Heartwarming rally of support for Denna Laing highly encouraging

In what has proven to be Boston hockey’s finest hour, the remarkable outpouring of support for one of its own has proven to be nothing short of heartwarming. After Denna Laing crashed into the boards at the Women’s Winter Classic in Foxboro, Massachusetts, no one could have foreseen that it would be the final game of her season, let alone the beginning of a long recovery.

Suffering from a spinal cord injury, Laing has been in hospital since December 31, 2015 (the day of the Women’s Winter Classic), as the hockey community has been distraught over such a tragic outcome. With significant sporting figures such as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Boston Bruins alum Cam Neely all issuing public statements of well wishes, the result has been a wave of encouragement.

Marissa Gedman is one of many Pride players that have visited Laing in hospital. Not only is she a teammate, but also one of her best friends. Having first played together for the Assabet Valley club team at the age of 12, the two would become teammates at Noble and Greenough prep school, growing up together around hockey. Visiting her in hospital has only added to an unbreakable bond, as Gedman draws admiration from her strong spirit.

During the week of January 17, 2016, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins have both shown their support. This is attributed to the fact that both teams competed on New Year’s Day at Foxboro, in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The day prior, Les Canadiennes de Montreal from the CWHL competed against the Boston Pride, Laing’s club team.

The Canadiens have shown great compassion, honoring Laing with a tribute video prior to their January 19 contest with the Boston Bruins. As both teams wore the same jerseys from the Classic, it was a stunning visual that resulted in a show of solidarity from both teams.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 final for the Bruins, said jerseys were auctioned online to benefit Laing. For Montreal goaltender Mike Condon, the game had a more profound impact. Both Condon and Laing attended Princeton University and competed in NCAA hockey. Having seen a member of the Tigers family suffer such a life-changing injury, he was proud of the way the Bruins and Canadiens worked together for such a great cause.

Following the accident, the Princeton team engaged in a show of support that became commonplace throughout many NCAA programs. Although Laing wore #24 with the Pride, her number with the Tigers was #14. The Tigers roster formed the number 14 on the ice, with a photo posted on social media.

Princeton players form the #14 (Laing's number when she played there) as a show of support. Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

Princeton players form the #14 (Laing’s number when she played there) as a show of support. Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

Adding to this momentum was the fact that several of Laing’s former teammates at Princeton went to social media with thoughts and prayers. One of the most notable was Gabie Figueroa. A former captain at Princeton during Laing’s time there, she was one of the first to post messages of support online.

Since then, programs have emulated the Tigers initiative, including the Pride, of course. The Concordia Stingers women’s ice hockey program, coached by Canadiennes forward Julie Chu have also paid tribute to Laing with the #14 formation on the ice. In addition, all teams in the NWHL have yellow-colored stickers with number 24 in black font on the back of their helmets. Adding to this momentum is a limited edition wool hat issued by the Bruins, with Laing’s #24 on the back. As a side note, players that competed at the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds in St. Catharines, Ontario wore stickers on the backs of their helmets that read “DL”, Laing’s initials.

On January 21, the Bruins honored Laing with a pregame ceremony before facing off against the Vancouver Canucks. Of note, her image was also featured on the Bruins’ game-day posters issued to fans. Laing’s former teammates from Assabet Valley High School and current teammates with the Boston Pride were on-hand to sell 50/50 tickets, raising an astounding $20,063 to assist with medical expenses.

Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara visits Laing in hospital (Image obtained from Twitter)

Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara visits Laing in hospital (Image obtained from Twitter)

With Laing still in hospital, a message on video was aired on the scoreboard, resulting in a highly emotional standing ovation. The day prior to the match, Bruins captain (and 2011 Stanley Cup champion) Zdeno Chara visited Laing in hospital. Telling her to never give up, Chara’s words will have strong meaning as Laing has ambitions to go to law school, having balanced hockey with work as a witness advocate.

Laing’s sisters, Brianna and Lexie participated in the ceremonial face off. In addition, they were guests of Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, who enjoyed the game from his suite. This was an extension of the strong support shown by the Jacobs Family, whom along with the Boston Bruins Foundation and TD Garden has offered a donation of $200,000 for The Denna Laing Foundation.

Another member of the Bruins that has also offered financial aid is Patrice Bergeron. Of note, he announced a raffle, in which the winner would see the January 26 contest against the Anaheim Ducks from his suite. With tickets at $5 each, he also declared that all proceeds would go towards the Foundation.

Brittany Ott continues New England women’s hockey legacy with Boston Pride

As the free agent freezy continues for the incipient NWHL, a key element involves which player shall stand between the pipes for the inaugural puck drop. While the Buffalo Beauts won the Brianne McLaughlin sweepstakes, the Boston Pride may have found a dark horse in accomplished backstop Brittany Ott.

Ott’s first brush with women’s hockey in New England involved four stellar seasons with the Maine Black Bears in Hockey East conference play. Not only would she set a new program record for most saves in a regular season game (accomplished in 2010), she would break her own record in 2013 with a sterling 72 save performance against Boston College in a 2-1 overtime loss.

Although her final season at Maine did not translate in a lot of wins, that was attributed to a rebuilding year for the program. Had Ott not been between the pipes for the Black Bears, the potential for a disastrous season was highly possible, testament to her superlative skills.

Selected in the fifth round, 25th overall, in the 2013 CWHL Draft, Ott would prove to be one of the steals of the draft. No other goalie drafted past the fifth round in draft history enjoyed as many wins, let alone play in the Clarkson Cup championship game.

With Genevieve Lacasse placed on reserves that season, due to her commitments with the Canadian national team at the Winter Games in Sochi, Ott proved to be a blessing in disguise, allowing the club to maintain its great standard of superlative goaltending. Taking to the ice in her powder blue goalie pads, it was not only endearing, but a fitting reminder of what made her an elite goaltender in Hockey East play.

Heading into the final month of the 2013-14 CWHL season, Lacasse returned to the Blades but Ott has established herself as one of the league’s finest goaltenders. Her 10 wins ranked second in league play to rival Catherine Herron of the Montreal Stars, while her .921 save percentage and 475 saves were tops in the league.

In the aftermath of the golden outcome at the Sochi Winter Games, Lacasse earned some playing time with the Blades, but Ott had proven that she belonged among the elites of the game. Such effort was reflected in the fact that Ott became only the fourth rookie goalie to get the start in the Clarkson Cup championship game. The decision was a show of gratitude, testament to her dedication and perseverance during the season.

Despite the Furies by a narrow 1-0 margin in overtime, Ott provided a valiant performance with three solid periods of shutout hockey, stopping 23 shots. The following season, Ott contributed a 10-6-0 mark, establishing herself as the finest backup goaltender in CWHL play. Complemented by a Blades’ Clarkson Cup victory, it represented redemption.

Such solid numbers are what the Pride is hoping that Ott can provide for the inaugural season. With the aim of winning the first-ever Isobel Cup, it would only solidify Ott’s standing as one of the finest American-born goaltenders in hockey today. It would also make her the first goaltender to have won both the Clarkson and Isobel Cups.

There will certainly be some familiar faces surrounding Ott in this quest for history. Joining her on the Pride include several former Blades teammates that were part of the run for the 2015 Clarkson Cup. Players such as Jillian Dempsey, Alyssa Gagliardi and Jordan Smelker (the first player from Alaska to win the Clarkson) are joined by three other Blades that have represented historic signings.

From Blake Bolden becoming the first African-American player to sign with the NWHL, to Kaleigh Fratkin becoming the first Canadian-born player to join the league, there is another exciting acquisition. Jessica Koizumi, the first player to register 50 points with the Blades (she also scored the first power play goal in Blades history), has become the first signee to have played in the former Western Women’s Hockey League. Such familiarity should enable the Pride to have the strongest on-ice chemistry of all NWHL clubs while Ott’s presence between the pipes maintains the high standard of goaltending that she has established during her stellar hockey career in New England.

Upon the Pride’s first faceoff, Ott should retain her powder blue pads from Maine. Taking into account how goaltenders are some of the game’s most unique characters, identified by the creative artwork on their masks, or the style of their equipment, Ott’s powder blues make her instantly identifiable, an element that should establish her as a fan favorite in Boston and throughout the NWHL.

Plenty of future franchise players selected in historic NWHL Draft

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As the dream of a true professional women’s hockey league continues to take shape, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) Draft served as a key ingredient in helping fulfill such promise. With its four charter franchises each having five picks, there was no shortage of outstanding talent to choose from.

Selecting first overall was the New York Riveters, contemplating between 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alexandra Carpenter and 2015 Frozen Four champion Hannah Brandt. Considering that both were also teammates on the US national team that captured the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, one agreeable aspect was that both are truly world-class talents.

Opting to acquire Carpenter with the first pick, it would prove to be the beginning of a pattern for the Riveters. Considering that Carpenter is a member of the Boston College Eagles, the Riveters grabbed two of her teammates as well. Having also played with Carpenter on the US team in Malmo, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno were selected 5th and 13th overall, respectively.

Although every draft pick has one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, the challenge is signing those players upon graduation.
There is no question that attempting to select players from the same school may prove to be a key strategy in helping ensure that such picks do not go to waste.

The Connecticut Whale employed the same strategy as well. Wisely selecting Brandt with the second pick overall, the Whale opted to draft two of Brandt’s teammates from the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Picked 10th overall was Milica McMillen, while Maryanne Menefee, who has served as Brandt’s linemate for the past three season was surprisingly still available at the 14th spot.

Still available at the third overall, the Boston Pride were ecstatic to obtain Kendall Coyne. Although Illinois is her home state, she did attend prep school in Massachusetts, where her hockey skills first shone. Having played three seasons of NCAA hockey with Boston’s Northeastern University, she is definitely looked upon as a homegrown talent by New England hockey fans. The chance to extend her career at the NWHL level in Boston shall only cement her legacy as one of the most talented women’s hockey players to play in the hockey mad city.

Of note, Coyne was part of a Pride draft class that featured three other players from New England-based schools. Selected seventh overall, Harvard’s Emerance Maschmeyer ended up making history twice. Not only was she the first Canadian-born player selected in the history of the draft, she was also its first-ever goaltender. Joined by Harvard teammate Miye D’Oench (15th overall) and Boston College’s Lexi Bender, it will be a unique experience for these Beanpot rivals to play for the same club at the professional level.

Surprisingly, the Buffalo Beauts passed on talent such as Maschmeyer (many polls speculated she would go in the first round), Skarupa, Erin Ambrose and Michelle Picard with the fourth overall pick. Opting for Wisconsin’s Courtney Burke, it was the most surprising pick of the entire draft. In the second round, with Ambrose still available, along with Bender and the high-scoring Menefee, Buffalo once again went off the board, grabbing French-Canadian player Sarah Lefort, currently of Boston University.

Picking Lefort did create another unique chapter in NWHL Draft history, as Lefort became the first Canadian-born player who was not a goaltender to be drafted. Ironically, Buffalo’s next pick involved a Canadian-born goaltender. Drafting Amanda Leveille with the 12th pick overall, it was a very shrewd acquisition. Having won an NCAA Frozen Four title with the Golden Gophers, Leveille may be their franchise goaltender.

Following the selection of Leveille, Buffalo employed the same pattern of every other club by selecting college teammates. Located nearby in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst University’s combination of high scoring forwards Jenna Dingeldein and Emily Janiga found new homes in Buffalo. Considering Mercyhurst’s reputation for producing elite talent, many more players may soon find their careers extended in Buffalo.