Lacasse finished the Blades’ difficult season with a .904 SVP; in August, she was traded to Calgary. Those are big skates to fill. Lacasse took the vast majority of ice time, yielding only one game to back up goaltender Amanda Carridi; Patronick isn’t sure whether this year’s goaltenders will be have a similar dynamic or be more of a tandem duo. “We’re looking at all options right now,” she said, “But I think we’re in a good spot where we have to make those tough decisions.”

While the Blades are saying goodbye to Lacasse and forward Megan Shea, who played a big role last year, many players will be returning. On the ice Thursday, Carridi joined Burns and Kickham as well as Maggie DiMasi, Nicole Giannino, and both Clara and Sadie St. Germain. Absent were Blades captain Tara Watchorn, who was fulfilling her duties to Team Canada, and forward Megan Myers, who has already signed for this year. Another returning player was forward Casey Pickett, who played for the Blades prior to serving as a practice player for the Boston Pride last year. Patronick expects that she’ll play a big role this year. (Former Pride and Blades forward Kelly Cooke was also on the list of Selection Camp attendees, but not in attendance. Patronick says that she doesn’t expect Cooke to join the team, but she may referee some Blades games this year.)

Many of the new faces at the rink have ties to the returning Blades through Hockey East and Boston College. “A bunch of my old teammates played on the Blades and spoke very highly of it,” said forward Meghan Grieves, who graduated from BC this spring. “Kristina Brown and Dru Burns, as well as Melissa Bizzari, Kate Leary, and myself, we’re all playing again… It’s awesome to get to put on a new jersey with my old teammates.” Burns and fellow BC alum Kickham said they spent the summer recruiting former BC and Hockey East players; Diamantopoulos spoke highly of the players they brought in. “We got about six or seven girls out of Hockey East that I think are really going to add to the depth of our club that we didn’t have last year,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how we can fit them into our system.”

Another crucial piece of the puzzle (a metaphor used by Burns) is defender Kikuchi Sato, who was extended an offer by the Blades after Thursday’s skate. “Sato is really impressive, I have to say,” said Patronick. “Her skating ability is really awesome, she battles hard, you probably saw her going into the corner a little bit. She just doesn’t give up, which is something we love about her.” Sato returns the love, evidently: she shared news about joining the Blades last week on Twitter.

The Blades will debut their new lineup in Toronto on October 15 and take to the ice at home on October 29 at UMass Boston. (Most Blades games this season will be played at Walter Brown, their “home” arena, as well as UMass Boston.) Judging by what I saw at Thursday’s skate, they have a promising roster in the works for the 2016-2017 season. “Bladies are back!” Burns and Kickham said in unison at their end of our conversation. “We’re really excited for another year to get out there,” added Kickham. “We’re gonna win some games.”

Weekly News: Outdoor Classic fallout, Laing injury, You Can Play games

Following up on the Outdoor Women’s Classic:

  • Jared Book of Habs Eyes on the Prize wrote about the players’ reactions to the Outdoor Classic, which was a nice article that really highlighted, however we as fans and media feel about the short falls of the Outdoor Classic, the players really had a blast.
  • The New York Times had some coverage of the Outdoor Classic, speaking of more mainstream coverage.
  • Kate Cimini of Today’s Slapshot wrote a bit of a post-mortem on the Outdoor Classic. I particularly liked Cimini’s point that the take away from this year’s Outdoor Classic might be that the NWHL and the CWHL learned a little more about what needs to happen to put on a big event like this. While the CWHL in particular has had big events in the past, like the All-Star Game, with sponsors and television and big venues, there’s still stuff for both leagues to learn about all the moving pieces.
  • Jashvina Shah of Victory Press had a more negative take on the outcome of the Outdoor Classic.
    Look, I think the last thing the women’s hockey blogging world needs is another hot take on the Women’s Classic right now from me, but my personal thought tends to fall in more with Cimini’s post– sometimes the gains come in places you, as a fan, can’t see right away. While I don’t think Shah is wrong in being disappointed with the lack of streaming and television (because goodness knows, I am too) or the lack of publicity for the event, I do think saying the Outdoor Classic failed is a bit of an overstatement.
  • There has been no official update on Denna Laing’s injury during the Outdoor Classic, either from the NWHL or her/her family. However, that said, a family friend of Laing’s has set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to help Laing and her family with medical and other expenses that may result from her injury. It’s important to note that, while insurance can cover a lot, it never covers everything, especially incidental costs of recovery.

CWHL

  • Did you miss the first live televised CWHL game? The Toronto Furies played the Brampton Thunder in a match televised on Sportsnet in Canada. Hannah Bevis of Along the Boards wrote about this game.
  • The CWHL has long been partnered with You Can Play, the organization created to advocate for the removal of homophobia from sport. However, their recent games in support of You Can Play, including the one televised on Sportsnet, has been a new initiative from the league. Leann Ling of Along the Boards Charline Labonte’s thoughts on the new initiative as a You Can Play Ambassador.
  • Boston Blades GM, Krista Patronick, has an open letter to fans on the Blades’ website. Really, go check it out.
    I think Patronick has done a lot with a tough hand, and her willingness to be open about what’s going on and the challenges the Blades have and will face is really impressive to me. I’m really hoping that the Blades come back, and build stronger than ever.

Streaming Schedule:

Streamed online this weekend for the CWHL will be:

  • Saturday Jan. 9th Les Canadiennes @ Toronto Furies at 7:30pm ET
  • Sunday Jan. 10th Calgary Inferno @ Brampton Thunder at 1:30pm ET

NWHL

Streaming Schedule:

  • Saturday Jan. 9th NY Riveters @ Connecticut Whale at 7:30 PM ET
  • Sunday Jan. 10th Buffalo Beauts @ Connecticut Whale at 6:00 PM ET
  • Sunday Jan. 10th NY Riveters @ Boston Pride at 3:00 PM ET will be on EPSN3

Boston Blades Skate Out 2015 With A Whimper, Not A Bang

Boston Blades Sadie St. Germain and Rachel Farrel on the ice.
Boston Blades teammates Sadie St. Germain and Rachel Farrel wait to take a shot on Genevieve Lacasse during warm ups on Saturday, December 21.
By the time the Boston Blades concluded their six-game series against Brampton Thunder on December 6, they seemed to be finding their feet, if not yet a win. They’ve struggled both defensively and offensively in front of the net–Genevieve Lacasse broke a record for saves during a CWHL season this Saturday night, and she’s now made 741 over a total of 16 games, posting a SVP of .917–but their team was beginning to look like, well, a team. Captain Tara Watchorn was upbeat and confident when I spoke to her on December 6, which is the last full game she played for the team.

Since she left the Blades’ game against the Inferno on December 12, Watchorn has played the first half of one game (against the Furies on December 19) and been scratched from the roster for two because of an upper-body injury. Defense Dru Burns and forward Megan Myers have also been late scratches for the last two and three games, respectively, for personal reasons. Without them, the Blades look disorganized and disoriented on the ice. Their defeats by the Calgary Inferno on December 12 (4-0) and 13 (4-1) weren’t surprising–Calgary is leading the league–but their collapse against the Toronto Furies this weekend was less expected.

While the Toronto Furies do have the terrifying and capable Natalie Spooner on their roster, they’ve been just above the Blades in the CWHL standings for most of the season. The Blades’ only victory (in overtime) so far this season was against the Furies back in October. Toronto should have been the closest to an even match that the Blades have faced so far this season. Instead, Boston saw a single goal (from Megan Shea in the final minute) on Saturday in their 4-1 loss to Toronto, and a shutout by Sonja van der Bliek on Sunday that left the score at 4-0. That shutout happened during a game in which Boston had zero penalties and Toronto had four minors, including two that overlapped, giving Boston a precious 37 seconds of 5-on-3 advantage. What happened? Everyone ended up stuck behind Toronto’s net, along with the puck. Reader, I screamed.

There are a number of factors that led to the Blades’ collapse against the Furies this weekend, most of but not all of them on the blue line. The absence of key players Watchorn and Burns made the deficits of other players more glaring. According to Burns, the Blades are playing 1 – 2 – 2 system, but for that to work, those last two players have to actually stay back and keep the puck in the offensive zone and out of their own. I spent a lot of Sunday’s game against the Furies trying to pick out the Blades’ defensive players who weren’t Sarah Duncan. Frankly, it was difficult to tell when they were engrossed in the offensive fray and scrambling for the puck.

This defensive confusion magnified the consistent issue plaguing the Blades this weekend, which was their inability to hold onto the puck. Missed passes combined with repeated-chip-and-chases led to frequent turnover and movement from zone to zone. The Furies were visibly faster and quicker to react, shutting down scoring chances from the Blades both by creating traffic in front of the net but also by constantly intercepting stray passes. The Blades’ inability or choice not to carry the puck into the offensive zone failed them time and time again. By the time Megan Shea scored the Blades’ lone goal this weekend and dove into a shower of falling teddy bears (yes, it was the Blades’ teddy bear toss this weekend) on Saturday night, the onlookers were all concerned what to do with the bears if Christina Kessler managed a shutout for the Furies. Should we throw them to Lacasse, like a bouquet? Should we throw them at Kessler and attempt to smother her? No offense to Kessler, who blocked 29 of 30 shots on Saturday–I’d have felt the same about any other goalie in her position, smack in front of the Blades’ opponents’ net.

While I have all the sympathy for the Blades, my concern for their progress this season has risen again. While Burns and Myers should soon return to the Blades’ bench, Watchorn’s extended absence has already caused a major setback for the team. They’ve worked so hard to craft the cohesion I saw against the Thunder, both building a team nearly from scratch and facing a heavily front-loaded schedule for the season. The Boston Blades have played more games than any other team in the league–16–and have only eight more to go, six of those against Les Canadiennes, who will be a formidable opponent.

Toronto Furies players Natalie Spooner, Tomomi Kurata, Sonja van der Bliek on the ice at NESC.
Toronto Furies Natalie Spooner, Tomomi Kurata, and Sonja van der Bliek (in teammate Sami Jo Small’s jersey) idle on the ice during warmups at NESC on Saturday, December 19.

Boston Blades Appreciation Video: Calgary @ Boston, 10/31/2015

I started working on a highlights reel (forthcoming!) of the Boston Blades home opener last Saturday, but I kept being like “why, Calgary, augh!” and somehow this is what got finished first instead: a video which includes zero goals being scored by the opposing team. #journalism

[vimeo 144953757 w=500 h=276]

Blades Appreciation Life: Calgary @ Boston, 10/31/2015 from Erin Bartuska on Vimeo.

Boston Blades Home Opener: From Yankees to Red Sox

A Calgary Inferno player races Blades #16 Sarah Duncan toward #33 Genevieve Lacasse in the Blades Goal.
A Calgary Inferno player races Blades #16 Sarah Duncan toward #33 Genevieve Lacasse in the Blades Goal. From the Blades home opener on October 31 at New England Sports Center in Marlborough, MA.

First, let’s be frank: Last Saturday night’s home opener against the Calgary Inferno was a difficult game to watch if you were rooting for the home team. The Inferno scored seven goals, a boggling six of those during the second period, while the Blades remained scoreless throughout. The audience, crammed onto a narrow balcony high over the rink, seemed distant from the players, and the paltry media presence was a stark contrast to the NWHL’s media day in September. In the space of a few months, the Boston Blades have gone from the CWHL’s champions to the underdogs. They’re still hoisting the Clarkson Cup–the team posed for photos with the Cup before and after the game–but most of the players who won it this March are gone.

The NWHL went unmentioned in my conversations with general manager Krista Patronick and coach Brian McCloskey, as did the NWHL’s role in shakeup in the Blades’ formerly star-filled roster. The Blades have retained only five members of last year’s Clarkson Cup winning team: defense Tara Watchorn (this year’s captain) and Dru Burns, forwards Ashley Cottrell and Megan Myers, and goalie Genevieve Lacasse. The new league isn’t the only source of changes–Monique Lamoreaux has joined her sister Joceyln on the Minnesota Whitecaps, while Jenny Potter has transitioned to coaching–but it has claimed over half of last season’s roster, including all of Team USA’s active players. Both coach Digit Murphy and general manager Aronda Kirby have departed for the green fields of lacrosse after a less-than-amicable break with the Blades. As they enter a comprehensive and unanticipated rebuild, the Blades’ newest iteration has inherited both impossibly high expectations and a complicated relationship with the CWHL as its only US franchise.

The Boston Blades opened the 2015-2016 season at home on fresh ice at the New England Sports Center (NESC) in Marlborough, MA, which will be their home rink this season. GM Patronick said that the free parking, dedicated locker room, and improved connectivity offered by NESC were major incentives. There are, indeed, a lot of things to like about NESC–it’s a big facility with six indoor rinks, concessions, and an elevator-accessible upper floor which allows viewing from warmer/heated hallways. That said, Saturday’s game was displaced by the Beantown Fall Classic to Rink 6, which has no bleacher seating, only a long balcony that stretches the length of the rink. There were a few benches for seating, but the majority of people attending the game had to stand. From ice level, where I was filming throughout the game, it was hard to hear the fans or see them. The rink felt surreally empty.

Still, this doesn’t tell you much about the team’s play against Calgary. Calgary’s roster hasn’t experienced as much turnover, and they’ve been joined by the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser in her first year of CWHL play. The Inferno kept most of the play in the Blades’ zone for the duration of the game and they spent a lot of time scrapping around the crease. Despite their aggressive play, Calgary only racked up 2:00 PIM to Boston’s 8:00 by the end of the game. Lacasse’s net was unmoored twice during gameplay, once on either end of the rink; the Blades rarely got close enough to Delayne Brian to test the purchase of the net behind the Inferno’s crease. The Blades got 18 shots on goal, less than a third of the Inferno’s 60.

If they weren’t successful, the Blades were at least determined. Alternate captain Kristina Brown fistbumped each player as they stepped back onto the ice for the third period, exhorting her teammates to “Get some fire out there, get hungry.” Indeed, they finished out the final period without allowing another goal. Goaltender Lacasse deflected 53 of the 60 shots leveled on goal on Saturday. The Blades played a second game against Calgary at Tsongas Arena in Lowell at 10:30 on Sunday, during which Lacasse allowed only 4 of 50 shots. That’s a .900 SVP on 110 SOG in less than 24 hours.

What does this mean for the players who posed around the Clarkson Cup on Saturday night? These Blades are playing against the odds, that’s for sure–against four Canadian teams whose rosters haven’t received a massive shakeup, under the shadow of a hotshot new league with a franchise in the same city, and without most of the players who lifted the Cup in March. Replicating that success will be an uphill success, and it won’t happen overnight. That said, some of those expectations rest on an underlying assumption that Blades’ past success was solely on the merits of their players. When the Blades became the pinnacle of elite women’s hockey talent in the United States as the Western Women’s Hockey League dissolved, there were no alternative professional teams for US-based players who had outlasted their time as NCAA to play and continue to develop. Only the best and brightest stars of women’s hockey–and those with the financial resources and spare time to devote to the sport without pay–could land a place on the Blades’ roster. While it’s tempting to frame the relationship between the NWHL and the CWHL as a rivalry (and, indeed, the one between the Pride and the Blades), the reality is more complex. Going from one professional women’s hockey team in the US to six will only grow (eventually) both the sport and the field of players from which both leagues can pick for their rosters. I’m excited to see how this season’s players develop on the ice. That doesn’t mean that the Blades are poised to capture the Clarkson cup this year, or even the next.

Fortunately for the Blades, Boston loves underdogs.

CWHL Weekend Preview: Season openers, and streaming!

CWHL Season Opener Preview

The Brampton Thunder will face down Les Canadiennes on Saturday, October 17th at 4:30 PM CT / 5:30 PM ET in Desmarteau Arena, and again on Sunday, October 18th, at 12:30 PM CT / 1:30 PM ET.

Last year, the Brampton Thunder finished out the season at the bottom of the league with 14 points in 24 games, while the former Montreal Stars finished third, with 29 points in 24 games. Brampton’s made some changes, including a new head coach and the first overall draft pick, Sarah Edney. New head coach Tyler Fines is replacing former interim head coach Kristi Alcorn. Alcorn took over mid-last season to replace Pat Cocklin. While they had some heartening pre-season success, with a successful training camp and a 8-0 win in a pre-season matchup against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, we’ll see how this new Brampton Thunder looks against a star-studded Les Canadiennes. Aside from Caroline Ouellette, last season’s third top scorer in the league, and former Rookie of the Year Ann-Sophie Bettez, Les Canadiennes added the much heralded Marie-Philip Poulin, Scourge of the US Olympic Gold Dreams, among others. If you need to brush up on the new Les Habs roster, check out Habs Eyes On the Prize’s coverage.

The Boston Blades will take on the Toronto Furies on Saturday, October 17th at 6:30 PM CT / 7:30 PM ET in the Mastercard Center, and again on Sunday, October 18th at 12:30 PM CT / 1:30 PM ET.

There’s been a lot of talk about what players the Blades have lost to the NWHL, but the team Krista Patronick has assembled is still going to be an interesting one to watch. The roster has a lot of forwards, with 18 of 25 players being natural forwards. The thin blue line is going to be bolstered by the returning presence of Dru Burns and Tara Watchorn, but Patronick expects that some of those forwards will end up helping out as defenders as well. The Furies, who finished out last season fourth in the league, has also lost some key players, especially on defense. Toronto struggled last year offensively, especially on special teams, where they finished out league last on both the PK and the PP. Things at the start of the season might be even rougher– top forwards Jenelle Kohanchuk and Julie Allen are out with injury right now. While the Furies picked up several new forwards in the draft, the stand out is probably Emily Fulton, formerly of Cornell, where she put up 48 points in 32 games last season.

The Calgary Inferno will play their season opener October 24th, at home.

Streaming

The CWHL will have a record high 32 games streamed this season, and all games will be filmed in HD. A regular season pass is $19.95 CAD, and can be purchased on the CWHL’s streaming site.

As in the past, all previously aired games will be available in the archive to watch for free. Additionally, all Calgary home games that are not streamed will have an audio-only stream available on the streaming site as well.

This weekend’s streaming games are:

  • Boston Blades @ Toronto Furies, Saturday, October 17th at 4:30 PM CT / 5:30 PM ET
  • Brampton Thunder @ Les Canadiennes, Sunday, October 18th, at 12:30 PM CT / 1:30 PM ET

Will the Boston Blades be competitive in the CWHL this season?

The Boston Blades have lost many players to the new NWHL and it has many questioning how likely the Blades would be to defend their Clarkson Cup title, or even to be competitive this season. There are 11 confirmed losses to the roster thus far, with five more rumored.

Player Position GP G A Total Player Rating Leaving
Bellamy, Kacey D 16 1 9 4.3 Rumored
Bolden, Blake D 20 4 9 5.4 Confirmed
Buie Corinne F 18 4 3 5.0 Confirmed
Cooke, Kelly F 20 2 2 3.9 Confirmed
Decker, Brianna F 10 15 15 14.5 Rumored
Dempsey, Jillian F 20 8 10 8.8 Confirmed
Duggan, Meghan F 6 1 3 4.2 Rumored
Fratkin, Kaleigh D 20 1 6 4.3 Confirmed
Gagliardi, Alyssa D 19 2 2 3.0 Confirmed
Ketchum, Bray F 18 2 1 3.7 Confirmed
Knight, Hilary F 13 8 14 10.0 Rumored
Koizumi, Jessica F 8 1 2 3.3 Confirmed
Llanes, Rachel F 20 0 3 4.4 Confirmed
Marvin, Gigi D 0 0 0 0 Rumored
Smelker, Jordan F 20 8 6 8.0 Confirmed
Stack, Kelli F 2 1 1 6.0 Rumored
Weber, Janine F 17 4 4 5.4 Confirmed

 

The Total Player Rating (TPR) is a metric I developed with the Boston Blades last season that measured a player’s overall contribution to their team. I took all the statistics and assigned correlations to wins to get the value for each player. The league average for TPR is zero; therefore anything above that mark is above average.

By this metric the top five CWHL players of last season were Brianna Decker (14.5), Rebecca Johnston (12.3), Ann-Sophie Bettez (10.6), Hilary Knight (10.0) and Noemie Marin (9.5). In terms of team totals they were ranked in this order: Boston (131), Calgary (93), Montreal (84), Toronto (59) and Brampton (46).

With the players confirmed and rumored to be leaving the Blades have lost 88 TPR from last season, which would drop them to 37 total TPR from just the possible returning players without adding the new draft picks. Basically that says to me that the Blades would be just about as good as Brampton was even if none of their newly drafted players are above average this season.

Player Position GP G A Total Player Rating
Lamoureux, Monique D 17 5 12 7.9
Watchorn, Tara D 19 6 11 7.7
Pickett, Casey F 19 6 2 5.8
Potter, Jenny F 5 0 3 4.3
Myers, Megan F 10 0 2 3.5
Cottrell, Ashley F 12 1 2 3.1
Laing, Denna F 16 1 1 2.7
Burns,Dru D 1 0 0 1.9

 

Out of these potential returning players Dru Burns and Jenny Potter would be the most likely not to return. Even still if the Blades can add five players through the draft that become top 40 in the CWHL in the TPR metric (4.0 was the 40th place skater last season) they will be competing for a spot in the Clarkson Cup. Even aside from that I would expect Casey Pickett to take on a leadership role in the offense and perhaps even return to a point per game pace.

Based on the numbers, and my faith in new Boston Blades general manager Krista Patronick, the Blades will remain competitive this coming season and with a little luck may even challenge for the third overall spot at the end of the regular season.

2015 CWHL Draft Preview: Time to Restock The Cupboards

Where and When:

The Draft is this Sunday, August 23rd, 2015. We expect to see things kick off at 3PM eastern.

To follow along, check out the CWHL’s Draft Live Tracker, or follow along on Twitter:

If you’re a Periscope user, I’d suggest following Krista Patronick, the Blades’ GM. She’s said a couple of times that she’s going to try to stream portions of the Draft on Periscope.

The teams will pick in reverse-order of how they ended the season– so, Brampton first, then Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Boston. Familiar so far, right? So, the trick comes that each player, when she registers for the draft, has to provide the geographic area where she is willing to play– Calgary, Montreal, Boston, or Toronto (and thus either the Furies or the Thunder). She can pick as many areas or as few as she wants. The Boston GM can only pick players who are willing to play in Boston, etc.

The Picks

To register for the Draft, players must have graduated from college, and neither have ever signed with a CWHL club, or be committed to another league. You can check out the entire draft pool after the league has posted it– it’s going to be up on their site some time today.

Some of the most high-profile and notable players in this year’s draft include Marie Philip-Poulin, Hayley Wickenheiser, Brianne Jenner, Elizabeth Tremblay, and Katia Clement-Heydra.

Marie-Philip Poulin

Marie-Philip Poulin is notable because she has played in the CWHL before. When she was 16, Poulin played for the Montreal Stars during the 2007/08 season, and in fact was named Rookie of the Year, before going on to win the Clarkson Cup with Montreal in 2008/09. Poulin has been very open about the fact that she has only declared Montreal as the area she’s willing to play in, so expect to see her go to the Stars again. I’ve also been told by the CWHL that Poulin would be eligible again for the Rookie of the Year award, as it is her first drafted year.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Poulin is a great player, and a huge asset for Montreal to pick up. Poulin had 181 points in 111 career games with the Terriers, and held the captaincy as well in her senior year. She’s been nominated for the Patty Kaz twice, and was a top-3 finalist in 2015, her senior year. When she graduated, she left BU as the all-time leader in goals (81), assists (100) and points (181). Aside from her college career, Poulin has been rather prominent on the international stage for Canada. She’s won Olympic gold twice, in 2010 and 2014, as well as gold at 2012 Women’s Worlds. She has the unique distinction of being the only player to have scored the game-winning goal in every Olympic gold medal game that she’s been in, earning her the nickname of “Noted US Dream Ruiner” among several Watch This writers. She’s a great two-way, defensive forward with the confidence and skill to also make big moves on her own, and one who makes every player she plays with better and more cohesive.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Wick is a legend, and rightfully so. Hayley Wickenheiser is a 5-time Winter Olympic medalist who has been on Canada’s National Team since she was 15, and has the Order of Canada. She’s also represented Canada at the Summer Olympics once, for softball. She got silver at Nagano in 1998, and gold in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014. She captained the Canadian National Team starting in 2006 after Cassie Campbell retired, up until right before the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She was named the tournaments’ most valuable player in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics.

She also made history as the first female skater to play professional men’s hockey. In 2003, she got her first point with Kirkkonummen Salamat of the Finnish second division men’s professional league. Wickenheiser also played in Eskilstuna, Sweden with a men’s professional division-one hockey team for the 08-09 season. She was also offered an invitation to the Philadelphia Flyer’s rookie camp in 1998.

Wickenheiser has said that she has only listed Calgary as a geographic location she’s willing to go to, so expect to see her in an Inferno jersey.

Brianne Jenner

Brianne Jenner is an Olympic gold medalist (2014, with Canada), and a graduate of Cornell, where she played all four years. She put up 229 points in a 129 game career with the Big Red, 93 goals and 136 assists. She’s a beast. I’d expect to see her in the top forwards in the CWHL next season. She’s going to grad school in Calgary, so expect to see her on the Inferno.

Team Drafts

Brampton Thunder

Brampton. Oh Brampton.

Brampton desperately needs some forwards who can keep up with Jamie Lee Rattray, Jess Jones, and Laura Fortino. The three of them had about 40% of the team’s points put together last season, which isn’t really a great sign.

They’ve had a rough time in net, as well. Liz Knox put up a .888 save percentage for them in 11 games, and Erica Howe, who started 13 games, put up a .896 sv%, which is not at all what I’ve been used to seeing from her when she was at Clarkson or on Team Canada. Sonja van der Bliek was dealing with injury last season, but hasn’t been starter material in the past either. I wouldn’t expect to see Howe back for Brampton– she was at the Buffalo Beaut’s try out camp, and while she hasn’t signed with the NWHL, it does mean that she’s likely been released from the CWHL (possibly with a one year league suspension if she didn’t ask to get released before she tried out).

Defense has been a particularly rough spot for Brampton– I feel like a lot of it has been a coaching / style mismatch with their goaltenders rather than necessarily their players, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brampton go for defenders in the draft.

Toronto Furies

Well, first off, Toronto is not losing Jenelle Kohanchuk! If they’ll lose anyone else from last year is, as always, kind of crapshoot to predict.

That said, Toronto could stand to pick up some depth scoring in the draft, and in generally, really needs to work on defense, and their away game. Their team save percentage was the second lowest in the league, and there’s a noticeable down-tick in their stats on the road. So, what are they going to do in the draft? It’s always hard to predict in the CWHL, as it’s hard to know what holes the team will be trying to fill, but as always, a good bet is forward depth and defense.

Montreal Stars

This might be a somewhat unpopular opinion, but I really don’t think Montreal needs Poulin to win the Clarkson Cup this year. I think they need depth scoring and to pull things together on defense. Montreal finished in a very close top three teams last year, and they have some rockstar talent already in Ann-Sophie Bettez, Caroline Ouellette, and Noémie Marin. While I think you’d have to be downright silly to turn down Poulin, I think the problem facing this team is spreading out the scoring from two or three hot players into depth, and not making Catherine Herron or Charline Labonté save your bacon all the time on defense.

That said, I’m really looking forward to seeing Poulin play with this team– it could be amazing.

Calgary Inferno

Calgary did a big rebuild last year, rebuilding their team to be fast and deadly on the front end. I’d bet Calgary continues in this line, but hopefully picking up some more defense and some depth scoring. This is also a team that’s had good but not outstanding goaltending– I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to pick up a goaltender, depending on who is available in the draft (or via a trade…?).

With Irwin’s health in question for this next season, that may be the place that Wickenheiser is expected to slide in, as another experienced top goal-scorer for the team. If Wick isn’t enough, Jenner is certainly going to add fire power.

Remember, Calgary also has a new coach this year– Scott Reid, the former assistant coach, replaced Kevin Haller, who was released toward the end of last season. Meaghan Mikkelson-Reid isn’t currently listed as an assistant coach, which she was last year. Several CWHL announcements around the Cup Tour mentioned Mikkelson-Reid as a player for Calgary– perhaps, post-baby, we’ll see her return to the ice as a player?

Boston Blades

Boston’s a bit of a gutted team right now, having lost almost all their team to the NWHL. If you look at last year’s roster, only eight players haven’t signed with the NWHL. Of those eight, the Blades are likely to lose a couple more. While I’d expect Tara Watchorn and Genevieve Lacasse to stay with the CWHL, both players were in the US to finish up grad school. With that done, I’d expect them to move to another CWHL team in Canada– I’m hearing possibly Calgary, which would make the Inferno a truely terrifying team to face. Jenny Potter only played six games with the Blades last season, and was named the head coach at Ohio State in April, so I’d be surprised if she sticks around.

Aside from the visible blow of losing serious high-end talent like Knight, Decker, Bellamy, and Duggan, one of the things that has made the Blades so much fun to watch and such a steam roller of a team has been their depth. The Blades have a new GM in Krista Patronick, a new coach in Brian McCloskey, a new arena, and essentially an entirely new roster. While the geographic limitations on player selection somewhat blunts the edge of this, the Blades have the last pick in the draft as well. It’s going to be an interesting season to watch the Blades.

Hilary Knight, Other Olympians leave CWHL for NWHL

We’re hearing that Hilary Knight, Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, and Gigi Marvin are going to the NWHL’s Boston Pride, and that Meghan Duggan will be going to the Buffalo Beauts.

Knight, Bellamy, Decker, Duggan and Marvin are all formerly of the CWHL’s Boston Blades. All of them played on the 2014 US Olympic team that won silver, and Duggan captained the team.

Hilary Knight finished out the 2014/2015 season for the Blades with 22 points, 6th in the overall league, in 13 games. She had 8 goals, 14 assists, and finished out the year a +23. She had 7 points in the 2015 Clarkson Cup tournament, where she won her second Clarkson Cup. A former Wisconsin Badger, Knight has won two Olympic silver medals playing for the US in 2014 and 2010.

Kacey Bellamy also has won two Olympic silver medals, playing with Knight in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. She put up 11 points in 18 games last season for the Blades as a defense, also winning two Clarkson Cups with the Blades in 2013 and 2015.

Brianna Decker won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award in her season with the Boston Blades, putting up 32 points in 12 games. She first put on a Blades jersey in mid-January, and went to town, becoming the second overall points leader in the league. She won the 2014 Olympic silver medal with the US, and the 2012 Patty Kazmaier while playing for the University of Wisconsin.

Gigi Marvin also played for the Blades, putting up 5 points in 15 games as a defense in the 2012/2013 season. She has one Clarkson Cup with the Blades.   She also has two Olympic silver medals, having played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics for the US. A former Minnesota Golden Gopher, she’s a big, mobile defender, with an emphasis on puck possession.

Meghan Duggan finished the 2014/2015 season for the Blades with 6 points in 7 games. Another former Badger, she won the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award. She has two Olympic silver medals, playing for the US in 2010 and 2014.  She also started coaching for Clarkson University in 2014.