NWHL proudly represented at NYC Pride Parade

Originally published on Women Talk Sports

In a remarkable show of solidarity, eight competitors from the NWHL, along with Commissioner Dani Rylan, supported league partner You Can Play (YCP), by taking part in the New York City Pride March. For Rylan, it was an eventful weekend as she was also part of a panel including Gabrielle Reece that spoke at #Blogher17, an event sponsored by She Knows Media.

Along with the NWHL, the sporting community saw the likes of competitors from the WNBA Players’ Association and Major League Soccer also took part. Beginning at 36th Street and 5th Avenue, culminating at Christopher and Greenwich Streets, the Parade was an opportunity for the league to support the positive message of YCP, which sees one player from each of its teams serve as an YCP ambassador.

Dedicated towards ensuring that sports venues are free from homophobia, with athletes judged on talent and not sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the core mission of YCP is one that brings great meaning to the NWHL. Prior to the launch of their second season in the autumn of 2016, Buffalo Beauts competitor Harrison Browne publicly announced a transgender status, becoming the first athlete in modern professional sport to do so.

Having started in 1970, the New York City Pride Parade saw over 350 unique groups participate in the March in 2016. This year, proudly garbed members of the NWHL wore white T-shirts with the league’s logo in all colors of the rainbow. The smiling players were waving flags with the You Can Play logo, while giving out stickers to the onlookers.

As the NWHL proudly stood behind Browne, while also showing the courage of its conviction by working on a policy for transgender athletes, the opportunity to march in the Pride Parade was an extension of its welcoming culture.

Among the players from the NWHL’s clubs that participated, the most prominent included Anya Battaglino, who is the head of the NWHL Players Association. While her presence certainly represents the beginning of a strong working relationship between the league and its PA, there was also an emotional component.

A charter member of the Connecticut Whale, Battaglino had come out while she was still a competitor at the NCAA level with the Boston University Terriers. Such a defining moment in her life is one that has gained luster through the support friends and teammates alike.

Through participation in the Pride Parade, it was an opportunity for Battaglino to give back. Her efforts may save lives, inspiring others that are enduring their own personal struggles with orientation, while giving a voice through example that fosters the sense of encouragement that comprises the essence of this event. Many hockey fans also expressed their support for her on social media, admiring and appreciating such courageous leadership. Of note, one fan expressed her gratitude by creating a hashtag in her honor: #IStandWithAnya

Two other teammates from the Connecticut Whale joined Battaglino in the March. Kelly Babstock, the first Canadian-born player to score a goal in the history of the NWHL, along with Elena Orlando also represented the franchise. As a side note, both played at the NCAA level with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The New York Riveters, who played their inaugural season in nearby Brooklyn, also made their presence felt on this day. Among the Riveters members gracing the streets of New York on this day included Sarah Bryant, Courtney Burke, a first round pick in the inaugural NWHL Draft, Harvard alum Miye D’Oench, Alexa Gruschow and Rebecca Russo, a competitor in the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game.

While these wondrous women deserve to be admired for their heroics on the ice, their amazing efforts off it have only enhanced their status as role models, setting a positive tone for the third season to come.

Kaliya Johnson part of historic signing for Connecticut Whale

Fresh off a record-breaking season for the Boston College Eagles, one that saw the club enjoy an undefeated regular season, the first in Hockey East play to do so, blueliner Kaliya Johnson signed a one-year offer worth $13,000 with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. Of note, Kaliya Johnson becomes the first African-American player to sign with the Whale.

During the NWHL’s inaugural season, Blake Bolden became the first African-American to appear in a regular season game, doing so with the Boston Pride. Not only would she become the first African-American to appear in the league’s All-Star Game, she would also become the first to capture the Clarkson Cup.

The New York Riveters also featured an African-American player on their roster. Despite being assigned as a practice player, Cherie Stewart, who also played with the US national ball hockey team at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds, managed to see some ice time in the regular season. Johnson, who was raised in Arizona, now adds to a growing legacy in NWHL hockey, as visible minorities, both male and female, continue to make significant inroads in the game.

Johnson already brings a solid hockey resume that includes more than just four sensational seasons with the Eagles. Having competed with the US national team at the 2012 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, she would capture a silver medal. In the same year, she would win the North American Hockey Academy win the JWHL national championship.

With a Whale roster that lost Kaleigh Fratkin, the league’s leading scorer among blueliners to free agency, Johnson shall be a welcome addition. Considering that the Whale also signed blueliner Cydney Roesler from the ECAC champion Quinnipiac Bobcats, their blueline shall be significantly bolstered for the upcoming season.

Having graduated as one of the top ten career scorers among Eagles blueliners, she would display remarkable consistency and durability in her final season, appearing in all 41 games, as career benchmarks were set for points, goals and assists. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment was the fact that she helped the Eagles set a program record for most shutouts in one season with 14.

As a sophomore, Johnson came into her own as she did not miss a game with the Eagles. Leading the team in plus-minus rating (+29), while ranking sceond with an impressive 43 blocked shots, she was also named to the Hockey East All-Tournament Team, displaying an ability to excel in high pressure situations.

Statistically, her senior season would be her strongest, registering a career-high 17 points on the strength of 13 assists. Among her goals, one would prove to be the game-winning tally against Northeastern on November 20, 2015 while another was scored in the Beanpot against Harvard.

Recording at least one point in 15 regular season games, her final goal as a member of the Eagles came against Clarkson during the Frozen Four, advancing to the national championship for the first time in program history. Although the club would lose to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the national championsnhip game at the Frozen Four, the efforts of seniors such as Johnson will be sorely missed.

Throughout her exceptional Eagles career, Johnson showed tremendous leadership on campus. Not only was she a representative for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at BC, she was also on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for the Atlantic Coast Conference, attending conference meetings twice a year in North Carolina. The focus of said meetings included rules and regulations, the welfare of student athletes and community service.

Such service was definitely a part of what defined Johnson’s efforts, for she was just as dedicatred to giving back to the community and setting a positive example on and off the ice. In addition to helping Boston College Athletics raise money for programs and academic services, she was also trained as a team health representative to assist students in need. Majoring in psychology, Johnson displayed a heart of gold, helping guide student athletes to different resources available on campus.

As a side note, she also served as a student teacher in Boston Public Schools. Among her efforts in such a capacity, she worked in classrooms teaching English as a Second Language.

Although the Whale have definitely signed a promising talent with a fundamentally sound game, the most important aspect may be that they signed a person with great character. In September 2014, Johnson underwent brain surgery after suffering from concussion related syndromes.

Returning on November 8, 2014, she would log an assist against Northeastern. The momentum would continue the following day, as she notched her second point in as many days, another assist, against the Vermont Catamounts. Her first goal that season would also take place in November, scoring on the 22nd against Connecticut.

While Johnson defied the odds and made a heroic comeback, concussions have proven to be a tremendous point of concern in the game, as the injury has brought an abrupt end to many careers. Hopefully, the strain that Johnson endured shall become an example of addressing the need for concussion research and preventing such injuries from plaguing these exceptional women.

As Johnson stated in her own words on the Eagles website, the presence of a Chiari malformation, which meant that her brain was sitting below the base of her skull, applied pressure on her spinal cord. Such exposure was causing many of the headaches that plagued her in the previous offseason.

Despite being unable to start her junior season in 2014-15 due to brain surgery, Johnson would be back on the ice by Christmas, a heroic return for an individual who took on adversity with remarkable courage and dignity. Not only did a return to the ice make Johnson learn to not take the game for granted, it allowed her an empathic approach to other players that are injured, understanding the emotional strain that takes place. It is a somewhat reciprocal experience for Johnson as she saw the true meaning of teamwork when teammates, coaches and her mother showed their support, believing in her abilities and the strength to come back. It is that type of strength and maturity which not only makes Johnson a role model, but is poised to make her one worth watching when the Whale return in the autumn of 2016.

Riveters and Whale play for Mandi Schwartz Foundation

In continuing with the NWHL’s growing legacy of giving back to the community as hockey humanitarians, the Connecticut Whale hosted the New York Riveters in a highly emotional match on January 9. With proceeds raised for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, it rekindled memories of a former competitor whose career was cut abruptly by cancer.

Having played her NCAA hockey with the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, Connecticut, Mandi Schwartz lost her battle with leukemia at the age of 23. Led by Aleca Hughes, teammates showed a remarkable rally of support by hosting a bone marrow drive, in the hopes of finding a matching donor for Schwartz. Although such an outcome did not occur, a positive aspect was the fact that six matches were found for other patients.

In tribute to Schwartz and her lasting impact at Yale, the Whale took to the Bulldogs’ home ice at Ingalls Rink to host their fundraising match. Of note, $2 from every ticket and half of all 50/50 raffle proceeds were donated to the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.

Since her passing, the Bulldogs have named a team award in her honor, while the ECAC Conference has also introduced an award to commemorate Schwartz’s life. As a side note, it is only the second time that the ECAC named an award after a former player, also recognizing former Dartmouth three-sport star Sarah Devens.

The contest definitely had the feeling of a home game for Whale captain Jessica Koizumi, as she is one of the assistants on the Yale coaching staff. Tara Tomimoto, a member of Yale’s Class of 2014 was a member of their roster when Schwartz passed away in April 2011.

The fundraiser also held emotion for Bray Ketchum of the Riveters. A former teammate of Schwartz at Yale, Ketchum has helped organize several events as the Bulldogs honor her memory and continue to find suitable donors to save the lives of others affected by leukemia. Of note, Ketchum is a board member of the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and wears Schwartz’s #17 with the Riveters.

Adding to the impact of the event was the fact that NWHL founder and Riveters general manager Dani Rylan signed up for the bone marrow registry, representing her own dedication to bringing betterment to the community.

The Whale prevailed by a 4-3 margin with goals by Shiann Darkangelo, Kelli Stack and a pair by Danielle Ward. For Ward, it was a career milestone as it signified the first two-goal game of her career, garnering First Star of the Game honors in the process. Bulldogs alum Jaimie Leonoff took the win for the Whale in an emotional contest. During her career at Yale, she competed in several White Out for Mandi Games, which raised funds to find a cure for leukemia.

#WePlayForMandi

Buffalo Beauts play in NWHL’s first shootout as they host Military Appreciation Day

In a game that held special meaning for fans and players alike, the Buffalo Beauts hosted Military Appreciation Day at Harbor Center. Of note, it signified the second consecutive weekend that a Military Appreciation Event was hosted by an NWHL club, with the New York Riveters hosting the first.

The Beauts event was held in conjunction with Defending the Blue Line (DTBL), an organization dedicated to ensuring that hockey resources are made available for children of military members. Not only did the Beauts host 50 members of the United States Armed Forces, along with respective family, a 50/50 draw took place, with half the proceeds going to DTBL. In addition, Tickets for military personnel were sold at half price, while all Purple Heart recipients were granted free admission.

No one could anticipate the outcome to follow as the Beauts and the visiting Connecticut Whale participated in the first shootout in NWHL history, while Emily Pfalzer became the first player in Beauts franchise history to record five points in one game.

From the outset, the Niagara Falls Airbase color guard graced the ice during the rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by SGM Jason Jaskula participating in the ceremonial puck drop. Adding to the show of support of the brave men and women of the Armed Forces, the Beauts donned special edition camouflage jerseys. Said jerseys were available for auction after the game, with DTBL as the beneficiaries of the proceeds.

Searching for their first win in franchise history, the first period did not turn out in the Beauts favor. Sam Faber, an inaugural member of the CWHL’s Boston Blades, scored her first NWHL goal with 13:02 remaining. Her milestone goal would be scored against Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Winter Games silver medalist.

In a span of less than four minutes, the Whale would capitalize on power play opportunities, establishing a four goal lead. This was partly attributed to Buffalo’s Megan Bozek called for slashing, a five-minute major, which saw her ejected from the game. With 11:10 remaining in the first, Kaleigh Fratkin, the first Canadian-born player signed to an NWHL contract took advantage, with Jordan Brickner and Jessica Koizumi earning the assists.

Fratkin would follow it up just 61 seconds later with her second straight power play goal. Kelly Babstock scored with 7:37 remaining as Fratkin earned her third consecutive point with an assist.

Undeterred, Buffalo would fight back, despite being shorthanded. 44 seconds after Babstock’s goal, Kelley Steadman breathed new life back into a dejected Buffalo squad, trimming the Whale lead. Pfalzer and Kelly Mcdonald would log the assists as Buffalo had already served three penalties by that time.

Before the period would expire, Paige Harrington was called for hitting from behind, giving Buffalo another penalty.
Once again, the Whale capitalized, as Koizumi scored on McLaughlin with just two minutes remaining in a frustrating period for the Beauts. Taking into account that the Whale were not called for one penalty in said period, the 5-1 advantage did not come across as surprising. Of surprise though, was the fact that the Beauts outshot the Whale by a 13-10 margin.

Heading into the second period, another six goals were scored, already resulting in the highest scoring game of the NWHL’s young season. Instead of the Whale scoring five goals, like they did in the first, it was the Beauts that would reciprocate.

Before the Beauts’ five goal outburst, the Whale would score again, as Shannon Doyle assisted on a goal by Jordan Brickner, making a comeback appear impossible. Adding to the Beauts woes was the fact that Brianne McLaughlin was pulled in favor of Amanda Makela, making her NWHL debut under such strenuous circumstances.

Kourtney Kunichika, familiar to Western New York hockey fans for her heroics with the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers started things for the Beauts, with the Beauts second goal of the game with 14:48 remaining in the second stanza. As a side note, Meghan Duggan and Emily Pfalzer logged the assists.

Despite over seven minutes of scoreless play, the Beauts were able to mount a comeback via the power play. With Danielle Ward serving a pair of penalties (roughing, interference), the result were goals by Kelley Steadman and Kunichika in a span of 90 seconds. Just 17 seconds following Kunichika’s second goal, the first multi-goal game of her NWHL career, Meghan Duggan (also the captain for Team USA) scored, as the fans at Harbor Center roared in approval.

With the Whale’s lead reduced to just one goal, goaltender Nicole Stock was replaced by Jaimie Leonoff, who won the first game in NWHL history. Hayley Williams would make some of her own history as she logged her first career NWHL goal with 3:23 remaining, as Emily Pfalzer registered her fifth assist of the game, a franchise record. As the second period came to a close, a stunned Whale squad were faced with a 6-6 tie, while a jubilant Beauts roster was injected with remarkable confidence, seeing its first win possibly within reach.

Fatigue set in as the third period progressed, with both sides only managing five shots each. As the third period and subsequent overtime could not resolve the 6-6 tie, a shootout was necessary, the first in NWHL history. Going first was the Whale’s Kelly Babstock and she would not miss, providing the Whale with an early 1-0 advantage.

Considering that Babstock was also the first Canadian to score a goal in regular season play, it is fitting that she makes history twice by scoring the NWHL’s first-ever shootout goal.
Kunichika would become the first Beauts player to participate in a shootout, unable to slip the puck past Jaimie Leonoff. Having both skated for the US national team; Shiann Darkangelo and Kelley Steadman were unable to score for their respective teams, as the score was still 1-0 in favor of the Whale.

Among the NWHL’s scoring leaders, franchise player Kelli Stack attempted to put the game away for the Whale. Instead, she was denied by Makela, who allowed the Beauts one more try to tie and force a fourth shooter. Tatiana Rafter, one of the all-time leading scorers with the University of British Columbia, soared down the ice with a fierce focus, but her aspirations of extending the shootout were denied by Leonoff, whose poise between the pipes enabled the Whale to remain the only undefeated team in NWHL play.

While the Whale managed to escape with a very tense 7-6 shootout win, the first game determined via shootout in NWHL history, the Beauts have seen their confidence strengthen, firm in the belief that their first win shall soon follow. Pflalzer, whose five-assist performance also set a record for most points in an NWHL regular season game by a blueliner was recognized as the game’s First Star. Kelley Steadman, who sits atop the league leader in goals gained the Second Star with her solid two-goal performance. Also scoring twice was Kunichika, earning third star recognition on a milestone-filled day.

Sam Faber on the ground floor of another New England hockey revolution

As the NWHL becomes the first professional hockey league for women in the United States, there is a feeling of relevance with the on-ice involvement of veteran star forward Sam Faber. One of the first players to sign with the Connecticut Whale, she is part of a new era of promise for the hockey-mad state. On the momentum of strong women’s hockey programs at the NCAA level such as Storrs’ UConn Huskies, New Haven’s Yale Bulldogs and Hamden’s Connecticut Bobcats, Faber shall be the cornerstone of an offense looking to capture the inaugural Isobel Cup.

Raised in Mount Sinai, New York, Faber’s first brush with New England women’s hockey came as a member of the University of New Hampshire’s Huskies. With an astounding 51 points in her freshman season, she would compile 189 points (on the strength of 112 assists) and an astonishing 23 game winning goals during her distinguished NCAA career. In addition, she would skate with the US National Team in a gold medal effort at the 2008 IIHF Women’s Worlds.

Perhaps an element of greater importance may be her experience at the professional level in New England women’s hockey. Of note, the Whale does not reflect her first sojourn into pro hockey. When the Boston Blades became the first American-based in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Faber was one of the club’s charter members.

Playing alongside the likes of CWHL co-founder Mandy Cronin, All-World blueliners Caitlin Cahow and Angela Ruggiero, along with current Boston Pride GM Hayley Moore plus Huskies leading scorer Jaclyn Hawkins, Faber was part of a remarkable chapter in American women’s hockey.

During that inaugural Blades season (2010-11), Faber brought an offensive flair and playmaking ability that resulted in finishing said season as the Blades scoring leader. Although Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette captured the scoring title that season, Faber’s 30 points helped propel the Blades into the postseason, simultaneously demonstrating that there was a market in the United States for professional women’s hockey. As a side note, she ranked second to Julie Chu that season among American-born scoring leaders in CWHL play.

Faber’s first career point with the Blades came in their inaugural game. Along with Karen Thatcher, both would earn the assists on Jessica Koizumi’s third period goal, the first in Blades franchise history, part of a 3-0 win against the Burlington Barracudas. The following day, Faber would contribute 4 points, including her first career goal with the Blades, sweeping the Barracudas.

Accumulating at least one point in 15 games played, Faber also registered eight multi-point efforts. Her finest single-game performance was a five-point output which included her first career hat trick in a 6-5 win against eventual Clarkson Cup champions Montreal on January 30, 2011. Earlier that season, Montreal would provide another memorable moment for Faber.

Just six days before Christmas, the Blades did more than just spoil Montreal’s bid for an undefeated season. Fighting back from a 2-0 deficit, Faber would score Boston’s first goal of the game, signifying a shift in momentum. Ruggiero would score the dramatic game-winning tally in overtime while Cronin made an astounding 74 saves in one of the greatest goaltending performances in league history.

Such experience shall place Faber into a key leadership position with the Whale this season, as she also holds the unique distinction of being the first player signed in franchise history. Taking into account that former Blades teammate (and two-time Clarkson Cup champion) Jessica Koizumi shall be joining her on the Whale, it only adds to the veteran impact that should contribute to a fundamentally sound game on the ice. As a side note, both have also worked as coaches, with Koizumi serving on the Yale Bulldogs staff and Faber with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.

Among the crop of youthful free agents that should benefit most positively from their leadership includes the likes of Quinnipiac grads such as Shiann Darkangelo and Kelly Babstock, plus Clarkson Cup champion Kaleigh Fratkin. The younger players shall definitely reciprocate as they bring enthusiasm and high energy, strong motivational factors for Faber.

Having last played during the Blades inaugural season, Faber has remained in the game off the ice as the Chelsea Piers Youth Hockey Director in Stamford, Connecticut. Among her accomplishments with Chelsea Piers includes the fact that she oversees the largest Mite League program in the state. The chance to return to the rink for the first time since 2011 shall serve as an opportunity to inspire the young players that have passed through Chelsea Piers. Being part of the NWHL’s inaugural season as a member of the Connecticut Whale presents Faber (and Koizumi) with the rare opportunity to make history twice in New England women’s hockey.

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.

Janine Weber’s magical hockey journey continues in the NWHL

No player in women’s hockey has enjoyed as remarkable a year in 2015 as Janine Weber. Since becoming the first European-born player to score a Clarkson Cup-winning goal, it has led to increased attention wherever she plays.

With a newfound hockey hero status, Weber was among a group of players that attended the Connecticut Whale’s free agent camp. Other notable names at said camp included the likes of Brooke Ammerman, Kelly Babstock, Anya Battaglino, Sam Faber and Kaliegh Fratkin, among others.

Weber’s presence at the camp added a feeling of relevance for one of the NWHL’s charter franchises. Despite the return of professional hockey to the Nutmeg State, it would be the New York Riveters and not the Stamford-based Whale that signed Weber to a contract.

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In doing so, Weber not only became the first player in the history of the Riveters franchise to sign a contract with the team, she became the first free agent signing in the entire history of the NWHL, a shrewd acquisition by Riveters general manager Dani Rylan. Taking into account that the Riveters also won the Draft Lottery, earning the first pick overall in the upcoming NWHL Draft, Weber’s acquisition adds momentum towards the team’s inaugural puck drop.

Considering that the NWHL shall be the first women’s hockey league to compensate its players, Weber’s presence becomes very symbolic. After helping the Boston Blades capture its second Clarkson Cup, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto wanted to display Weber’s game-used stick. Unfortunately, she only had two sticks in her possession, and required them as she was going to represent Austria at the 2015 IIHF Div. 1A Women’s World Hockey Championships.

Wanting to acquiesce to the Hall’s request, the sad economic realities meant that Weber would have to find the means to replace her stick. Luckily, an outpouring of support via social media resulted in the stick manufacturer (STX Hockey) graciously supplying her with a new stick.

Although the stick story has taken on a life of its own, adding to Weber’s growing legend, such a conundrum shall not be part of her experience in the NWHL. The promise of compensation shall alleviate the financial worries that unnecessarily burdened so many in seasons past.

Another meaningful element that adds remarkable relevance towards the acquisition of Weber is the fact that the NWHL is committed towards providing European players with the opportunity to extend their careers past NCAA hockey by competing in its league. With a camp in late July designated for European players, the signing of Weber is testament to the league’s efforts, adding a very important credibility.

While the opportunity to score the Isobel Cup-clinching goal would only contribute to Weber’s growing mythology, the remarkable support on social media has certainly ensured that she shall be one of the NWHL’s fan favorites. Ready to continue her magical hockey journey in a league that is ready to embrace her status as a world-class hockey player, the real victory is the chance to showcase her skills for a group of jubilant fans ready to appreciate her contributions to the game.